Comic Belief: Miracles out of Messes

I’d had my share of mess-ups even before I became a speaker. In my last year of graduate school during Psychotherapy practicum, I was given my first patient. Thinking I was the next Sigmund Freud, I grew a beard, smoked a pipe and looked psychological.

My patient had test anxiety, and I was to do relaxation training, slowly relaxing him so he could take a test. My instructors were watching through a one-way mirror.

Psychologists like to be behind one-way mirrors because every psychologist has a little of the voyeur in him. It has been said that when a pretty girl enters a room, people watch the pretty girl, but a psychologist watches the people watch the pretty girl. I was never that good — I always watched the pretty girl.

I started the relaxation training of my patient, and he went to sleep. He was supposed to relax, not sleep. How could I do the procedure? The guy began to snore, and I panicked. I looked at the one-way mirror for advice, and all I could see was myself looking stupid. I panicked some more. I figured I needed to wake him. I grabbed him by the arm and shouted, “Wake up!” a lot louder than I intended.

He woke up, panicked, and pulled away. I reached for him as he headed for the door, and then I went after him. I wasn’t going to lose my first patient. He ran faster, and so did I. He ran down the stairs; I followed. He went out the psychological service center, and I ran after him. Then I realized this didn’t look good — chasing people out of the psychological service center. I was discouraged. I thought I’d be kicked out of the program.

I went back to the room, and the one-way mirror was shaking. I thought that was weird, so I opened the door and saw two grown psychologists falling out of their chairs, laughing so hard tears were running down their cheeks, and one was banging his head against the mirror. They said that was the funniest thing they had ever seen. Too bad we didn’t videotape it so we could show it to students for generations to come as an example of how not to perform relaxation training.

I survived, became a psychologist, and then went to work at a church-counseling center, but my mess-ups went with me. I’ll never forget the time the pastor was sick and I had to do the baptisms. All I could think of was the pledge of allegiance. It was patriotic, but it wasn’t exactly what was needed.

Nowadays people don’t even notice most mess-ups at church. Most of the people don’t know Joan of Arc from Noah’s Ark. But there are some mess-ups no one can miss. My all-time mess-up was at the historic First Baptist Church of Dallas. For almost 100 years, this was the pulpit from which Dr. Truett and Dr. Criswell had preached. When I made my mistake, Dr. Truett probably turned over in his grave, and Dr. Criswell probably wished for his.

I was speaking on “The Symptoms of Depression” and was going to say that one symptom of depression is erratic sleep patterns. But it came out “erotic sleep patterns.” I even got an “amen” from a deacon. It brought the house down. After the seminar on depression, I was depressed.

I did the same series in Oklahoma and said it right. So when I concluded the series and packaged it for tape sales, we included the tape from Oklahoma that had “erratic” instead of “erotic” on the tape. No one wanted that series. They wanted the one where I messed up. So we put the original tape back in. It resulted in being the best-selling series of the year, and we heard numerous stories of changed lives. People listened to the series because they wanted to hear the mess-up.

I guess that is what relaxes me most about speaking — I have a great backup. God takes my messes and makes miracles. God must be thinking, “With Charles, I’ll never run out of material.”