Among the worst songs ever written has got to be “Torn Between Two Lovers” — that “Me Generation” ballad in which Mary MacGregor whines that she’s torn between two lovers, and that “loving them both is breaking all the rules.”
While I’ve been torn between pizza and burritos, I’ve never been torn between two lovers. But years ago when I was a pastor, I did have a congregant who was torn between two “loves” — his love for his wife and his love for helping others. The trouble started when the “other” love involved was not his wife.
“We’ve got to do something about Deacon Mike,” began Deacon Chairman Joe in a grim voice which echoed through our empty vestibule.
“Is there something new?”
On the previous week Joe and I had cautioned Mike about the inappropriateness of his lengthy visits to the home of a marriage in trouble. We were hoping to keep him off that slippery slope of good intentions that so often leads us so far off course.
“I saw Mike’s car at Bob and Sarah’s house on my way home from church last night.”
I paused, processing information I didn’t want to hear.
“Bob’s gone for the week… remember?”
“Well, maybe he, uh…”
Joe held up his hand to stop me. “I saw Mike drive into Sarah’s driveway on my way here this morning.”
“Not good,” I thought, picking put the phone to call Sarah.
“Sarah, is your husband there?”
“Then I’d like to talk to Mike.”
In a quick, curt exchange, we arranged to meet Mike at his house a half hour later.
As Joe and I approached his door, our footsteps were answered with a muffled voice — “It’s open.”
The light of the opening door exposed a shamed deacon lying in a fetal position with an unopened Bible clutched to his chest. Was he consulting the Bible or saying goodbye to it? We couldn’t be sure.
In any case, his body language indicated that we were witnessing a man’s surrender to the death of his ministry.
“Mike,” I said softly, trying to enter his world without breaking it, “we need to talk.”
“Damn it!” he screamed. “I haven’t done anything wrong!”
“We didn’t come with stones,” I told him, holding up empty palms.” We just want to talk.”
After meeting a few more of his expletives with similar assurances, Mike sat up and looked at us. We were willing to listen, and so was he.
“Her husband’s never home,” Mike charged. “He doesn’t talk to her. He has them deep in debt. He’s nothing but a selfish child.”
The thin strand of logic in Mike’s rationalizations began to reveal the complicated truth — this wasn’t a hormone-driven coveting of another man’s wife, no. This was a good man intent on “rescuing” a distressed damsel from the slippery ice — only to find himself sliding full speed toward a disastrous drop over a cliff.
Caught up in feeling like a hero to Sarah, Mike was in a heady place.
“Mike,” I asked, pointing to some suitcases, “are you asking your family to pay the price for Sarah’s rescue? If so, you’re looking at a total faith meltdown!
“If you leave them to help her, it will be a lifetime of forevers before your family will be able to have faith in anyone again. Are you willing to have them pay that price?”
Mike had to make a choice. Like an Everest climber deciding to abandon one injured person in order to save the rest of the party, Mike was torn between trying to hold on to his family and trying to rescue someone else. It didn’t seem unreasonable — but that’s the nature of slippery slopes. And when you’re on one, it helps to have some friends to keep you anchored. That’s what we tried to do.
Eventually Mike saw the necessity to abort this rescue attempt. He altered his path. He grabbed hold of his own family and made it safely down the mountain. He went to counseling. He rediscovered his calling.
And he found a new place in ministry. Now he’s not only Deacon Mike, he’s “Sherpa Mike” — helping others find their way down their own slippery slopes.