David Smith and I were friends from junior high school until his death a few years ago.
Once, when we were already deep into middle age, we got together after not having seen each other for a while.
At this point, he was newly single again. Like a lot of my boyhood friends, he always called me Willie.
“Willie,” he said, “after my third wife left me, I finally had a revelation.”
“A revelation?” I said.
“I got up one morning, and I went into the bathroom. I was standing there staring in the mirror, and all of a sudden it came to me. I thought, ‘You know, maybe it’s me.’”
“Yeah? Then what?”
“Then I realized, no, it couldn’t be that.”
Fortunately, Smith went on to a fourth, and this time, happy, marriage. I performed the ceremony and wrote about it for the newspaper.
But I can’t tell you how many times his words — “You know, maybe it’s me” — have come to my mind. He was speaking tongue-in-cheek, but as a famous proverb reminds us, many a truth has been said in jest.
I’ve wondered how many serious, besetting problems we might end if we would just look in a mirror and say, and mean it, “You know, maybe it’s me.”
Staring in that kind of mirror can be hard, though. That’s why we avoid it.
I realize that anybody, and I do mean anybody, can hit a patch of bad luck.
There’s probably no one so lucky he hasn’t gotten mixed up with an incompetent boss or an irrational spouse or a rebellious child. Incompetent, irrational and or rebellious people exist in this world; sooner or later you’re going to cross paths with one.
And while not everyone is dangerously maladjusted, all of us are flawed; sooner or later we’re all likely to do something dumb and self-destructive ourselves. We’ll have a stupid, momentary madness. We’ll drive drunk or fall into an affair or gamble away our paycheck at a casino or oversleep through an important job interview.
That’s not what I’m talking about here, though.
I’m talking about the person who seems to run into the same typhoon time and again.
He’s had six jobs in four years and quit every job in a huff because the boss was incompetent. One incompetent boss is bad luck. Six incompetent bosses in a row? What are the odds? Something else is going on.
She’s been married five times, and to hear her tell it all her husbands were overbearing, narcissistic jerks. Yes, anybody can be misled into a disastrous marriage. And some husbands are overbearing, narcissistic jerks. But she picked five of them in a row?
She gets carried away laughing and telling stories with her girlfriends after work, has a glass of wine too many and ends up getting a DUI on the way home. That’s a moment of faulty judgment. Maybe her friends pressured her into drinking too much. Maybe the cop was a jerk. But a third DUI?
It’s never my intention here, or anywhere else, to condemn anybody.
What I’m saying is that if you — or I, or Pope Francis — keeps having the same difficulty or disappointment in any arena of life again and again, it’s probably not the fault of the boss, or your spouse or your friends. It’s probably not a momentary lapse in judgment.
If you’ve joined a dozen different churches and none of them was spiritual enough for you, the problem likely wasn’t with the churches.
Maybe it was you.
Maybe this is your way of life. Maybe this is who you are.
Maybe you’ve got a serious underlying issue that needs to be addressed. Maybe things will never change, your luck will never change, until you get honest with yourself.
There’s no shame in having an issue. Who hasn’t had one? (Or two. Or five.)
The shame is in not having the courage to face ourselves honestly. The shame is in deflecting the blame onto others. The shame is in not doing the hard work.
There needs to come a point when we ask, “Is this how I want to live the rest of my life until I die — reeling from one disastrous love affair to another?” Or, “Is this the example I want to set for my kids — never being able to hold a job or commit to my faith?”
If the answer is no, then we’ve got to rewire our very brain.
That isn’t easy. It may take years. It may take therapy. It may take rehab. There will be a lot of slogging a few steps forward only to slip back again and have to start over.
It will take bravery.
But, as Jesus famously said, in the end the truth always sets us free. That includes the painful truth about ourselves.
And freedom is worth the steep, steep cost.