Only Jesus

“Get undressed and put this robe on. Leave it open in the back. The doctor will be in shortly.”

I know how it works, I snarl to myself. This nurse doesn’t know me. I think she’s new. Or, at least, she wasn’t here the last time I paid a visit or for any of my many visits. But she’s just doing her valuable job. With a closed-mouth half smile, I nod in respect of her instructions. But I know how it works. I know this room. Like a freshman coming home for his first break from college, everything is exactly the way I left it. Just replace a few vintage sports posters with doctorates and diplomas, and maybe a New York Yankees comforter instead of disposable bed paper, and this place is like the back of my hand.

The window is completely frosted. The indistinguishable cars in the parking lot come and go with rhythmic regularity. In the magazine rack, Good Housekeeping has Oprah promising weight loss and in a magazine bearing her own name, she’s listing her favorite recipes and must-see television. I opt for the Sports Illustrated tucked tightly behind at least six years’ worth of National Geographic. On most days, I’d go straight to “Laughter, The Best Medicine” from any of the dozen Reader’s Digests, but not today. Not here. The Sports Illustrated will have to do. The pages are brittle from humidity and time – as if the magazine had gone from a steam room to a dry sauna and preserved for a decade under a heat lamp. Heat and time. (Say that in your best Morgan Freeman.)

Anyway, either for the person who will come after me or for the many who have come before me, I seem to be respectfully turning the delicate pages as to not tear a one. Meanwhile the shadows under the doorway go back and forth. At any minute the door will open. I know how it works. I know this room.

It seems the same layer of dust from the memory of this doctor’s office lays atop my keyboard. I hope you don’t mind if I blow it off, crack my knuckles and take it for a spin before the doctor gets here. Over these few months, I didn’t see any roadblocks nor did I hear of any search parties out to find me, so I suppose the world is still on its axis. Although, I did see a couple of email flares of wonder go up and I appreciate all three of you for those.  But for a number of reasons – spiritual, physical and mental – I needed a few months off from writing.

After the PrayFit 5K a few months ago – about the same time I went into the cave I’m peeking out of today – we transitioned PrayFit out of our office at the church. We will be dedicating a portion of our proceeds to the special needs ministry from the next race, but we just won’t be running PrayFit from inside the church facility.

But during my hiatus, I put down my pen and paper. I say that as if I’ve stalled the progress of the 5th gospel; as if my words are inspired; as if each paragraph left blank will leave a gaping black hole somewhere in the universe. But the crickets I heard as I paused PrayFit was a welcome and sobering serenade.

So the skinny is, I’ve been seeking His heart, working out mine, reading new books and re-reading old ones, renewing my mind, recalibrating and rededicating my life, reminding myself that Jesus’ rightful place is on the throne of my heart. I’ve asked PrayFit in clear and present terms to do more than scoot over, but to bow out, to step down, to hush up. Tragic how ministry can become more important than its Majesty.

PrayFit has been dethroned.

In the meantime, I’ve been consulting. Most of you may not know that many moons ago, long before the magazines and books, the ministry and charity work, I was an executive in fitness and spa operations. Seems that hat still fits. On one hand, I’ve enjoyed putting on my suit, pouring myself into the hearts and minds of individuals to create excellence, to anticipate needs, to exceed expectations, to “wow” people. But while I serve the discerning and blessed guest, my mind is constantly on the marginalized, the poor, the homeless. While I roll out the red carpet for those with unique funds, my heart still pounds for those with special needs.

By grace, I find myself talking to the Lord more often, in more ways, in deeper ways, more meaningful, raw and imperfect ways. Wait, did I mention that this gig has me away from home? Yeah, I talk to God more often than ever because I don’t get much face-to-face with my wife. Not that this will surprise you, but I’m a wimp on my own. If I’m not careful, I’ll droop my shoulders and sulk. I'll sing the blues. Where's a harmonica when I need one? I’m the most excellent host of my own pity party.

But this time of travel has allowed me to cherish my wife. In more painful ways than how PrayFit exited the throne, Loretta willingly removed herself from top spot. She knows she’s not my Savior, but in my weakness and pride I put that kind of pressure on her. So, being on the road has done wonders for my ego. It's killing it.

But I have to confess, I’ve missed writing. I’ve missed this arena. I’ve missed the call on my life to call us to humble, Biblical bodily stewardship. I’ve just missed you. Sentimental me is still exactly that. (And maybe a touch more these days.) But I will tell you what I haven’t missed. I haven’t missed social media, nor the unspoken, self-imposed pressure to be witty, clever, liked, or even “influential.” Saying that puts such a strange taste in my mouth. I don't need to be witty, I need to be willing. No need for likes, but I'm called to live and love. And who am I to be influential? The prodigal in pig slop doesn't preach, he pleads. He doesn't describe the mud, he kicks up dirt and goes home. 

I think the doctor is about to come in, but in my nightly go-to book (Every Season Prayers), Scotty Smith writes, “Dear Heavenly Father, by your grace, Paul was so over himself. These verses (1 Cor. 2:1-4 NLT) are indicting because they expose the performer and perfectionist in me. I still get sucked into trying to gain and maintain people’s approval by what I do.” Amen to that. And no more of that, please Jesus. I think that's why this road I'm on, which includes the exam room I'm in, is exactly where I need to be.

In my new favorite song, “Only Jesus” by Casting Crowns, they sing, “I don’t want to leave a legacy. I don’t care if they remember me. Only Jesus.” And that’s where I’m settling my mind these days.

Wouldn't you know it? I think I hear a cricket in this room.

- Jimmy Peña

to be continued...