The Blind, Demented Woman Who Introduced Me to Myself

I had to introduce myself to her every time I visited. A thin curtain, strung from wall to wall, halved her already tiny room. The air was thick with that unmistakable nursing home odor. She’d point her two sightless eyes in my direction and ask, “Who?” I’d tell her again. Then as she sat on the edge of her tiny bed, and I on a nearby fold-up chair, we would visit as if for the first time. And as we talked, this blind, mere wisp of a woman would unwittingly remind me of who I was.

Who was I? A very different man from who I am now. I was a naïve, inexperienced pastor in his mid-twenties; now, a couple of decades and a lot of scars later, I am no longer a pastor, no longer naïve, and certainly experienced in a few things of which I wish I’d remained ignorant. Time and life and sin—yes, let us not forget that dirty word—they have their way with a man. Nevertheless, as I peer back over the years between the me-then and the me-now, I see one striking similarity. I am always a man who forgets who he really is, because I’m always focused on becoming the man I want others to think I am.

When I sat in that nursing home, with this sweet elderly woman, I was her pastor, there to give Jesus to her in word and meal. Yet what I really wanted people to think of me was that I was a professor-in-training, a man of deep learning, who knew the Old Testament like the back of his hand. I was a man who wrestled with doubt and unbelief, but I wanted everyone to think I was a man of unwavering faith. I was a mere servant, and not a good one at that, but I wanted everyone to think of me as that guy with those three Master’s degrees, who has mastered this, and mastered that, and deserved to go far and do well.

Today, older yet evidently still as foolish, I fight the same battles. I drive a truck for a living, delivering and picking up freight, but I want others to think of me as a former professor who’s published a couple of books. I am now very happily married, but also twice-divorced, but I want others to think that I’ve never screwed up, that I’ve always been the ideal husband. Some days I wonder if there even is a God, much less one who loves me, yet I want other to think I’m a Christian who’s got it all together. Yes, I am always a man who forgets who he really is, because I’m always focused on becoming the man I want others to think I am.

A woman who suffered from dementia, who saw nothing through her eyes but blackness, she would remind me of who I am. An amazing thing would happen as we talked. When we got past the superficial introductions—since she always forgot who I was—I would speak to her of our lost condition, of our sin, of the dreadful place we find ourselves in apart from God, condemned by His law because of our transgressions. Then I would tell her of Jesus, who sought us in love, who bled out His life’s blood to wash away our transgressions, who exited the tomb alive and well that we might follow Him in our resurrection.

Every single time, after she had listened, speechless, to all I said, she would respond with shock and surprise, as if this were the first time in her life that she had heard the Gospel. She would literally rejoice, almost laugh with glee, that God loved her so much that He would do all things for her. If blind eyes could light up, hers would illumine the room. Then I would open my little Communion case, pour a little wine, select a couple of wafers, say the words of Jesus, and feed her the body crucified, the blood poured out, the gift given in God’s own Son.

Every time I visited this precious child of God, I remembered who I was really was. And thinking back on now, I remember the same. She would introduce me to myself. I am a man with a life full of regret, full of failure, whom Jesus loves without regret, without fail. No matter what job I have, I am defined not by what I do but by what God has done for me in His Son. No matter how stupid or how smart I am, no matter who much I know or how little, the only knowledge that really matters is that Jesus was ready and willing to die for me. That is my identity: I am Jesus’ friend, for He is the friend of sinners.

A woman who could barely remember who she was, much less who I am; a woman who couldn’t see a thing, much less read my soul through my eyes; this woman would teach me who I was. She would see the real me, and introduce me to myself.

+++If you enjoy my writings, please take a moment to check out the book I just published: Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. Here you will find page after page of reflections upon the Christian life, its struggles and pains, its joys and hopes. Most importantly, you will find Jesus at the center of this book, even as He is at the center of the Christian’s life. Click on this link to view the book. Thank you for your interest!

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13 thoughts on “The Blind, Demented Woman Who Introduced Me to Myself

  1. Pious poser to the man I really am… Funny part about all of this? The man I really am is much to be preferred over the man I want people to THINK I am. Selah.

  2. Sam Pakan on said:

    Transparent and powerful! Thank you, Chad.

  3. Rev. Glenn Niemann on said:

    I think I’m going to start calling you “The Professor” … not just because of who you were/are, but also because of “Gilligan’s Island.” That was a good show. 🙂

  4. jamesbradfordpate on said:

    Reblogged this on James’ Ramblings.

  5. Michael Paul on said:

    I think I am recovering from what I call the Jaco Pastorius Syndrome. He was a musician in the jazz band Weather Report. Story has it the poor fellow would stand outside of record stores with one of the band’s albums, accosting incoming customers, pointing to the record and saying “I’m on this!” with a pathological need for admiration and approval. For too long I myself have been guilty of the same behavior, pointing at my published book, pointing at my visual artwork, saying “I did this!” and looking for a sense of self defined by my small accomplishments. For, by my reckoning, 36 years of the 41 that I’ve been a Christian, I have been in a lapsed, back-slidden mode of operation. That ultimately led to a long, very dark “night of the soul” which made me fearful of reaping what I’ve sown, fearful that all I had to live with was a “certain fearful looking forward to judgement.” But I have come to the place of believing that Christ paid for ALL of my sin, not just B.C., but even in those wasted years. A place of believing that “once saved-always saved” is a truism. Believing that my primary identity is that of being Abba’s child. Despite being the black sheep that I’ve been. One of the great theologians, can’t remember which, said that we should cultivate a lofty concept of God, and then rejoice that we are His. And I have to tell you that your posts are helping me to refine and redefine exactly who my Heavenly Father is. For that, I am grateful.

    • That Jaco Pastorius Syndrome is one with which I readily identify. It’s the fruit of my theology of glory, I fear, which looks for God in things seen. I fight it, but it lurks too deep within me to eradicate altogether. So we live in forgiveness, whole and pervasive. We are the Father’s children. Nothing will change that.

  6. Chad, I’m using this for my elder’s retreat on Saturday. We’re going to take a look at Saul of the impeccable resume vs. Paul who can only rely on grace…the chief of sinners. We spend so much time fearing our humanity, rather than casting ourselves upon the grace that drowns our fears. Again, thanks.

  7. Wonderful! I hope it will provide some fruitful discussion about what it means to live, and to minister, by grace.

  8. This might be slightly off your ultimate point, but do you think some of what you want others to think of you has to do with the image that is being forced upon you at the time and wanting the opposite? When you finally were known as that smart professor who knew the Old Testament like the back of his hand did you want people to think something else then or were you satisfied?

    This might sound crazy but the most painful thing ever said to me by a church woman a few years ago when I mentioned being a little stressed one time was: “You mean you aren’t perfect?!?” Here I was, extremely depressed, doing terrible things to my children, my marriage was suffering terribly, and my conscience was plaguing me with so much inner guilt over all the sin in my life that most people never knew about yet people were always telling me how great I was. I just wanted them to know who I really was, so they would stop praising me all the time. It was almost torturous. I wanted to be loved in spite of who I was, not be loved because I was someone I wasn’t.

    Sorry for the comment overload. You don’t have to reply to all that. Just thinking out loud.

    • Hi Rebekah,

      There have been times when, like you, I wanted to scream, “I’m not perfect! If you knew what I was doing, if you knew the depths to which I’d fallen, then you’d never dream of complimenting me, or liking me, or certainly loving me.” I wanted to be loved for who I was, like you, but–and perhaps here is where we have a different experience–I figured that no one would, not if they knew the truth about me. So I hid it out of fear of rejection. Even when I was “the professor,” I always knew that I was not who people thought I was. I was frightened that people would find out the real me: the one who didn’t have all his shit together, who felt intimidated even by some of his students who were more intelligent than he was, who was hiding a real screw-up inside.

      I guess if I were to try and say it clearly, I was never comfortable with the real me because I always asked myself, “What will others think of me if they know the truth?” And based upon that fear, I acted outwardly in ways that I hoped would deter people from detecting the inner struggles I faced. So I wouldn’t admit weakness. I wouldn’t admit doubt. I played the part I thought others expected me to play. My worst fear was the exposure of my failings.

      One of the greatest freedoms I’ve ever experienced was forced upon me: my sin was made known. There was no more hiding. Everyone knew. And after a few years of getting over that shock, I realized the liberation of being a public sinner. But more importantly, I realized that people love me in spite of that.

      Thank you for your question, Rebekah. I made me do some thinking aloud as well.

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