“Why is everyone scowling at me?”

I had a week(s) where every time I made eye contact with someone, invariably, they would have this pained look on their face. I had to look into a mirror, like Boris Karloff in Targets, before realizing what was causing it: my face. Every time a certain subject came up, I would, unintentionally, audibly groan. I developed an eye twitch. I started to get irritable and lose certain important social filters.

“I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t do it again.”

This is an example of something you should not say to someone you mentored during their exit interview. Except. I did say it. Yep. That wasn’t how I pictured wrapping up a decade-long stint of mentoring young pastors, certainly not by saying that to the last one of the group. In fairness, in context, what I said wasn’t quite as bad as it sounds — but not by much. Let’s just say, it wasn’t the final blessing I wanted to impart, like, at all. Low marks from the East German judge. All these things seemed like symptoms. You think?

It wasn’t empty nest syndrome; I had prepared myself for that years earlier, and whatever I was feeling, that wasn’t it. No, it was as if I was a sack of potatoes that fell off a truck and got backed over a few times. Why am I experiencing this now? I may have had bad days while mentoring, but I never felt anything like this while I was doing it. You just aren’t supposed to feel like this at the end of a season of ministry. My time with them had suddenly become a referendum on years and years worth of work, and I was worried it wasn’t good work. I am almost positive I had created at least one Kylo Ren. I said it. Hey, I don’t feel good about it. All the guys I mentored are the opposite of failures. They are high-achievers even when unmotivated, literally fall into winning, which means if they don’t — all fingers point back at this guy. My first gig after graduating from Handsome Boy Modeling School, so to speak, left me feeling like Chris Elliot’s character did in the 90’s sitcom, Get a Life. The feeling of having been set up to highlight my actual capabilities, as painted by Lucian Freud.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s famous poem Who Am I?, included in a July 1944 letter to sent to his parents from prison, has the best description of what I’m talking about, what I always talk about. No, I’m not comparing myself to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but let’s just say his low anthropology is showing here:

Who am I? This one or the other?
Am I this one today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? Before others a hypocrite,
and in my own eyes a pitiful, whimpering weakling?
Or is what remains in me like a defeated army,
Fleeing in disarray from victory already won?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine,
Whoever I am, Thou knowest me, O God, I am thine!

I reached out to a couple of people I respected, folks I trusted to tell me the truth. I wanted to know why did I feel like a fraud whenever the topic of mentoring came up, and how badly had I botched the job. They both, independently, told me exactly the same thing: You are tired. You get tired when you do stuff. You did stuff for a long time, so, you are very tired. As to everything else, they echoed Lady Julian of Norwich, about the grace that saves, “I see no blame” — the truth, at least how God sees it.

The eye twitch is gone.

Bonus material:

Mockingbird friend Pastor Ryan Pryor wrote a song based on Bonhoeffer’s poem, Who Am I?

Some Truth from the Handsome Boy Modeling School:
You can’t hide from the truth, Because the truth is all there is