Ever been told, You shouldve done this before you did that. You shouldve called before you came over. You shouldve talked to me before you wore that dirty shirt to work. You shouldve checked your bank statement before you bought your new flatscreen TV. You shouldve. ... You shouldve. ...
Even though I became an adult quite a few years ago, old enough to make my own decisions, more than a few people in my life still feel required to tell me what to do and when to do it. Some tell me what I shouldve done only once in awhile. Others tell me all of the time.
For example, when I was a boy, my older sister told me what to do and when to do it all the time. It made me crabby. No doubt, she held my best interest at heart. She loved me, hoping to prevent me from making a complete fool of myself nothing but the best of intentions on her part. I responded with passive aggression, putting on a shirt she thought I should wear, but taking the shirt I wanted to wear with me, changing it as soon as I left her sight. She got what she wanted, and so did I.
Then one day, after being married a number of years, my sister acquired new wisdom. She learned that when adults wanted her opinion, theyd ask for it. If they never asked for her opinion, she kept it to herself. I thought Id died and gone to heaven. Yet, after her husband passed away, she reformulated her wisdom by saying, I know you didnt ask for my opinion, but you shouldve. Habits die hard.
As a pastor, I often work alone, and I like it. Maybe because of my sister, I developed the joy of making my own decisions. Working alone pleases me; and, being a pastor requires a great deal of independence. Im autonomous with the rest of my life as well. I believe that Im old enough to dress myself; and so, I sometimes wear the same shirt twice in one week (unless my loving wife happens to uncover my plot to deceptively re-hang my dirty shirt in the closet). To me, some shirts just feel more comfortable than others. Why not wear a comfortable shirt as much as possible, whether or not it gets washed? Let me enjoy who I am.
Nonetheless, because Im independent, I realize one important truth: I drive people nuts. Maybe thats why I work for a church, where kind, thoughtful, and understanding people know how to help me from making a complete fool of myself, while allowing me to believe that I make my own decisions.
On my first Sunday at the First United Methodist Church of Cortez, a church member kindly asked me if she could remove the dry cleaners tag prominently sticking out from the back of my robe. Id forgotten that all of my robes and stoles went through the dry cleaners just before I came here from Salt Lake City, Utah. I said, Sure. Another member of the church frequently asked if she could straighten the stole I wore around my shoulders. I said, Sure. I never realized that shed prevented me more than once from strangulating myself. I went home that Sunday believing in my complete independence even though two and probably a cast of church members discreetly kept me from one faux pas after another. When I wore a different robe for a funeral, a very understanding gentleman asked if he could remove another dry cleaners tag sticking out from my stole. I said, Sure. Once again I returned home convinced of my independence; however, in truth, this man and no doubt others took care of me. And, I probably drove all of them nuts.
Despite my ardent desire to live my life as I see fit, wisdom dictates surrendering to loving people, who keep our best interest to heart. Not only do I often say, Sure, to those hoping to help me, but, also, I listen to those who say to me, You shouldve done this before you did that. Simply stated, Ive learned that people correct me as their way to show their love to me. And by agreeing with them, its my way of yielding and giving my love back to them. Freely and with a sense of total self-determination, Ive learned to accept my flaws along with help and love from others; and, when they say to me, You shouldve done this before you did that, I respond with, Sure. When someone asks, Can I remove the dry cleaners tag from your robe, I say, Sure. I say, Sure, a lot, because Ive learned that being independent never means being mistake-free. In fact, it means learning that self-reliance can cause one to make more mistakes than normal people who live cooperatively.
Most leaders, spiritual or not, make their own decisions. And they make mistakes. Wise leaders acknowledge their mistakes, graciously accepting correction. No doubt God, the greatest of leaders, humbly recognizes that, when people say, God, you shouldve done this before you did that, they only want to be helpful. More than once Ive told God, You shouldve done this before you did that, and God always responds lovingly, saying to me, Sure, Tom.
Pastor Tom recently came from Christ United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City, Utah to Cortez, where he pastors First United Methodist Church. Hes a graduate of Eden Theological Seminary and Johns Hopkins University.