Three people who saved my life. The mirror

Enjoy this monthly blog post from Patrick Riecke, director, Chaplaincy and Volunteer Services.

I was like most young religious leaders. You know, when I was a young religious leader. In Bible College I learned pretty much everything I needed to know about faith and life in this world.

Or so I thought. For about 24 hours after graduation.

One thing I knew; it was better to be morally pure, and right. You know, about stuff that it was important to be right about. Religious stuff, especially. A lot of people didn’t have things figured out, but I did and that was a good thing.

Make sense? No, not really.

But it won’t surprise you to learn that as a young person who was in ministry I struggled a little bit with judgmentalism, legalism and maybe even a little elitism. Ok, let me say it more succinctly. I probably thought I was better than and more “right” than most people. Ugh, I can’t even actually say it succinctly and honestly as I type this. Here goes one more try … I was a real jerk that thought most other people were stupid, immoral losers.

Deep breath. Deep breath.

And you might rightly think, “All those poor people who had to live with you back then …”

Fair enough.

But none of those people were in my head. Except for me. And 99.9 percent of those judgy and condemning thoughts never get expressed outside of a person’s head. That means that the person who is judging everyone else is really making themselves miserable.

Jesus tells us, famously, “Do not judge, lest you be judged.”

We need to bring back the word “lest”.

“Son, pick up your room, lest you be grounded this weekend.” I am going to try that one later today.

What does he mean exactly, “lest I be judged”? Who is going to judge me because I judge someone else? God? The other person?

Here’s what I think.

If I constantly look down on people who are overweight or dumb or who drive too fast or cheer for the New England Patriots, I have set a trap. I have set a trap for myself. Because what if, for years, I think bad thoughts about those people and then one day I wake up and I now consider myself to be overweight, dumb, a reckless driver, or (shudder) a Patriots fan? Then I have stepped into the circle of people I have looked down on for years.

Judge not, lest you be judged.

This point came home to me when my second professional counselor said something that made me mad.

One day he said, “You are a perfectionist.”

I was shocked at how much Heath had misjudged me.

“No, not really,” I responded.

He smiled.

“Honest, I am not OCD at all, I don’t have to have everything just so, I am a relaxed and personable individual, etc.” I protested too much.

“How do you feel if you do poorly at your job? Or you do poorly at being a husband or father?” He prodded, carefully.

“I feel awful. Maybe even worthless,” I said, not sure how this was connected to being a perfectionist.

“You are a perfectionist because your sense of value is tied to your performance. If you don’t feel you performed well, you feel badly about yourself,” he offered.

“What’s the other option, doing a crappy job in life and feeling great about it?” I was baffled.

Heath backed up a bit …

“Patrick, if a teen in your ministry came to you tomorrow and said he felt like his life was meaningless and he wanted to end it all, what would you say?” Heath was setting me up and he knew I would take the bait.

“I would assure them that they have intrinsic value as a human being, that God created them in a totally special and unique way, that they have a contribution to make in the world and that Jesus believes this so much that he was willing to die for them.” The words of my own demise were rolling off my tongue.

Heath had the pleased look of a counselor who has led the horse to water. His next words blew down my house of cards where I thought I was right and everyone else was … well, wrong.

“You believe that for the suicidal teen, but not for yourself.” He said. “You need to realize, Patrick, that you have intrinsic value as a human being, even when you stink at being a minister. You need to know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you have a meaningful existence even when you mess up at being a good husband. You aren’t really in love with doing the right thing … you are in love with a false image of yourself as someone who has his act together. You love being able to think of yourself as right.”

I wasn’t sure if I should slap him or kiss him. Probably slap him.

“You are a perfectionist because you believe your value comes from what you do.”

Now his first phrase made sense.

I have spent over ten years trying to learn what he was teaching me.

Then, after years of preaching to my church, one day I had a surprise.

“Do any of you have a hard time believing that God cares for you intrinsically, just because you are a human being?” I asked some of my parishioners.

One man spoke up and shocked me as much as Heath shocked me years before. I expected everyone to say, “Preacher, sometimes it really is hard to believe that God loves me.” But instead he said, “No, not really. You’ve been telling us for years that God cares for us no matter what. And I believe you’re right.”

Judge not, lest you judge yourself.

Do you accept today that you have intrinsic value?

Are you looking down on others?

Are you setting a trap in your own mind if you end up like “them” at some point?

Where do you find your meaning and significance? If not from a permanent and stable source, you could find your house of cards being blown down.

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