A Weary Preacher and the Imaginary Friend

By Paul Koch

I’m tired.

I am a called and ordained servant of the Word. I preach, teach, and administer the Sacraments in accordance with the Word of God, guided by the Lutheran Confessions. I get to do what many people couldn’t imagine. I’m invited into intimate moments of people’s lives: death, marriage, and new births. I have a congregation that loves and supports me. By all accounts, I have an incredible job. I get to study the Word and read theology as part of my craft. In fact, I do love my job. Still, I find that I’m weary.

I learned early on in this vocation that one of the great problems is that there is no finality to this work, no completion until the great day of completion at the return of Christ. Everything between this day and that last day is a constant shifting and organic reality in which Law and Gospel impact the lives of God’s children in a sort of never-ending dance bringing both death and life as it works despair of self and assurance in Christ alone. This means that the penultimate goal of this work is constantly changing.

This constantly changing reality means that focusing on one area causes another to be neglected. As you seek to catechize so as to dispel the prevalent enthusiast tendencies invading the congregation, you may not be paying attention to eroding confidence among your youth in the Word of God. As you turn to address and focus on them, you don’t see the subtle attacks of the evil one on those timid members who feel disconnected from the fellowship and are slowly slipping away. As you reach out to them, the attack moves somewhere else. On and on it goes. There’s no finality, no end.

A few days ago, I went to visit a member who hasn’t been able to make it to church for about the last six years or so. Most of her life is spent sitting in her chair in front of her television, watching reruns of old game shows in between snippets of Fox News. She is cared for by two very compassionate daughters, and most of her trips out of the home are only to various doctor appointments. She struggles with most of the ailments that the aging body struggles with, but the most brutal is macular degeneration. Every time I see her, she is able to see me less and less.

I go to visit with her, and we talk quite a bit. I tell her about the things going on at the church, but most importantly I go to bring her the gifts of our Lord. I’m there to proclaim to her our Lord’s sweet absolution and join with her in fellowship of the altar. She is sweet, kind, and grateful for this small service I fumble through. But this last visit she shared with me something I was not prepared for. She told me about a new friend, a friend that none of us could see, a young man who she called Bob who would sit in the chair across from her and keep her company throughout the day.

Now, I’m not sure what Bob is. It is most likely a bioproduct of living with diminishing eyesight and increased loneliness. I suppose it could be something more, some spirit at work to entertain her in quiet hours. As we talked about it, she didn’t seem too disturbed and didn’t necessarily want Bob to leave. He seemed more like an imaginary friend that a child might have than some demonic force of darkness, so Bob sat there quietly as we celebrated the gifts of our Lord together.

She confessed her faith and received gifts that promised something beyond this life—her full participation in a new heavens and new earth, in an eternal life with perfect eyesight and no more ailments. So, I left her with a smile on her face. Having drunk deep of our Lord’s blessings, she returned to her seemingly small life with her daughter by her side and Bob to keep her entertained.

As I left, I smiled to myself and thanked God for another visit with another saint who again came to my aid in my weariness.

You see, her concern may have seemed bizarre. Most of my members don’t struggle with imaginary friends (I think), but they all struggle with something outside of my ability to control. There may be an incompleteness to my vocation, a constantly shifting point of attack, but the tools and the resources that I use are constant. The weapons at my disposal are always the same; they are the gifts of God that can bind and loose sins and bring light into the darkness and hope to the hopeless. So, Bob had to sit quietly while this wonderful child of God received her Father’s blessings.

Into my weariness, I am reminded that although this job is not easy, it is simple. There are gifts to be given. In a bold and reckless manner, they are to be given over and again. While I cannot see Bob, much less control him, I can proclaim the riches of God’s mercy into that home. It is this way to all those I’ve been called to serve. I cannot control their lives, but I can proclaim into them God’s Law and Gospel.

So, I find a second wind (or third or fourth) and get back to work. After all, I do love this job, and you never know when I’ll meet another Bob.