Once, I met Jesus and I thought he was a king and therefore the ultimate law-giver. All I had to do was meet the demands of his law and we would be happy together forever. But I couldn’t keep his laws and I couldn’t be happy knowing that I kept failing him. And Jesus said, “I never was the kind of king that made all those demands anyway. That was more about you than it was about me. Give up trying and follow me.”
I met Jesus again and I thought he was a great physician and would keep my friends and me safe and healthy. All I had to do was trust in his healing power and we would be happy together forever. But friends and family took ill and died and I couldn’t be happy knowing that my reality didn’t match up to my expectations. And Jesus said, “I can heal but sometimes I have to perform triage and tend to wounds that are deeper than cancer or cystic fibrosis. Give up on the magic tricks and follow me.”
Then, I met Jesus again and I thought he was a wrestler, someone with whom to wrangle over life’s hard issues. All I had to do was keep alert and wrestle and get stronger in the grappling and we would be happy together forever. But I lacked the stamina to keep up the battle and I couldn’t be happy always tired and struggling. And Jesus said, “It is good to wrestle with life but you also need to rest. Quit struggling in my arms, rest a while, and then follow me.”
I met Jesus yet another time and I thought he was a spirit, cool and calm. All I had to do was sit in meditation and prayer and we would be happy together forever. But the peace was always broken and I couldn’t be happy seeing the restlessness of the world and pretending it wasn’t there by escaping into visualizations. And Jesus said, “You will always find unrest. Pray and meditate, yes, but then come and follow me.”
Again, I met Jesus and I thought he was God, full of power and majesty. All I had to do was bow down in constant worship of the glory and we would be happy together forever. But the pursuit of glory always contrasted unfavorably to my dirty fingernails and I couldn’t be happy knowing that I was so unworthy of God’s presence. And Jesus said, “My godhood is nothing to be grasped at but to be let go of. Come, get your fingernails dirtier, your whole hands, too, and follow me.”
Meeting Jesus, I asked, “How could I have been so wrong about you? Tell me who you are and what I need to do to follow you so we can be happy together forever.”
And Jesus shrugged his shoulders and said, “I am who I am. Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and your neighbors as yourself and you will follow me.”
So I gave up trying to define Jesus, but instead to get to know him. I continue to fail, continue to expect health against all odds, continue to weary of wrestling, continue to pray, continue to look for glory in dirty fingernails and I am learning to be in a relationship that defies naming.
Central Texas native Neil Ellis Orts grew up on a farm on the Lee/Bastrop county line. He earned a bachelor’s degree in theater from Texas State University, a master’s of divinity from Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest and a master’s degree in interdisciplinary arts from Columbia College Chicago. He has published fiction and arts writing, including the 2004 novel Hidden Gifts. He also makes short performance pieces and has presented them in Chicago, Houston, and Atlanta.