Saints in Elastic Boots

 Photo Credit:  Anica Zuhlsdorf

Photo Credit: Anica Zuhlsdorf

I often hear myself say at least once a day, “I can’t believe this is happening to me.” This usual occurs during those crucial life altering moments at the drive through at Starbucks. The one I usual stop at on my way to church has a round-about style drive through, which means when I’m pulling in I can’t see what’s on the other side of the building. Most mornings I arrive and see no line and instantly feel excited knowing my transaction with the drive through barista is going to be short and sweet, but sometimes there’s a line and I have to wait (usual I just park and go in if this happens). And then there are the times, which seem so overly frequent to me, where I see just one car in the line and I think to myself, “This shouldn’t take long.”

And guess what? It always takes waaaaaay longer than I feel it should.

The Mercedes SUV in front of me this morning was occupied by a single driver, but they purchased a whole tray full of drinks. Three of which were frappuccino! Who needs a frappuccino that early in the morning? Thus I am forced to sit and wait for my grande ice coffee and silently grovel while thinking to myself, “I can’t believe this happening to me. Why do I always get behind these types of people?”

Now there is a plethora full of things wrong with me in this scenario that I could pick apart, but I feel the major root cause has to do with me feeling as if what I do should take precedent over the needs/wants of others. Like somehow I’m more important than the driver with the three frappuccino, which of course is an absolute absurdity. When I pause and actually think about how upset I am I realize what I’m experiencing is not in any way a form of suffering, but a simple (and I’m stretching it here) inconvenience. #firstworldproblems

So as some of you know, I just returned from camp with my students last week and during that time away from home I felt inconvenienced almost daily. I wasn’t with my wife, I had to sleep on a bunk bed, I had to share a bathroom with six other guys, etc…Being honest with myself these are all pretty petty things, but in the moment, these seemed a lot bigger. Particularly one incident while we were there…

Our group shared the top floor of a cabin with another group from a different church. We had a shared doorway that connected the two rooms which we came to find out didn’t have a lock. On our first night there a leader from the other group walked through the door and explained to me that there wasn’t quite enough space in their section and that he’d like to sleep in one of our extra beds. You can imagine my initial response.

Uh, no.

Now I’m all for communal living, but there are some issue that arise when dealing with students. First and foremost is their safety and being respectful of their parents who’ve trusted me with their child’s wellbeing for a whole week. Having someone not part of our group and having not gone through a background check from our church just screamed “problem” to me. The students and I offered to give him some of the extra mattresses we had, but couldn’t allow him to stay with us. He seemed somewhat offended and not satisfied with that answer, but relented none the less. I informed camp staff just to keep them in the loop as to what was going on and considered the matter closed.

It was not.

For the next two days this leader entered our room unannounced.  He used a small hallway on our side of the cabin to store extra backpacks/luggage without asking which   felt like an infringement on my and the students space. Justifiably so, tension begin to rise on our end when our complaints to staff seemed to fall on deaf ears. I remember one of my last conversations with a staff member where it seemed they felt just as powerless as I did in the situation. I informed them I had tried to be as respectful as I knew how, but this issue was coming to a head quickly. It was then I was pulled aside by a senior staff member and given some information about the leader who had been entering our room. Reflecting back now, I’m not sure if that personal type of information should have been shared with me. However, it did give me an insight as to why this individual was not picking up on social cues that most would. Some life altering tragic events had recently taken place in this leaders’ life. As I walked back to our cabin my mind began its typical cycle. “I can’t believe this is happening to me. Of all the people I could have been roomed beside I get the one person who doesn’t understand basic common courtesy!”

And then something else happened. Each step I took I found myself thinking about the stories I had been told concerning this socially awkward, yet seemingly harmless, church youth leader. This individual had been through a lot in the past few months. Life had been hard for this person in ways I can’t even begin to comprehend. Noticing this helped bring about the revelation that I lacked the ability to even fully empathize with this individual. However, what I did discover was that this person had much more of a right to say “I can’t believe this happened to me” than I did.

Taking all this in, I decided to sit and talk with the group of students who had been directly affected by this situation. We talked and it was one of the students who said, “You know, honestly we’ve kinda blown this out of proportion. This really isn’t that big of a deal, more of an inconvenience than anything else.” Words of wisdom for us all. As we sat there my mind raced back to a C.S. Lewis quote. In his work God in the Dock, Lewis tells a story which explained his need and connection to the local church. He begins the story by saying that he initially hated going. He loathed getting up early on Sunday mornings. Even after he became a regular attendee, he held a disdain toward church hymns describing them as “fifth rate poems set to sixth rate music”, but felt his attendance was necessary because he couldn’t receive the Sacrament of Communion alone. However over time he began to rethink his cynical views.  

“But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.”

I found this and read it to my students that night. We unpacked the significance it brought up in each of us, with the conversation continuing well into the night. Around midnight we heard a slight knock on our door. The leader poked his head through the door and asked if he could use our bathroom. We told him of course. One of my students whispered to me, “Can we invite him to sit and talk with us?” I gladly told the students I was fine with the idea, but it was up to them. The leader came out of the bathroom to a group of students wanting to introduce themselves to him and asking if he’d like to join us. The leader declined, but said he might take us up on the offer later. We continued to talk into the night, discussing the situation along with loads of other things that were on our hearts. Around 1:30am we finally settled down and I lay in my bunk complete floored by the events and conversation of the night. It will be something I will never forget and will cherish being part of. As I begin to doze off an all too familiar thought went through my head. Yet this time it was not in self centered frustration, instead it was a thankful prayer.

“I can’t believe this is happening to me…”