“Something’s different about you this morning.” Dr. Cassidy was squinting at me, tilting his head, trying to determine if the change was surface or had occurred deeper.
I smiled, enough of a change on its own, and began telling him about all that happened to me over the previous five days. I tried to provide as much detail as possible, making sure he understood the significance of the events, which, by his reactions, was unnecessary. He smiled, clapped and gasped in all the appropriate places, which encouraged and helped propel me through the complicated retelling of my unfulfilled Saturday of research. As I finished he lost his smile and projected a look of concern. I asked him what he was thinking and he didn’t answer for an uncomfortable amount of time. Right before I repeated my question in the event he hadn’t heard the first time, he cleared his throat and began his part of the hour.
“You say you spent all day researching, trying to get a handle on the what and why of your Thursday night experience, correct?”
“Yep. All day, which means from before light until after dark.”
“And you felt nothing fit your situation exactly, which was disappointing, true?”
“Yep, again. You’d think with all of those options something would have provided an ‘ah ha!’ moment but I didn’t feel anything close to that. I just suffered through a lot of ‘unh unh’ that got me nowhere. It wasn’t a total waste of time because I’ve managed to keep the sadness away, which is remarkable after slogging through all that rhetoric.”
“Interesting…” He seemed lost in thought once again but this time I didn’t press him to speak. I was curious to hear what he had to say so I waited patiently for him to pull his thoughts together. I did not expect what came next.
“I want to ask your permission to set aside our rules for a few minutes so I can speak candidly. Would you mind? I promise not to abuse the privilege.”
I was immediately uncomfortable and my internal alarms started firing, screeching and beeping, warning me to step away from the conversation. “I don’t know about that. We’ve done so well within the rules. Why alter them now?”
“I have a suggestion for you but I’m afraid it will be outside the parameters we established. Not far outside, maybe one foot, dipping a toe in the moat surrounding the fortress, but I can’t take the risk of you being offended so I’m asking permission. That’s why, okay?” He never lost his smile but I knew he was serious and wanted me to acquiesce.
“I guess, but please don’t jump down my throat with a bunch of Christian propaganda. I’m really not in the mood for that.” I felt the warning was necessary.
“I promise I won’t take advantage of your compliance.”
“All right, let’s hear it…”
He sat back in his chair and smiled, somewhat relieved but seemingly aware he was walking a fine line. “You spent a number of hours studying up on a lot of different religions, belief systems and lifestyles but I noticed one that was conspicuously absent.”
“Really?” I started to get excited. Did he know of some obscure sect that could get the annoying questions answered? “Tell me and I’ll do some research. I’d love to know about some group I might have missed.”
“I’m afraid you might be disappointed with my suggestion—”
“Come on, tell me!”
“Did you spend any time reading up on the possibilities that Christianity could provide your answers?”
I looked at him like he had just passed gas. “Are you kidding me? I spent 45 years immersed in that doctrine, why would I need to look any further?”
He was nonplussed by my aggravated response, probably because he expected it. “Have you ever entertained the possibility that there was more to Christianity than you experienced?”
“There is no freaking way that there is any part of Christianity and Jesus and whatever else that I did not touch during my long run in that lifestyle. It’s impossible that I missed anything.” I was shocked and could not believe he was testing these waters.
“What makes you so sure?”
I laughed. “Do you have any idea what all I’ve been through, been involved in over the years?”
“Enlighten me, please.” He was still smiling, like he was enjoying the exchange, almost like it was heading in the exact direction he planned. Regardless, I plowed ahead with a brief rundown of my life as a Christian.
“My indoctrination began as I exited the womb or maybe before, although I don’t know how much in vitro communication was practiced back then. Being the first born of a minister meant Noah’s Ark mobiles, Jesus picture books and learning to fold my hands for bedtime prayers. Sunday School, Training Union, sword drills, graham crackers and orange juice for snacks, children’s choir, trying to be a Godly child, Vacation Bible School… those are all memories seared in my brain from my formative years. As I continued to grow I seamlessly moved into youth choir, mission trips, Valentine banquets, listening to missionaries and sitting through their slide shows, accountability groups, special music, trying to be a Godly teenager, hand bells and Wednesday night suppers. And all of that before I graduated from high school. Should I go on?” I was on a roll, the memories flooding my head faster than I could spit them out and I was willing to spew them the entire hour if that’s what he needed as proof I was a veteran of the Jesus wars.
“By all means. This is helpful!” He was a little too excited but I ignored it and pressed forward.
“In college my entire social life revolved around the college and career department of the church near the school. Sunday morning breakfasts, musical ensembles, ice cream socials, weekday morning basketball, Quiet Times, swimming, Wednesday night Bible studies, softball, trying to be a Godly college student, dating every girl in the church, video nights… hell, the church was basically my fraternity. Then I met Ellen and a whole new cycle began. Church choir, discipleship groups, young married Sunday School classes, young married weekend retreats, trying to be a Godly husband and forcing my entire friend network to be church people. Once we had kids it expanded to play groups, birthday parties, helping with the nursery, reading the right books, trying to be a Godly father, disciplining the right way, keeping your family in the correct slot of your priorities, having no money but ‘Praise the Lord Anyway!” and keeping it together so I could be a comfort and help to anyone who couldn’t keep it together. I’ve been on mission trips, walked door-to-door sharing with strangers, been a part of and led small groups in my home, sang solo and with ensembles in front of the church and at fairs. I even worked as an usher at a Billy Graham crusade so, tell me, what could I have possibly missed?” The last sentence was loud and high pitched, punctuated by throwing my arms out from my body in a classic “what now?” pose.
“It sounds like a rather full and enriched life you’ve led. Why turn your back on it?”
I took a deep breath and slowly let out the air, allowing myself a minute to gather some composure. When I spoke I was calmer and my voice was at a normal pitch. “There are a lot of expectations that come with that life. It can be consuming and wear a person down if they aren’t careful. I was in so deep that I never saw the contradictions of that existence, or maybe I ignored them. Either way they weren’t on my radar. I was buried under by my attempts to fit everything into my day and trying to keep everyone and thing in the right priority—a favorite, crippling buzzword, by the way. God, family, job, friends and me. There were a lot of variations of that list but God was always first and ‘me’ was always last. Everyone else got the best of me and that left nothing but crumbs for myself. It took 45 years but I finally got sick of it and decided to break free. Once I finally came up for air and realized I was middle aged, treading water, not getting anywhere with my career, scared I was going to die having done nothing of significance, I began to see the expectations were what was holding me back. I was afraid to move, afraid I was going to tick off God if I went the wrong way or if I hoarded more than scraps for myself. So I took the easy way out and I quit.”
“How was that the easy way out?”
“If you deny the existence of the something that makes the rules, it makes it easier to ignore the rules.”
“Fascinating. Your logic makes sense, especially in light of all you’ve told me.”
“So do you still think I’ve missed something?” Had I actually won?
He shifted in his chair and looked me in the eyes. “I won’t pretend to know all you’ve experienced as a Christian, especially from your brief, though impassioned, description. I won’t insult you by saying unequivocally that there may be something more for you but I will say this: don’t ignore it. Don’t flippantly discount Christianity as an option. Yes, you spent 45 years submerged in a culture and lifestyle that you eventually found wanting, but with something as big as God, there may be more to learn.”
“I doubt that very, very seriously.”
“I know you do but consider this: you’ve been married to Ellen for over twenty years, correct?”
“Twenty three, to be exact.”
“Outstanding. Have you continued to learn things about her over the years? Does she ever surprise you–good or bad–and make you wonder why you never noticed some compulsion or desire she’s displaying before that moment?”
“Sure, but that’s different. You’re talking about a relationship between humans and we can’t be expected to know everything. Our little brains can’t handle it all at once. What I lived for 45 years was a supposed relationship with a big, all-knowing God and after investing all that time, I think I have a pretty good idea what that’s all about. Trust me, I’ve seen it all.”
“Yes, you’re correct in your assessment about humans. Just don’t forget that half of the relationship between God and yourself was managed by a human. You know, with the small brain that can’t handle everything at once? Try to keep that in mind as you continue your search for some answers, okay? I’m certain your search isn’t futile.”
“You’re certain, eh?”
“Yes I am.” And he smiled.
I walked out of the building that morning writing off the entire session as a waste of time. Nothing Dr. Cassidy offered came close to making sense. I was no closer to answers than I had been when I walked into his office. I had entered with high hopes that he would provide something, anything that would start shedding some light on my needs. I didn’t expect a quick solution, just a direction, a pointer to get me moving down the right path. As I pulled out of the parking lot and started driving to work I was relieved the heaviness was no longer a factor but the stupid questions were still throbbing, repetitively pounding in a slow rhythm, impossible to ignore. Something was out there and it knew who I was. What and why? What and why?
This is an excerpt of a full length novel entitled “Back Again.” You can read it in it’s entirety by downloading it from here or you can keep coming back to this site and read it in chapter chunks over time. Your call but, either way, I hope you will read it and, most of all, enjoy it. And leave a comment or two. It lets me know you are out there…