Debra was feeling even more anxious than usual because she was sitting in the waiting room of the anxiety clinic. She was staring at the stack of waiting room magazines wondering how many germs were on them when an older man came in and sat right beside her, which was weird because she was the only other person in the room. What was even weirder was he was now staring at her with his face about five inches from her ear. Afraid of acknowledging him and starting a conversation, Debra pretended she didn’t notice. He began to speak. “I’m going to guess you’re here because of anxiety.” Debra didn’t answer him. He continued: “I’m a mind reader.” Debra did her best not to flinch for fear that would encourage him to keep speaking. “I’m also guessing that you’re uncomfortable with me being this close to your face.”
Debra cracked: “Those are pretty obvious things. I’m not sure that’s proof you can read minds.”
“Okay,” he said. “Let’s be more specific. Your name is Debra McCallister. You were born Aug 13, 1982, and live at 42 west 32 street.”
Debra had a mini panic attack. “How… how did you know that?”
He laughed. “You’re holding your chart in a way that I can read it. I can’t actually read minds. I’m just fooling around.” He then moved to a seat across from her. “Now that I’ve broken the ice, I’m going to guess you’re constantly helping other people no matter how much it hurts you. You’re afraid to say no because you don’t want to upset people and yet it feels like no one appreciates you and now you’re completely worn out.” Debra just stared at him wondering how he knew all this, especially when he wasn’t a mind reader. He then added, “This is the same stuff most people have when they come here.” Debra was surprised to hear her issue was so common. He continued, “You know what your problem is?”
“Yes,” Debra replied confidently, “I have anxiety.”
“Nope. The problem is you’re selfish.”
“What?” Debra couldn’t help but laugh at this crazy idea.
The man explained, “Helping others can be selfish.”
“I’m afraid I have to disagree with you,” Debra quipped. “It’s better to give than to receive.”
The man smiled, “Sure, but let me ask you: An adult diaper needs to be changed. Would you rather change someone else’s diaper or have someone change yours?”
“Obviously I’d rather change the other person’s.”
“See? Serving is your preferred choice, so it can be selfish.”
Debra scoffed, “I’m selfish because I don’t want someone changing my metaphoric adult diaper?”
The man calmly replied, “If you’re a good person, serving others is easier than letting people serve you. Part of your anxiety is you will do anything for others, but you won’t let others do anything for you. This is actually reducing the quality of your friendships and, therefore, your happiness.”
Debra was shocked. She had never thought of it that way before, but could this seemingly crazy man be on to something? Her friendships have always consisted of doing things for people who disappeared when she was in need. But even if they didn’t disappear, would she even know how to let someone help her?
The man continued, “Sometimes the best gift we can give people is to let them serve us. It gives them a sense of value and makes them feel good about themselves.” He coyly smiled, “Truth is you don’t need to be here.” Debra wasn’t sure what to think about this last comment. She didn’t want to be at the anxiety clinic, but at the same time, she needed to change something in her life. The man continued, “Even if you won’t let others do things for you, here’s how you fix all your anxiety problems: Be proud of yourself. Whether people say thank you or not doesn’t matter if you don’t first appreciate the good you’re doing. Someone’s appreciation should just reaffirm how you are already proud of yourself.”
Debra was at a loss for words. Be proud of herself? Is she allowed to be? Isn’t that being arrogant?
The man continued. “This is life: Do good works, thank God for your talents and opportunities, and be proud of yourself for using your talents and opportunities; you’ll be more confident and happier and… then you die.”
Debra suddenly snapped, “What?”
The man calmly replied “That’s life. We live and we die; the world carries on and nothing we did will really matter. Everything you’re anxious about today will soon be a memory good or bad and then it’ll just be pointless. It’s like the slap chop. Remember that? It was a big deal for awhile, then it was a memory, and now pointless… just like your life will be. Isn’t that liberating?”
Debra was suddenly really upset, “But I want to matter. I want my life to matter.”
The man gently put his hand on her shoulder and said: “And that’s why you’re selfish. You serve to fill a hole in your life and feel good enough; not because of love. As long as you care about being someone who matters, you will never be happy… and then you will die… miserable. That’s not how I would want to live.” The man took his hand off Debra’s shoulder and stood up. “Funny thing is… you already matter; God created you. Start accepting that and be proud of all the good things you do. God is proud of you. It’s time you were proud of yourself too.” As the man turned to leave, he paused, looked back and added, “Oh, and so you know; God is proud of us when we say no to things we should say no to. Sometimes we need to say no so we can rest and be better to serve later. Plus, this gives someone else a chance to step up and serve.” And with that, the man left the office.
Debra was now in a daze and only snapped out of it when the nurse called her name. Debra asked the nurse, “Who was that man who was in here with me?”
The nurse looked at her questioningly, “Man? You’re the only one who’s been here all morning.”
“What?” Debra was really weirded out now.
The nurse laughed. “I’m just kidding. That’s Charlie the janitor. He likes scaring the clients. Come on; let’s get you some more meds to make you feel better.”
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people