Doug Walker’s iPhone lit up notifying him that a text message needed his attention. The device was like an attached appendage. He never left home without it. He carried it to the dinner table and couldn’t engage in a decent conversation over supper without texting someone or answering someone’s text message.
But, that was Doug. Intense, driven, and stressed to the max. Whatever he did, he did it fervently.
Not only did he demand perfection of himself, but he demanded it of everyone else around him including his wife and son. That’s what driven perfectionists do.
Relaxation to him was playing golf and being outdoors. But, who could play at anything with Doug around? He couldn’t stand to lose especially when the guys would make “friendly” bets with each other before a round. He had bought expensive clubs and taken expensive lessons so that he could come out on top or near the top in their weekly round of golf.
He was known to throw clubs and had bent a few 9- irons when errant chip shots cost him a chance for a birdie putt. That was how Doug “relaxed.”
Saturday, he planned to meet a few of his old
college buddies and take his 12 year-old son to the big football game. He was an avid fan and bought four season tickets every year. When his university played at home, he was there. This year’s team was meeting with success with a 3-1 record. This made him somewhat happy, but last week’s loss still left a sour taste in his mouth.
Sundays were for golf. It hadn’t always been that way. He had been raised in church and came to faith in the third grade. He knew on Monday where he’d be on Sunday morning. It was non-negotiable with his parents. They went to church rain or shine. Saturday night was preparation night. “Shine your shoes, son. Have you read your lesson for tomorrow’s Sunday School? And no, you can’t stay up late.”
They always sat down to a big Sunday dinner after church. Roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, Walforf salad, corn on the cob, and English peas was among his favorite Sunday dinners.
A rehash of the sermon and the Sunday School lesson followed dinner before his mother’s mouth watering chocolate cake was served.
Those were still happy memories.
As a teen, there were times he didn’t want to go to church. “It’s boring. Why can’t I sleep in?”
He remembered his dad’s friend advising, “Your son is a teenager now. He’s old enough to decide whether he wants to go to church or not. Let him decide for himself. That’s what we’ve done with our boy." And, their son had decided to drop out of church. He had rationalized that it was more practical to sleep-in than sleeping through a sermon.
But Doug’s dad would have none of it. “He doesn’t get to decide on whether or not to go to school on Monday, and he isn’t going to decide about going to church on Sunday - at least as long as he is under my roof!”
Doug sometimes complained and whined about how unfair his parents’ were compared to some of his friends’ parents. But, he never really challenged their authority even though there were those Sundays when he had the “slow drags” in getting ready for church. It was his attempt to frustrate his dad in order to try and get him to acquiesce to his desire to sleep in. But, he always went, albeit sometimes reluctantly.
The blinking and buzzing iPhone was annoying him greatly, but he dared not pick it up to read the text message. He was fighting through rush hour traffic and had to keep his eyes on the road.
Next to his company issued iPhone in the passenger’s seat was his company issued laptop. Doug could have stayed in the office until 9 o’clock, but it was Friday. He had had enough. “I’ll work on those laptop files this weekend,” he rationalized. But subconsciously, he knew that he would not likely even turn the machine on.
A woman cut him off in traffic, and he set down on his horn. He said some things that he didn’t learn in Sunday School. He sped up, switched lanes cutting off another driver, and pulled even with her as the red light caught both of them side-by-side. He gave her the finger, but she didn’t give him the time of day and laughed as she beat him out of the gate when the light turned green fueling Doug’s indignation.
Anger rushed into Doug’s face. He reached for the Tums in the console. He couldn't find them, and almost hit the car in front of him in the midst of his search. He was eating the antacid like he ate Life Savers when he was a kid.
To say the least, it had not been a good day and was getting worse every minute.
The iPhone buzzed and lit up again. His heart palpitated. His face flushed. In spite of his desire to read it, he dared not answer it after his close call in the midst of rush hour.
He couldn’t even look forward to going home either. His house wasn’t his castle nor was it a safe place for him these days.
He and Laura passed like two sailing ships on a dark, stormy sea. They seldom spoke. When they did speak, words were harsh, brutal, and accusatory. One or the other, usually Laura, would huff out of the great room slamming the door behind her. They slept in separate bedrooms, and went their separate ways.
Both of them knew how to dish out the pain of treating each other as a non-person. And both of them knew how to push each other’s buttons to set the other one off.
Doug’s stomach was ablaze. “Where’s that Tums?” he asked himself as traffic began to dissipate after he made it to the suburbs.
He finally found them. They were wedged into the crease of the passenger seat. He popped a handful into his mouth.
He pulled into the driveway and groaned when he saw the car of Laura’s parents parked in his spot. Laura had pulled her parents into their problems, and they were all too ready to lecture him on what they saw as his bullheadedness in making their daughter so miserable.
Doug grabbed his laptop and iPhone from his car and headed to the front door with “leave me alone” written all over his face.
But as he approached, Laura, his son, and her parents walked out. “Why didn’t you respond to my text?” she snappily asked him? “I sent you a message that we all were going to grab something to eat and go to the high school football game. Brad wanted to go, and I hoped that you wouldn’t be too busy and might go with us,” she sarcastically said glancing at the laptop under his arms.
Poor Doug. He didn’t need Tums, he needed a shot of Jack Daniels and moved to their bar without responding to his wife as they left for the evening.
“Whew, peace at last,” Doug thought while sitting at his bar. Next, he looked in the refrigerator and combed the cabinets hunting something to eat.
Exhausted, he sat down in the big chair with a sandwich, his laptop, and iPhone.
Where had it all gone wrong? He couldn’t put his finger on it.
Stressed. Anxious. Hurting. Lonely. Guilt. Doug was a mess on the inside.
An attractive wife. A good son. A nice house. A new car. A good job. Respected in the community. Doug looked good on the outside.
The iPhone buzzed and lit up again. The lady texting him gave him a sense of belonging and love. A vacuum has to be filled, and she filled it.
Doug had thrown reason out the window many months ago. His raw emotions virtually controlled his decisions and his life. They cried out for relief like his heartburn cried out for Tums.
But Doug had a physical problem that Tums couldn’t fix, and he had a soul problem that no other woman could satisfy.
Doug had an ever-increasing desire for something that had an ever-decreasing ability to satisfy. His choice to experience something desirable had turned into compulsions that had grown stronger and were out of control.
He had money in the bank, but he was bankrupt. He had a beautiful house, but his home was infested with termites. He had an attractive wife but couldn’t stand to look at her. He was successful, but he was failing in life’s most important business. He had everything, and yet had nothing.
It hadn‘t always been that way, and it didn’t happen overnight.
Laura and Doug were the perfect couple. They had had the perfect wedding and the perfect honeymoon to a romantic island in the Bahamas when she was 28. He was 31. They had perfect jobs and had bought the perfect house together. They passionately loved each other. And, the Lord blessed their union with a son.
Educated. Well-groomed. Leaders in their church. Doug taught the middle school class. Laura sang in the choir.
They even said grace together before dinner and rose early for time alone with God in prayer and meditation. Their love for the Lord, and His love for them filled their days with wonder, peace, and praise to the One from whom all blessings flow. They incarnated the words of the beautiful old hymn.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.
Like an untended garden that is soon overgrown with weeds, Doug had failed to tend to his soul for several years.
Those who knew him then hardly recognized him now. He wasn’t the same Doug. No longer was he kind, gentle, loving, and in service to Christ and his church. He was now mean, impatient, angry, and had no use for God or the church.
It wasn’t a sudden change. The weeds didn’t choke out the garden in a day.
Doug had received promotion after promotion from his company. Accolades poured in. Salary increased. He no longer sat at the back of the conference table for Monday’s executive meetings. The CEO had moved his seat to the front making him his right hand man.
His fellow executives encouraged him to get involved in civic clubs and the fellows in the civic clubs wanted him to play golf with them on Sundays.
Little by little, inch by inch, here a little, there a little, Doug had put the greatest Gift away like an unwanted Christmas present gathers dust in the garage.
Laura had gone her separate way as well. Nothing held them together any more.
But, God doesn’t let his children go without a fight. The Lord called Doug as a young boy and had put His seal of ownership upon him.
Behind all of Doug’s misery and pain was the hand of God making him miserable, restless, and discontent.
The inconvenient truth is that God doesn’t leave his children alone when they ignore Him. Old Br'er Rabbit may enjoy living in the briar patch, but the Lord isn’t going to let his sons and daughters enjoy living there.
The Lord didn’t allow Moses to be content in the land of Median tending sheep. He spoke through the bush that didn’t burn.
He didn’t allow Jonah to have peace as he ran away on a ship bound for Tarshish. No, He sent a violent storm. The men threw him overboard, and the Lord had a great fish capture old Jonah to set him aright.
The Lord followed Elijah to the juniper tree and wouldn’t let him retire. He sent an angel to set him on his way again to bring God’s message to the wicked Jezebel.
Our God is a jealous God. He is possessive over his children and wasn’t going to easily let go of Doug. He loved him too much.
It’s like what the Apostle Paul wrote. “The Master won't put up with it. He wants us — all or nothing. Do you think you can get off with anything less?” (1 Corinthians 10:22, The Message Bible).
So, what would the Lord do to bring Doug and his family back to Himself? Back to a love relationship with Him walking in devotion, praise, and prayer? Back to serving Him through the church, the body of Christ? And back to loving those mischievous middle-schoolers of which his own son was now one?
A burning bush? A violent storm? An angel? What would it take?
Doug grabbed his laptop and headed out the door to his car. He was smart enough to think that he might need an excuse if he was out late. He could tell Laura that he had to run back to the office and get his thumb drive that had all his files on it and work in his office.
With his car key in his hand, Pastor Tony pulled into his driveway right when Doug closed the front door.
Ughhh, that was the last person he wanted to see.
“Hey Doug, I was headed to the football game and thought I’d stop by and say ‘Hello.’” Why don’t you come on and go with me? It’s going to be a good one.
“We’ve really been missing you in church. We still need a middle school Sunday School teacher, too,” he smiled. Then with a look of concern, the good pastor asked, “Say, is something wrong? You seem to be bothered about something.”
Doug’s face was on fire. “No, everything’s OK,” he lie.
“OK, hope to see you Sunday. If there’s anything I can do for you, let me know.”
Doug got into his car, reached for the Tums and popped in another handful.
In spite of Doug’s best efforts, he came home after Laura and Brad had gone to bed. The time had gotten away from him. It was late, very late.
“Where have you been?” Laura had been unable to sleep and had walked into the great room when she heard him shut the door.
Shocked, Doug froze in his tracks. He held the laptop up for her to see.
“I, uh, forgot my thumb drive that had my files on it. I had to go back to the office to get it and decided to just do the work there.”
“Yea, sure!” She angrily turned around, and slammed the door to her bedroom not even thinking about her sleeping son.
Doug awoke Saturday morning hoping Brad wouldn’t want to go to the college game he had promised him. Doug had other plans and going to the game would have been a great alibi.
But to his dismay, Brad was raring to go. It put Doug in a bad mood for their time together. He snapped at his son the whole day.
Doug had gotten to the point that he couldn’t tell a lie from the truth. It was one lie after another to cover the previous lies. He was reaching the point of no return. He practically lived in pain. It erupted from every place on his body like being wrapped in a blanket of nails that smothered his soul with agony.
Sunday morning was drippy, damp, and stormy. “No golf today,” he moaned to himself. But there was a voice coming through the dreary morning like an earworm.
“We’ve really been missing you in church. Hope to see you Sunday. If there’s anything I can do for you, let me know. “Let me know. Let me know. Let me know.”
Doug put his hands over his ears as if to deafen his pastor’s words. But, the words kept ringing in his brain over and over like that annoying old jingle, “I Wish I Were an Oscar Mayer Wiener” that just stays with you like an onion stays on your breath.
He staggered out of his bedroom like a zombie and said, “I’m going to church today. If anybody wants to go with me, get ready.”
Laura reacted like she had been tasered.
Coming back to life again, she murmured, “Yea, I’ll go. Let me get Brad up. Both of us will go.”
It was a long road back filled with potholes and detours, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. This was a step and a significant one at that.
Healing a broken soul doesn’t happen over night. There is no magic ’fix-it now’ pill.
There would be hours of counseling. Guilt shame, bitterness, blame, control issues, and perfectionistic tendencies would have to be resolved.
Doug hunted for his Bible and finally found it hidden in the closet. He dusted it off and thumbed through it. He saw the well worn pages and the underlined verses. He read some of his old notes in the flyleaf. For the first time in a long time, he felt a sense of relief.
However, as they neared the church, Doug had a sense of dread come over him. He knew everyone would single him out asking him “Where have you been? We’ve missed you.” That’s the last thing he needed was to have to lie in church about where he had been.
But, he swallowed his pride and found a parking space. With his Bible in his hand and his wife and son beside him, they walked towards the entrance.
He found comfort in the old hymns and inspiration in the new praise choruses. His eyes moistened a bit. It felt good to be back.
Pastor Tony preached from 1 Peter 3:18. “[Jesus] himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross.” Tony told how in Tennessee that a person convicted of a DUI must remove litter from a state highway for a period of 24 hours while wearing an orange-colored vest bearing the words, “I AM A DRUNK DRIVER.”
“Bearing our sins,” the pastor said, “is like Jesus wearing the orange vest for us that says, “I cheated my friends. I lied to my wife. I cursed my God.”
Then he read, “For Christ also suffered for our sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).*
“You don’t have to bear your sins, guilt, and shame any longer,” Pastor Tony preached. “Jesus wore our sins on the cross so we wouldn’t have to wear that yellow vest any more. Transfer your shame and guilt to the cross and a divine transaction occurs. Forgiveness, restitution, reconciliation. Jesus bore the burden so you don’t have to carry that heavy load any more.”
That night, Doug slipped under the sheets with Laura.
Monday morning, he rose early, took his Bible and a cup of coffee and had communion with the Lord.
On the way to work, his iPhone buzzed and lit up. He knew he had to respond to the sender. He texted back, “It’s over.”
Oh, and by the way, Laura talked Doug into seeing a doctor about that heartburn. It’s a good thing too. It wasn’t heartburn after all, but a heart condition that could have led to a heart attack. The doctor caught it in time to treat him and prevent a catastrophe. Stress caused by his emotional and spiritual pain could have killed him in more ways than one.†
Away from the mire, and away from the clay,
God leads His dear children along;
Away up in glory, eternity’s day,
God leads His dear children along.
Some through the waters, some through the flood,
Some through the fire, but all through the blood;
Some through great sorrow, but God gives a song,
In the night season and all the day long.
- Rev. George A. Young (1777–1848)
*from God’s Story, Your Story by Max Lucado, p. 85.
Rev. Dan White is a free-lance writer and founder and pastor of North Columbia Church, Appling, GA. Reach Pastor White at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Your character studies really ring true to life, Pr. Dan. Reading your stories is a fine journey, and I like how you weave the message into the narrative so naturally that it never sounds "preachy." Thank you for sharing another gem with us!