The Worst Day of Someone’s Life

I’m convinced that boredom is at the root of many of the Church’s ills.

‘EMT’ (photo: Veronica Winters / Shutterstock)

Every call we get, that’s the worst day of someone’s life.

One of the regular features of New York magazine is a section called “The Cut.” Right in the middle, between the features and the pop culture reviews, it’s a spread of photographs with a few quotes of people who are … somewhere. Sometimes it’s a fashion-centric event, but quite often it’s not. So with this issue, it was EMT training.

And that’s what Jose Laguda says, after answering a question about what he does to relax after training:

Fishing. I usually go around Sheepshead Bay. We rent a charter boat and just go out and go fish. There are flounder, sea bass, porgies. It’s a lot: Every call we get, that’s the worst day of someone’s life.

There are times when I got to Mass or other churchy things, and I can just feel the boredom of those in charge. The presider, the preacher, the musicians, the speaker, the teacher, the confessor.

It is one of the great dangers of ministry, of spiritual leadership: boredom.

And I’m convinced that this boredom is at the root of many of the Church’s ills. People get bored, and so what do they do? First, they communicate that boredom in various ways to those to whom they minister. You’re bored? Well, this must be boring, then. Not worth my time or attention. Certainly not life-changing or life-saving.

But the bored also do damage in other ways. Mostly, their boredom drives them to innovation. I am bored with this, it has lost meaning … therefore everyone else must be bored, as well. It’s time to shake it up.

What they forget, then, is that while you, the minister, might be bored, the person to whom you are ministering probably is not. If they were, they wouldn’t be sitting in that pew, they wouldn’t be in that confessional, they wouldn’t be in that Communion line. Maybe.

That is:

This might be the hundredth time you’ve said “Body of Christ” today, but it’s the only time the person you’re saying to will receive it today. And who knows what they’re bringing as they come?

You find the fact that you have to preach on these readings or teach this point of doctrine again absolutely stultifying, but the people in front of you, listening, well, they are here and they deserve, not your bored self, but your best self. And more than that, they deserve the Gospel which you’ve been charged with sharing. Some are present out of habit, but even they deserve the best and the deepest, for even those present out of habit are joyful, grieving, questioning, seeking, confused or fearful.

And those present out of habit? Perhaps the least helpful way to minister to them is out of boredom.

And that is hard.

Which is why ritual and the givenness of objective spiritual realities is not only so important, but so helpful. You may be exhausted and bored, but in the context of ancient, rich ritual, it’s actually not all on you. You’re just a small part of it, and your fatigue and maybe even your weakness of faith gets absorbed into something bigger and who knows, might even be taken up as a sacrifice.

Please know that my words here are not an argument for drama to combat the appearance of boredom. Far from it. I have no patience with the overdramatic human vessel. It’s more of an argument for those of us in ministry to be aware that while our boredom might prompt us to “innovate” — to check and see if that urge might be coming from desire to serve oneself than to serve others.

Maybe take a hint from Jose Laguda, who, along with his colleagues, probably gets fed up, worn out and bored with his job, but who reminds himself of what it’s about — serving someone on a terrible, wretched day.

After all, every person who’s sitting in that pew — you just never know — they just might be recovering for — or, unknowingly, preparing for — the worst day of their life.

This essay was first published at Charlotte Was Both and is reprinted with permission.