‘That’s a &%$@ lie!’


Some years ago, I was sitting in my office and the phone rang. I answered and the caller was a friend and a fellow priest who lived a couple of hours away from me. After opening pleasantries, he said, “The reason I called is, that for the last few days the Lord has really put you on my mind. How are you doing?”

I said, “Well, thank you. I’m fine.”

There was silence on the other end of the line which was broken by his remarking, “That’s a &%$@ lie!”

“I beg your pardon?” I replied.

He said, “You wouldn’t have been put on my mind for several days if you were ‘fine.’ Unless ‘fine’ means Frustrated, Insecure, Neurotic, and Exhausted!”

After a moment, I said, “I guess by that definition I really am ‘fine.’”

“Good,” he said. Now we can talk.”

He was correct. By definition, I was all those things. But the conversation later got me thinking. Why is it that we ask questions to which we do not expect an answer (Hey, how ya doing?) and why do we sometimes answer with an untruth (“I’m great, how are you?). Part of this is that it’s part of our culture, especially in the South.

In the South (and yes, I capitalize that blessed name of our region), we are friendly. Or we at least like to think we are. And there’s that Southern hospitality reputation that we apparently have.

We have learned to say things that we don’t really mean, like, “Come and see us sometime.” That’s us being friendly. Most would be taken aback if someone pulled out their calendar and said, “I’d love to. When do you want me to come?”

Sometimes we do want you to come but, when we do, the invitation will usually be specific. Such as, “Why don’t you come over this Saturday and we’ll grill some steaks and watch Tennessee beat Georgia at Knoxville?” Hey, I’m a priest. I believe in miracles.

We do extend conversation to people we don’t know because it’s polite in this neck of the woods. I always say, “Good morning” to strangers, or nod and smile as I pass them and say, “Hello.” Sometimes I’ll say, “How are you?” not really expecting an answer except perhaps, “I’m fine, thank you.”

Usually when someone asks me how I’m doing, I just go on automatic and say, “I’m fine, how about you?” They say, “I’m fine” and that part of the conversation is over.

Occasionally someone might say, “You really don’t want to know.” And then suddenly, I do. Because I’m a priest and we’re here to help, if we can. They might also say, “Are you asking or just being polite?” Chances are I was just being polite but now I really am asking.

When my friend called, I gave the standard polite answer, and he was having none of it. He was right. I was fine. I was totally Frustrated, Insecure, Neurotic, and Exhausted.

Most people have no concept of what pastoral ministry entails. They think they do but, unless one has been a pastor (and this included ordained persons who may have been staff but have never had their own church) one has no idea.

In 2021, according to barna.com, 46% of pastors under the age of 45 were seriously considering leaving the ministry. Pastoralcareinc.com reported that 1,500 pastors left the ministry every month last year and 1,300 pastors were terminated by the local church each month, many without cause.

I could cite what would be shocking statistics to church members about what negatively affects pastors, but that is a rabbit trail I do not wish to follow just now.

The real point of all this is that a friend believed I was in distress and called me. Automatically, I fell into the old pattern and deflected his concern. Thankfully, he refused to be deflected and we had a very productive conversation and he helped me tremendously.

Here’s what I have learned: nearly every person we pass on the street or see with our eyes is in some distress of some kind somewhere in their life. Every person has been through a major struggle, is in one now, or will be shortly. Most of them will keep it to themselves and never tell a soul.

Paul McCartney penned the lyrics to the song, “Eleanor Rigby” which asks two questions: Where do all the lonely people come from and where do they all belong?

My guess is that Eleanor Rigby, as lonely as she was, would have told people she was “just fine” when she certainly was not. If the late pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we need the friendship and the genuine care of other people. Sometimes, it only takes a phone call. And that is no lie.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He may be contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]


  1. Pastor Epps – These sad statistics about pastors are troubling, but unsurprising. Since at least 2016, pastors have been forced to bite their tongues while their parishioners glibly ignore all biblical exhortations in order to promote what can only be described as the anti-Christ as their political messiah. For a clergyman to speak up and declare this vainglorious emperor to be unclad would threaten the pastor’s livelihood. I would hope that you pastors talk among yourselves about the abomination in Christendom even if it is far too dangerous to your jobs to confront your Barabbas-loving congregations.

  2. 84% of pastors desire to have close fellowship with someone they can trust and confide with.
    90% of the pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week. (Pre-Covid-19)
    84% of pastors feel they are on call 24/7.
    80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families. Many pastor’s children do not attend church now because of what the church has done to their parents.
    70% of pastors do not have someone they consider to be a close friend.

    for more, visit: https://www.pastoralcareinc.com/statistics/