This short story is not based on any real person or pastoral care situation and is purely fictional.
It is a cold January morning, snowflakes gently falling like God’s dandruff from the sky. Pastor Javier sits at his desk, captivated by his sermon prep work for the feast of The Baptism of Our Lord. He reads his notes he wrote long ago in his journaling Lutheran Study Bible next to Luke 3:21-22: To say our Baptism does nothing (that it’s a symbol) is to say Christ’s Baptism did nothing—that the opening of the heavens and descent of the Holy Spirit were merely metaphorical speaking and didn’t actually happen. Because our Baptism is a participation in the Baptism of Christ (as well as little Pentecosts). How else would we receive the Holy Spirit if the heavens likewise do not open and descends upon us? (cf. LC Part 4, 21). The devil is the one who wanders throughout the earth like a vagabond (Job 1:7; 1 Peter 5:8), not the Holy Spirit; He comes from Heaven. See note on Matthew 3:15-17 — If Jesus was sinless, why was He baptised? To make our baptism His Baptism—that through it, we become sons of God with whom He is well-pleased because of Christ’s perfect obedience.
Just as he opened his Book of Concord to the Large Catechism portion referenced in his journaled note and began reading, he hears two hesitant knocks on the door.
“Pastor Javi?” came a quiet, reserved voice.
Javi turned around in his chair to see one of the young men of his congregation, Erik. Erik is a bright young man, and very pious. He has a deep desire to learn God’s Word, always attending Javi’s Bible studies when he is able. He is also a talented artist whose medium is water colour. His works are so beautiful that Javi is sometimes envious of his artistic ability, not to mention his aptitude for putting personal computers together. It was Erik who helped him put his gaming PC together. He also has two beautiful children and a wonderful wife who is pregnant with their third.
Javi stood up and shook Erik’s hand with a warm smile, “Hey, Erik! Come on in, sit down.” He motions toward a chair next to a small coffee table with a Bible on it. Javi closes his office door and sits in the chair opposite Erik.
“What’s up?” Javi asks candidly.
Erik clenches his fingers together, fidgeting with them, and looking down at them. Javi can tell he’s nervous.
“Well, Pastor,” Erik finally says, “I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this.”
“Okay,” said Javi. “Do you trust me, Erik?”
Erik looked up, surprised by the question. “Of course! I remember what you’ve taught us about the seal of confession—that anything I say to you is strictly confidential and in your ordination vows, you took an oath never to divulge what we confess to you. It’s just… it’s hard to say it out loud.”
“I understand, take your time.”
A few silent moments passed between them as Erik finally said, “It embarrasses me to say this, but I’ve been seeing a therapist for about a year and a half now.”
“Oh,” Javi said with a slight surprise in his voice. “May I ask what you’re seeing them for?”
“Yeah, I’m seeing him for depression. I was diagnosed with major depression.”
“I see,” Javi said softly. “I’m so sorry to hear that you’re suffering so horribly… Tell me, why do you say it’s embarrassing to admit this?”
“Because I’m a man! What kind of man gets depressed? Could you tell I’ve been depressed lately?” Javi could tell that Erik was hopeful that he hadn’t noticed. After all, men don’t get depressed, according to the myth.
“To be honest, no. I’m a little shocked. But as I’m sure you know from your own experience, and maybe your therapist has told you this as well, people with depression are really adept at hiding it.”
“Yeah, we have talked about that a little bit.”
There was a brief moment of silence before Javi said, “Is there anything I can do to help you during this time?”
“If you could just pray for me, I’d greatly appreciate it.”
“But don’t add me to the prayers on the bulletin,” Erik said quickly. “I don’t want people to know.”
“No problem, I’ll just add you to my private list of daily prayer.”
“Thank you, Pastor. Mostly, I just wanted to let you know what I’ve been going through.”
“I appreciate you trusting me with this. And I will pray for you until the Lord brings you healing, Lord willing… Is there anything you wish to confess to me? I don’t mean a sin, necessarily, because depression is not sinful. Is there anything you’d like to get off your chest?”
Erik thought for a moment. “Well… mostly I suffer with worthlessness. My therapist has helped me realise that this comes from the emotional abuse I suffered as a child, especially during my parents’ divorce when I was a teenager. My mother weaponised me against my father to make him out to be the bad guy. My own dad thought I hated him. I thought I did, but I didn’t! …As I’ve investigated these things as an adult now, I’ve realised that my dad was never the bad guy; he was just the victim of no-fault divorce. He did everything in his power to stay married to my mom, but because of the laws of Michigan, they permitted her to divorce him at no fault, and she got full custody of me and my siblings whereas my dad got the short end of the stick. He only got to see us every two weeks. To make it worse, she lied to me and the courts that she never had an affair, but she had three of them! Yet still, my dad wanted to work things out. My mom… she’s afraid of people not loving her, especially her kids, which I can understand because of her upbringing, and I forgive her for what she did, but still, it hurts… Anyway, my therapist helped me realise that I was not allowed to grieve my loss at such a young age. When my mom was supposed to be the one giving me emotional support during such an emotional trauma, instead I was forced to grow up at 16 and give her the emotional support… And there are other ways in which she emotionally manipulated me…”
“Wow,” Javi said softly. “That sucks. I’m so sorry you went through all that… May I ask why all this has made you feel worthless to this day?”
“Well,” Erik began, “as I’ve worked through my therapist with this, this all started my vain attempts to be perfect. I had to be perfect for my mom, but I couldn’t! I couldn’t be the emotional support she needed. And now, I try to be the perfect Christian, the perfect dad, and the perfect husband, but whenever I fail at any of these, I can’t help but feel so freakin’ worthless all the damn time—pardon my language. I mean, the Ten Commandments teach us to be perfect, don’t they? But I keep breaking them! If I can’t be good enough for Rachel and the kids, how can I ever be good enough for God? Even though I always strive to be perfect, deep down I know I’m not, and I never can be. This is what makes me so depressed. I’m not the perfect person God and my wife and kids need me to be. I’m worthless. I’m just a stupid, little insignificant person.”
“Hold on a minute,” Javi placed his right leg on top of his left, “being a ‘little insignificant person’ is a lot better than being perfect!”
Erik scoffed, “Yeah, right.”
“No, it is. Look, up there in Heaven is a God who thinks you’re awesome. Not because you’re a perfect man, but because you’re simply human. And He came down to this earth in the person of Jesus Christ to be the perfect man you can’t be for God, your wife, and your kids. You’re just a human, and this might make you insignificant especially because you can’t be perfect and how small our earth is compared to the rest of the universe, but you’re His human.”
Erik looked down at the floor. “But why would God want me?”
“Why would God want you?! Look at you! You’re Erik! Look at all you can do! You make amazing works of art! You’re really good with computers! I can’t do any of that! And you have a beautiful wife with two children and another one on the way!” Javi grabbed the Bible from the coffee table and read from Psalm 127:3-5, “‘Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward! Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth! Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate!’ Dude, you are awesome! And God knows it, and He loves you, and you are His! In fact, do you remember the day you were baptised?”
“Yeah. Just eight days after I was born, October 18, 1996.”
“Then you know that you belong to God! You are His! God’s name has been placed on you in your Baptism. You belong to Him! Hey, one of your kids is adopted, aren’t they?”
Erik smirked as he said, “Yeah. Ezra.”
“Do you ever think of him as not being your son since he’s not blood-related?”
“No! He is ours. We consider him our own.”
“What if he disobeys you? What if he fails to be your perfect son? Do you take your family name away from him?”
Javi could tell a lightbulb went off in Erik’s head as he said with a smile, “No. He’s still our son. We would never take our family name away from him.”
“Does he have to do anything to earn your love back?”
“Earn it back? No, because our love never went anywhere. It doesn’t matter that he can’t be good enough because he’s our son. We love him, so to us he’s always perfect.”
“Right there, Erik. Right there is the key. Think of what you just said. ‘Because our love never went anywhere. It doesn’t matter that he can’t be good enough because he’s our son. We love him.’ Now, if we dare to be so bold, put those words in God’s mouth concerning you. Think of God saying, ‘My love never went anywhere. It doesn’t matter that you can’t be good enough, Erik, because you are My son. I love you. You are Mine.'”
Tears started to form in Erik’s eyes.
Javi continued, “Erik, you are baptised in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. His family name! if you will. Just as you placed your family name upon Ezra when you adopted him, so God has placed His name upon you when He adopted you as His son in your Baptism. Sure, you’re not perfect, and you never will be. Don’t kid yourself. But Christ is perfect, and it is into His name that you are baptised so that God sees His perfect Son in you. You’re not perfect, and I’ll let you in on a little secret: Neither am I. But you are God’s son through Jesus Christ, so you are perfect to Him.“
Javi grabbed a tissue off from his desk as Erik’s tears began to run down more.
He gave it to him as Erik sniffed and said, “Pastor, I’ve been in therapy for over a year, and although my therapist has been extremely helpful to me, not once has he spoken of my worth in God’s eyes. We’ve talked a lot about inherent human worth, but for the life of me I just could not see why my life was of any worth until now.”
“Is your therapist a Christian?” Javi asked.
“He says he is, but I don’t know what he thinks that means… Hey, Pastor?”
“Can I hug you?”
Javi smiled and said, “Absolutely.”
The two men stood as they embraced. Nothing more needed to be said, because Erik knew that through his spiritual father, Pastor Javi, he was feeling the warm embrace of his Father in Heaven.