During our Bethany Stories series, we’re hearing stories about our namesake, a town outside Jerusalem where Jesus’ friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus lived. We’re also hearing stories from our Bethany, especially from the past year.
On Sunday June 2nd, we heard four stories. One of them came from Chris Bresky, an actor, artist, author of The Twelve Days of a Great White Christmas, and the brains (and heart) behind the Aquarius Project at the Adler Planetarium. Here’s Chris’ Bethany story:
“Would you call yourself an anxious person?” my therapist asked out of the blue. I was sort of stunned, I had actually been describing a thing that I thought was unrelated, so it caught me off guard……Well, I thought - my dad has anxiety, all of his six brothers and sisters do as well, my mom can’t sit still to save her life, and depression runs rampant throughout my family tree… “Would I call myself an anxious person?” Weeeeeeeell…….
Wow, to understand, own, and even speak that word as a part of me: my leg, my arm, my Anxiety... was actually, incredibly freeing — overwhelmingly so… so much I had to tell somebody —
“Bud, guess what!”
I often walk my dog with my friend and fellow Bethany attendee Bud Longhauser. While walking our dogs “Freddie” and “Mr. Robot,” we often celebrate the deep emotional wins in our week’s therapy sessions… as bros are wont to do.
“Bud! I’m anxious! … I have anxiety!”
“Sure. I mean, great,” he said, ”but yeah, so do I. I mean, I’m glad you figured it out, but, many people do.”
It was such a non event. That was radical for me. To admit it, own it, and at the same time be reminded that I...and the majority of people I know, are humans...anxious, anxious humans.
The more I recognized it in myself… and finally fully heard the things my wife, M. (with her doctorate in psychology), had been telling me for the past seven years of marriage… oops.
I started recognizing it more and more, and how it affected me. It hit home when hearing Vince preach on the beautiful simplicity of the “Crappy Dinner Party.” The audacity, to not scrub to an unrealistic expectation, your floors, bathroom, and kitchen while trying to pull off the perfect - most nuanced recipe you randomly googled online minutes before their arrival.
In this particular sermon, Vince confessed his overly effortful acts of hosting at his home, where every guest towel is neatly folded, every visiting minute of a guest is crafted to specifically entertain the friend’s precise wants, both voiced, and inferred, and that they’re genetically are incapable of skimping on fanfare for a guest… and then he offered an alternative experience, a time where an old friend, after much too much time had passed, invited him over. The invite was during a time that wasn’t perfect, but was free...and he arrived to a messy house, where kids were far from “well behaved,” but life was real, and as a result, so was this long overdue reunion.The connection was deep. The value of his presence was not in question, even when he had to step over laundry piles to find a place to sit.
Days later, when I hear M. say to me, “I invited our friends over for dinner tonight,” I want to say, “Oh it’s been too long!” and really mean it, but my anxiety creeps in and I feel my chest tighten, my eyes dart to the long abandoned two year old’s finger paint project that has swallowed our kitchen table, the pile of dishes in the sink, and the dog (who should probably go out for a walk)chewing on god knows what... then I remember that M. and I have agreed with our friends that this dinner will be crappy… needs to be crappy… has to be crappy. I exhale, I take a pizza out of the freezer, and walk the dog. Our friends show up early, the pizza is still frozen solid, but that’s fine, cuz’ they brought half a bag of trail mix they found in the cupboard. A perfect pairing.
The night was perfect: Messy, disorganized, unplanned, and perfect. At one point they turned to us and said, “Ya’ know, we can do this more. We know your time is limited...we’d also just be open to just give you a night off some time.” … With a three year old, that gift, with no strings attached, the value...I can’t… all born from this beautiful crappy dinner.
I realized all the more how my anxiety, stuck in the unnecessary, was keeping me from rooting to the necessary: connecting with the ones I loved most. As I analyze my own anxiety I do often wonder about some of it coming from my embedded Christian goal to be a perfect “christ-like” individual. I wonder if it would help if I could reframe those narratives somehow. Like even the image of “The Last Supper.” To perhaps think of it less as this pristine, table clothed Last Supper, illustrated in classical paintings, but more of that night as “Jesus’ Last Crappy Dinner Party,” where although the bread and wine had meaning, the true gift was the love that he shared with his friends.