I have a confession: I don’t always practice what I preach. But that’s no surprise. Being human, I’m as broken and in need of forgiveness as anyone else.
Confession and forgiveness are not on my mind because we’re in the Easter season. They’re on my mind because of three nights in North Carolina the week after Easter. My wife’s Christmas present to me was Friday at Merlefest in Wilkesboro, NC. Merlefest is similar to the National Storytelling Festival – only with music, and more stages, and more people. Lotsmore people. But my confession isn’t about Merlefest itself.
Marianne made reservations for us at a 1950’s era, mom & pop motel that required a three-night minimum but which charged the same for those three nights as other places were charging for one night. “It’s clean, and they don’t put up with riff raff,” said the woman at the Wilkesboro Chamber of Commerce who recommended it to us.
When we arrived, I asked the young man at the desk if ours was a non-smoking room.
He winced, cocked his head to one side and said, “Well, it’ssupposedto be. And it’s just been painted.”
We hauled our baggage into our room. It was dark and damp as a cave, the air heavy with the smell old tobacco smoke. The blanket on the bed had a ragged cigarette hole burned in it. The furniture looked like Goodwill cast offs. Yellowed paint puckered on the bare walls, especially in the unvented bathroom. The front lip of the toilet and the side rim of the wall-mounted sink occupied the same vertical plane. The window in the bathroom was rusted shut and clotted thick with paint for privacy. In the dusty, cinderblock sill, two washcloths lay next to two wrapped bars of soap thinner than saltine crackers. People down the walkway and across the lot seemed to watch us a little too closely.
My heart sank and sped up at the same time. I felt like I was on a mission trip – minus the mission work.
“This is worse than I expected,” I said to Marianne – who had so graciously planned the whole weekend. While she smiled a make-the-best-of-it smile, she clearly felt anxious, too.
The friendly folks at the motel did let us move to a different room. And while the air inside was somewhat better, all else remained equal.
Even as I struggled with the idea of paying good money for these accommodations, I knew exactly what I was doing. I was making judgments, judgments about the people who owned the motel, the people who stayed there, the people who lived in the apartments behind the motel. Most of all, I was judging myself as deserving of better and more. My attitude ran counter to virtually everything I preach and teach. My deep failure was in refusing to feel and express gratitude, and not just for the fact of food, clothing, shelter, and water. Utterly consumed by my perceived lack of privilege, I failed to be grateful to and for the person who loved me enough to want to have a new experience with me. I got better over time, but at the outset, tired from Easter’s frenzy, anxious about being ready for the next Sunday, and entitled from having lived a pretty comfortable life so far, I was anything but humble and grateful – much less enjoyable.
I was in good company. “I’m full of myself,” said Paul. “What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise…I obviously need help!…I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway…Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.” (From Rom.7 – The Message)
I said that I felt like I was on a mission trip with no mission work to do. Mission is everything we do as followers of Jesus, though. We are called at all times and all places to serve and not to be served. (Mt. 20:28) Even when we’re tired. Even when we’re on vacation. To do anything less is to separate ourselves from others – something Jesus never did.
I apologize to my dear wife. If she had looked at me with her kind smile and said, “Bless your heart,” I would have deserved it.
Thank you, Marianne, for a wonderful gift.
In the future, I will try to embrace the magnificent promise of Easter with greater compassion, intention, joy – and gratitude.