Well, it wasn’t COVID.
That's the good news. Although as one of a rapidly shrinking population of folks who have never caught the coronavirus during the pandemic, I confess I sometimes feel like a sitting duck. Still, these past few days I've felt miserable, with a fever in the 102s and a headache so excruciating that I'm pretty sure no amount of Tylenol could possibly overpower it.
So what was my first thought on Saturday afternoon, when I finally came to terms with the fact that I was, in fact, coming down with something?
"Maybe if I sit down at the computer right now, I can pre-record my sermon for tomorrow morning, just in case I can’t still be there in person."
Yep, that's right. Not “I should pour some ice water and lie down.” Not “I better try to separate from the family to keep them from catching whatever this is.” Not even “where'd I put the Tylenol?” Instead, my first fleeting thought was: “how can I turn this unfortunate moment into an opportunity to produce something?”
Or maybe, to put it another way, “how can I pretend to maintain control over the uncontrollable?"
I'm in good company, of course. Long before a global pandemic wreaked havoc on our workplace norms, it was well known that many folks would take some medicine, push through the pain, and show up to work all the while shedding viruses onto their unsuspecting colleagues. For some, it's a sense that they are somehow indispensable, or irreplaceable. For others, there’s an economic reality that they simply can't afford to take the time off and lose a paycheck. For most all of us, though, I suspect that our need to produce — a need that is wrapped up in how we identify with what we do as opposed to who we are — plays a significant role. Hustling is the American way, after all.
Although I personally don't have COVID (again, cue the feelings of having a target on my back), I was encountering this ethical conundrum just days after the White House announced that President Biden had COVID. The statement reassured the American people that the President had mild symptoms, was isolating safely in his living quarters, and *was still reporting for work.* Hear me say: I’m not comparing the work of a congregational pastor to that of the President of the United States. But the thought admittedly crossed my mind that if the so-called leader of the free world could work through the illness, then so can/(should?) I.
I didn’t pre-record my sermon on Saturday afternoon.
That’s the good news. Within a couple of hours, I had changed course on my dreams of being a savior figure. Perhaps I wised up. Or, maybe my headache had grown so painful that a single light bulb turned on in the room would have been enough to make me vomit. I was resigned to the fact that pitch-black video reminiscent of a witness protection interview wouldn't make for a good sermon. Regardless of my motivations, the point is: I gave up. I drank water. I laid down.
One of the benefits of serving in the PC(USA) is the connectional nature of colleagues, and a friendly neighborhood Presbyterian hospital chaplain was glad to fill in for me on short notice. And of equal importance: one of the benefits of serving alongside the faithful folks of Southminster is that their compassion and support of the pastor would probably have led them to drag me back to my car by the ear if I even so much as *thought* about entering the building on Sunday morning.
The people-pleasing, overachieving, slightly-arrogant-to-mask-the-lack-of-self-confidence TJ from a decade ago definitely would have recorded the sermon video while sick. Heck, that TJ probably would’ve popped an extra Tylenol, put on a smiling face, and shown up in person to preach in hopes that it might qualify me for some nonexistent Perfect Attendance award.
Instead, I called a colleague. I trusted in the truth that things would go on just fine without me for a day. I stayed home. I rested. I worked to heal. I took my temperature. I took more COVID tests. I watched a movie.
Now that I’m feeling better (the fever and headache are gone – hallelujah!), it’s occurring to me that the greatest healing of the past few days might not have been my physical health at all. Rather, the real healing is in the growth found in recognizing that, in life and in ministry, I don’t have to have a savior complex. I don’t have to claim invincibility. And there’s no use in buying into the illusion that I have control over the uncontrollable.
Maybe, just maybe... I'm starting to actually live the mantra I frequently tell myself: I'm a human being, not a human doing.
And that’s good news.
I'm a husband, father, news junkie, theatre lover, enneagram enthusiast, bi advocate, amateur foodie, wannabe barista, and an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
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