Jim had been awake for thirty minutes, but his eyes remained closed as he dreaded the grueling schedule of the day ahead. Another form lay motionless beside him in the early light. "She doesn't have to get up for another three hours," he thought. "God, why can't I be so lucky? What did I do to deserve a day like today?"
Quietly he slipped out of the cool sheets and made his way downstairs to put on a pot of coffee. "Better make a full pot this morning," a voice echoed inside his head. "Yeah, right! I'm gonna need it!" He grimaced at the aches and pains that had caught up with him over the years, but it didn't slow him down too much. Not yet, anyway.
A little sad-eyed spaniel greeted him in the kitchen. Rocky was just two years old, so to be safe they kept him out of mischief each night with a small airline kennel: he loved his little plastic igloo, but he couldn't wait to go outside. "Hurry up, Rock!" Jim whispered in the pre-dawn stillness as he turned the key in the door's lock, "I've got to go just as bad as you do!"
The aroma of freshly-ground coffee beans heightened his anticipation of that first delicious cup. Eventually, the machine coughed out its last drop of water and, with mug in hand, the sleepy middle-aged man climbed the stairs to his home office. Originally built as a bedroom barely large enough for a twin bed and a small chest, the previous owner had converted it to a writer's hideaway with a spacious work surface, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and a beautiful westward view of the mountains. He had been sequestered there until midnight the previous evening and here he was again, only five hours later.
"Why do I live this way?" he wondered to himself. His taskmaster—a slim aluminum laptop with a pulsing white light—waited for him with unnerving patience right where he left it. As he raised the laptop's screen to its working position, an incomplete document stared at him. He jumped when he heard the sound of laughter, like the smothered tittering of toddlers playing secretive childhood games. No children in this house, he reminded himself, but was he just hearing things?
As his foggy mind finally engaged with the substance of his writing project, he wondered if the hours invested in this ridiculous document would be worth it at the end of the day. Did anyone realize the personal cost involved in his craft? Summoning all of his life experiences and vocabulary to make words come alive. No, they don't, he mused. He was growing weary of writing speeches that never seemed to make a difference. Maybe it was just a game after all.
The really sad thing, though. His constituency didn't really give a rip about the content of his speeches, as long as he continued to kiss their babies, promote exciting projects for keeping young people off the streets, make the community big shots happy, perpetuate the lies about their honorable past, and falsely assure them of a bright future.
A career as a speech writer was not Jim's original intention when he graduated twenty-five years ago with a B.A. in psychology. He always loved people, so why not study what makes them tick? And if God and Susie had not entered the picture, he would have continued his university studies for another five or six years, graduating with a PhD and pursuing private practice as a psychiatrist. And oddly enough, that's exactly what he found himself yearning for this morning. A shrink! Someone who would listen as he poured out his bitterness and frustration, then tell him it would be alright.
The inkjet printer responded quickly to his final keystroke and the pages began piling up in its receiving tray. Now all that remained was to shave, shower, and get dressed for the main event downtown. When he stepped out of the bathroom, Susie was waiting her turn, bright pink coffee cup in hand.
She playfully teased him, "You must have gotten up before the chickens!"
"Yeah, nearly three hours ago. What a weekend, huh? And today's supposed to be a day of rest."
"Well, you knew about the long hours when you took the job as senior pastor. I warned you, didn't I?"
"I know, Suz, but I'm wondering if it's really worth it? I feel like I have turned into a sermon machine, churning out two full manuscripts each week; and I'm writing the adult Sunday School curriculum, leading a men's Bible study, and teaching every Wednesday night as well. What a treadmill!"
"You're doing a great job! Everyone talks about your sermons and Jill says the weekly requests for CD's have gone through the roof, not to mention the downloads from the church website. Hey, you're my favorite pastor and still pretty good lookin' too!"
"Gee, thanks, but I don't know how much longer I can keep doing this. It just seems so…well…pointless. And I can't see any visible evidence that I'm helping people at all, other than filling their heads with truth. We don't seem to be making a difference in our community and I don't see people walking more closely with Jesus. At all! And that's what really bothers me."