Recently while leaving Las Vegas, my 70-something year-old driver explained, “I enjoy driving Lyft because I like getting to know people.” OK. So I started talking a little bit and I mentioned that I am a pastor.
Turns out he was also a pastor. Retired now, but been in the black Baptist church his whole life. Been married over 40 years, but his wife didn’t come to God until age 35. She was in a singing trio, like the Supremes. Apparently they toured all over. I guess they got pretty big in California before they had to call it quits.
The conversation keeps wandering. I talked about being a financial adviser, calling it “my career that actually pays. Being a pastor doesn’t pay.” He laughed and agreed. He described learning Scripture while driving 18-wheelers for a living, by listening to books on tape.
Then he mentioned his life now being filled with joy, and that a big part of the joy is working, staying busy. He is retired, but not really retired. I said, “No one ever really retires now-a-days.” He thought that was pretty funny too.
Then our conversation started to change. He talked about how his job is to plant a seed, and “you will receive a harvest. You can’t tell other people what to do.” The moment he mentioned not telling other people what to do, my ears and the hair on my arms pricked up.
He talked about how so many people are broken, especially women.
And how other people he meets are consumed by bitterness, even for someone long dead.
I was thinking about his statement that, “you can’t tell other people what to do.” I told him, “you are exactly right about that.”
I started talking about an alcoholic friend of mine. I said, “Here’s me” (pointing to myself), “here’s my friend” (pointing to the dash), “and here’s my friend’s drinking” (pointing to the window). “I can affect my relationship to my friend.” (tracing a line from me to the dash) “And I can even affect my own relationship to my friend’s drinking. For instance, I can tell him I just won’t hang out with him when he drinks.” (tracing a line from me to the window) “But I can’t affect his relationship to his drinking!” (tracing a line from the dash to the window)
“You can never make someone else more responsible. Anything I do to try to make him more responsible for his drinking causes ME to take some responsibility for HIS drinking. And that means now he has even less responsibility!”
Chuckling, he agreed. “Because now all he has to do is call you up and unload all of it on you!” Yes, he said, you have to love people where they are at. He told me he never tries to fix or save anyone. He just prays that God will give him a word to give people. To plant that seed.
I said, “That is right! I can’t act like I’m someone’s father. Because then they act towards me based on the position I’m holding in their emotional family tree. And speaking of bitterness towards someone long dead, well, if I start to act like someone’s father…”
We arrived at the airport. He said, “I don’t take anything lightly. There is a reason we needed to meet.”
As we shook hands, we both said, at exactly the same time, the same phrase: “Take care of yourself.”
Most people just say, “Take care.” They don’t use the whole phrase. We both did. And at exactly the same time.
You know, it’s funny. I’ve been struggling for months to make accessible “Family Systems Theory”, which is a method of understanding human interaction. And here this Lyft driver in Las Vegas, taking me to the airport as I finished up a vacation, in 8 minutes gave me the perfect explanation.
“Because now all he has to do is call you up and unload it all on you!” I’ll never forget that phrase.
Anyway, I left out the one thing he said that jarred me. “I never got too intellectual about the Scriptures.”
I know what he means. But I also know that he is part of a vibrant, powerful intellectual tradition–it’s just a tradition that is not necessarily written down. He represents the combined wisdom of centuries of black pastors and church-goers who orally passed down what they knew about human behavior.
I come from a different tradition. Mine is written. But he and I both ended up in precisely the same place, spiritually and intellectually, when we parted at that airport in Vegas:
You cannot take care of anyone else if you do not take care of yourself. You can never make someone else more responsible. You cannot tell other people what to do. You cannot save other people.
Love other people where they are at. If they are consumed by bitterness, you may have to let them go. But always try to plant a seed.
Some of you maybe need to write all that out and paste it to your forehead or something. If you’re my friend, and you think I aimed this at you, well, I probably did. If you’re reading this, this is for you:
Take care of yourself.