Do you remember that song “Torn Between Two Lovers” by Mary MacGregor?
In the song, MacGregor whines that she’s torn between two lovers and admits that “lovin’ both of you is breakin’ all the rules.”
While I know what it’s like to be torn between the love for a good mushroom burger and a breakfast burrito, I’ve not experienced MacGregor’s predicament.
However, I saw it more than a few times while I served as a pastor in the late ’80s. One particular case came to my attention when our deacon chairman came into my office telling me he’d noticed Deacon Mike’s car parked all night at the home of a married woman.
She was a woman in our church who’d become lost on a mountain of marital difficulties. Mike had made more than one rescue attempt. But now, it seemed, he’d become lost himself, and I suspected he was in need of a good Sherpa to guide him home.
“This isn’t good,” I thought, picking up the phone to call the woman.
Deacon Mike answered the phone.
In a quick exchange, I asked Mike if he would leave her house and meet us at his own home. An hour later, we were on his doorstep. Finding the door ajar, we pushed it open to see the deacon lying in a fetal position with an unopened Bible clutched to his chest.
“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 explained. “We just want to listen.”
After a few more expletives, Mike started talking. Mostly, he kept blaming the woman’s husband for being away from home so much. He also blamed the man for her debt-filled life brought on by his selfish indulgences.
The thin strand of rationalizations revealed a complicated truth. This wasn’t the hormone-driven coveting of another man’s wife. This was a good man intent on rescuing a distressed damsel from the slippery ice. Problem was, he found himself sliding full speed toward a disastrous drop over an icy cliff.
Caught up in playing the hero, Mike was in a heady place.
I pointed to the suitcases spread about the floor and asked Mike whether he really was ready to pay the price for her rescue.
“If you leave your family to help her,” I told him, “you’ll all go over this cliff. It will be a lifetime before they will be able to have faith in anyone again.”
Mike had to make a choice. Like a Mount Everest adventurer who must leave an injured climber to save the rest of his party, Mike had to choose between rescuing this woman or protecting his family. The price was too great. He would have to release the one he’d come to save.
As hard as that is, that’s the nature of slippery slopes. Fortunately, Mike had friends to bring him back from the edge and eventually he aborted his careless rescue attempt. He altered his path. He grabbed hold of his own family and made it safely down the mountain.
The last time I saw Mike, he’d been to counseling and rediscovered his calling. He’d continued to serve as a deacon for several years after I left.
He’d changed. No longer simply Deacon Mike, he’d become Sherpa Mike, helping others find their way around their own slippery slopes.
Burkes is a former civilian hospital chaplain and an Air National Guard chaplain. Write firstname.lastname@example.org or visit thechaplain.net. You can also follow him on Twitter, username is “chaplain,” or on Facebook at facebook.com/norrisburkes.
Norris Burkes will kick off the distinguished lecture series at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church at 10:45 a.m. Sept. 20. The church is at 50 W. Strawbridge Ave., Melbourne. He also will preach at the 9 a.m. service that day.