Sometimes, this United Methodist minister feels a lot like Jack Skellington.
After the Pumpkin King is celebrated for doing his job better than ever, he walks away singing, “Somewhere deep inside of these bones / an emptiness began to grow / there’s something out there far from my home / a longing that I’ve never known.”
I think Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas masterfully captures (perhaps without realizing it) the human longing for God. As Jack feels lonelier than ever after doing what he does best, so we tend to wrap our identities up so tightly in our professions that our self-worth constantly depends on our performance. As Jack obsesses over recapturing the warm feelings of joy felt in Christmastown, so we sentimentalize our holidays as the ultimate time to recapture some long lost sense of happiness. Jack’s redirection of the Halloweentown community to usurp Christmas is not that different from any leader projecting his or her own issues onto the people at large. I tasted Something Other in this way…if you could just recreate exactly what I experienced, you’ll feel it too.
In ministry, and in my inner life, I am always struggling to discover Christ behind the feelings. Christ behind the fame and praise of the congregation for a job well done. Christ behind the positive and negative feedback from the latest comic. Christ behind the complaints of my three-year-old over the supper I’ve made for her. And there are plenty of times where I give up before I find Christ…I can’t see past the psychological explanations, the human institutions, the haunting suspicion it’s meaningless, meaningless, a chase after the wind.
Charles Wesley wrote an amazing hymn that assails me with hope in the struggle. It’s called “Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown” (listen to awesome version here). Charles brilliantly makes himself (and me, the singer) to be Jacob wrestling the angel of the Lord. No matter what, I will wrestle with God until God reveals to me that he is the Christ who died for me, whose nature and name is Love. Charles challenges me to not let go so quickly.
The movie is an imperfect metaphor, because Jack does not ultimately discover Christ to be the fulfillment of his deepest longing. But I have come to believe that everyone who longs for more is ultimately longing for Christ. God has placed eternity on all our hearts (Eccles. 3:11), and as St. Augustine says, “Our hearts are restless till they find rest in You” (Confessions, Book 1). How are you helping them to discover that Christ is the one they are wrestling with?