It was the first time I had ever gone to get some “counseling”, which I figured was getting yelled at without any cussing involved and heavy use of the Bible. It seemed strange, and even degrading, and not the type of thing mostly normal people needed. And it was with my head pastor who I was a little bit afraid of – OK, a lot afraid of – because he seemed to me the kind of man that seminaries named buildings after. He was that godly and reverent. He was the embodiment of Age and Wisdom. Truth be told, spiritually I felt like a weed compared to this heavenly oak of a man.
The real truth was waiting for me in a narrow 3-foot wide hallway that led to his office.
As I waited for Pastor Burchett to call his secretary thus summoning me to his lair I realized I was nervous and sweating. This was not good, because sweat meant a sweaty handshake signaling weakness to the enemy. He would devour me. I only waited for 3 or 4 minutes, but it might as well have been an hour.
What was he going to say? Would he wrestle me down to the ground with theological terms like “sanctification” and “propitiation” in order to mentally beat me down until I confessed my sins? Or would he use reverse psychology and try to be my buddy only to trick me into revealing my cold, black heart? It’s amazing what the imagination can think of when frightened. Eventually, the summon came, sounding more like funeral bells than an office phone.
I sat up and headed toward Harold’s office.
What happened next would impact me more than I realized.
As I started down the corridor, which seemed to go on forever like a House of Mirrors at the amusement park, suddenly his door sprang open. I froze. Harold was coming towards me with a smile on his face and arm outstretched. He met me halfway and grabbed my hand like I was an old friend and shook firmly. I cringed knowing I was offering a sweaty wet fish, against my father's training. He didn't seem to notice. And did not devour me.
As we walked back toward his office my countenance changed. I was not going to be yelled at or get a spiritual beat down. Instead, I got a conversation. To this day I don’t remember the advice he gave me though I’m sure it was good. In fact, what I recall the most were two things:
1) Listening to Harold recount his stories of being on a ship in the Navy during World War II, the fighting, the suicide missions, how God used that time to strengthen his faith against a tide of rejection and mocking from the other sailors, and
2) The utter humility of an old, wise, saint, who when doing something he’d done for the past 50 years, still possessed the servant heart that moved him to get up out of his comfortable leather chair, open his door, and meet a nervous, less mature Christian brother, down a narrow 3-foot wide hallway.