I’m the kid who knew what he wanted to be when he grew up at a young age and still have the paper I wrote for Mrs. Sears on January 31, 1978 to prove it. If you look at the trajectory, you could draw a straight line from 2nd Grade until now and think I’ve been riding the high life.
Well, I’ve been riding life, alright. But I’ve experienced the crazy, confidence-shattering, disquieting realities of life not some made-for-TV movie idea of life. Yet I’m a priest, and I’m supposed to have it all together so I can encourage other people during their difficult times.
My struggles in life almost drowned me at times, as they do to so many others, clergy and folk-not-crazy-enough-to-be-clergy alike. I’ve lived days dogged by depression wondering if God had left me completely alone in the dark. Not too long ago I experienced the death of a parent, an untenable and soul-crushing experience in the church I served and a traumatic leg injury.
I nearly lost my faith.
Sometimes I look back at that kid I was and wonder how he knew so certainly about things. I read his earnest writing and frankly I want to protect him from the realities of life. Which makes me sound melancholy or Charlie Brownish.
Or just real.
When I think about my wish to grow up and be a priest these days, I recognize that experiencing a not so smooth path, following a line with peaks and valleys, has given me a bit more empathy than if I moved directly to Go and collected my $200. Today I got to sit with a family as they buried their grandmother and mother, chat with a woman excited to be flying out to visit family, speak with a parishioner whose father has entered the last stages of life, email 11 families who have each welcomed a new baby recently, and learned of a couple separating. Birth and death and sharing love and holding out hope for reconciliation. Today alone.
And I wouldn’t change it for anything. Because life isn’t simple — no matter what a plasticky preacher says on TV — but it is full of grace. That’s what I’ve learned since 2nd Grade. If we just hold on long enough to get through the pain, grace abounds. When you feel like giving up — when I feel like giving up — I hope we all remember to just hold on. Life does go on. And, as I wrote to Mrs. Sears, God ultimately helps us.