It’s a couple of days before Thanksgiving, so last night, in keeping with tradition, my wife and I got the kids all nestled in their beds, grabbed some blankets, and retreated to the couch to watch one of our favorite movies. In all reality, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is one of my favorite movies. I think Jill puts up with the movie because it makes me laugh and she knows spending time with me watching comedies or sports is my love language.
If you don’t know the movie, watch it. It’s got John Candy, and Steve Martin at the height of their comedic careers as their characters are forced together by fate, both desperately trying to get home to Chicago before Thanksgiving. One obstacle after another stands in their way of home. A snowstorm closes the airport sending them to Wichita. A train breakdown leaves them stranded in a field. A thief steals all their money while they sleep. It’s just one thing after another.
Then, there’s this scene where an airport shuttle bus drops off Neal in the middle of a rental car parking lot. He walks to the spot on his reservation ticket only to find no car in the spot. He begins the long walk back to the terminal, and you can feel his anger building as the frustration of his already long trip reaches its boiling point. He gets to the front desk of the rental car company waiting impatiently for the attendant to finish her phone call.
And then, he goes off into this epic tirade. He loses it. The words that flow out, and they do flow out, express the anger he’s allowed to build up inside. He couldn’t hold back any longer.
I looked at my wife during this scene because we were both thinking the same thing, I’ve got a lot in common with Neal Page. I have this tendency to let stuff build up, and once it hits a boil, it just lets loose. I’m not proud of it. In spiritual terms, I call it sin. It’s gross, and I’m working on it all the time, but I get it. I get exactly what Neal Page is feeling. But I also learned something else from that scene and this movie.
Neal is just trying to do the right thing. He desperately wants to get home to his family. At one point on the train, he has visions of this perfect dinner waiting for him, his kids and wife smiling back at him. But even with all the right intentions, things go wrong and get in the way of this good vision.
I know what it’s like to be Neal Page because, honestly, it’s a lot like being a pastor. I’ve got this direction I want to go with the church that I believe is good and pure. I feel like I’m doing all the right things and stuff keeps getting in the way. Why can’t the journey be easy? Why can’t I get there already? I’ve been frustrated a lot lately. I don’t know that people have seen it but I’ve felt impatient, and I’ve struggled through some stuff where I just felt like the next shoe was going to drop. It hasn’t been super healthy. Thank goodness for good counseling to work through stuff.
And then I was reminded of a passage from scripture. It’s in the book of Galatians. When I worked for another pastor, he used to quote it all the time. “Don’t get weary in well doing.”
When this first came to mind, I was annoyed. I knew the passage, and I knew the application, I didn’t want to hear it. Then, as I sat watching this movie, it hit me hard, and I realized what being weary in well doing is all about, why there’s a warning about it, and why we can’t fix it alone.
Neal gets so focused on his destination that he doesn’t realize he needs to slow down and see the people around him. If he’d open his eyes, he would see what is going on. Del is offering to help Neal because Del is just as desperate for help. Del is lonely, homeless, and has no family on Thanksgiving. He has this facade up that everything is okay, but deep down he’s hurting.
By the end of the movie, Neal realizes what’s going on, and he invites Del home for Thanksgiving with his family, and in John Hughes style, the movie ends in a freeze frame. All the laughing of the movie leads to this truth every one of us needs to learn:
It’s so easy to allow anger, frustration, and rage to cloud our inability to miss what really matters: each other. This happens with our families way more often than most of us would like to admit. And we all have something to learn with that.
But let me speak to pastors here. And, in that, I’m transparent that I’m challenging myself here.
Pastors, our focus on the disappointment of not getting where we want to be, causes us to miss the opportunity to minister to the people around us who desperately need it. As a pastor, that hurts. But let me be even more brutal here. As pastors, we more often miss out on the opportunity for others to minister to us. And that’s even worse because the longer that goes on, the more worn out we become. When we are worn out is when we are attacked by temptation, self-doubt, and bad decision making. Again, thank goodness for good, licensed counselors.
So, please, join me right now in slowing down and allowing others to minister to you. If anger is your issue, don’t let it boil over before you talk to someone about it. It’s okay to have problems you’re facing; it’s not okay to not do something about it. Just please don’t put it off. Movies end up with freeze frames and credits, but life doesn’t work that way. You’re life, and calling is too valuable to wait.