Column published in the 0pelika-Auburn News
By Walter Albritton
Sunday, November 7, 1999

I love a good story that touches the heart

Jokes that bash the college we love to hate are commonplace. When I hear one, I enjoy it but quickly forget it. Most are not worth remembering.

But I love a good story that touches the heart. I wouldn’t swap a touching story for a dozen funny jokes.

When I began preaching, back in the dark ages, I had the idea that every sermon should begin with a good joke to grab everyone’s attention. For a few years I kept a joke file close at hand, jotting down new ones on 3x5 cards.

Then I discovered that the truth was funnier than jokes. So I began telling the truth instead of jokes and found that my preaching was more effective. The reason: people could identify with the real-life experiences I shared.

It was not easy at first. I was apprehensive as to how people would react to their pastor admitting his shortcomings. Some did indeed question my admission of fear and frailty. One woman responded with a haughty tone in her voice, her nose stuck up in the air, I am very disappointed to learn that my pastor has such problems!

What I began to realize is that preachers cry and bleed like everyone else. The difference is that some admit it while others refuse to admit it, choosing instead to hide behind a smoke screen of piety.

Frankly I began to enjoy being a real human being instead of pretending to fit the stereotype which many people have created for preachers. It was refreshing to have people say to me, I know how you feel because I have faced that same problem in my own life.

So I found new courage to relate to people as a fellow struggler, rather than as one whose faith was so strong that there were no more problems. To my great delight this resulted in a new depth of relationships with people from all walks of life who, like me, were looking for help, hope, and encouragement to meet the harsh realities of life.

Not long ago I lost myself once again in the self-obsessed fog known only to the workaholic. When I am in that fog I become insensitive to the needs of my wife and often make stupid comments which scramble our relationship.

Stunned by the estrangement which follows, I begin to sort out my priorities anew, realizing for the one-hundreth time that my wife’s love is infinitely more important to me than the mountain of work I have been climbing.

When I swallow my pride and admit this to her, she is always graciously forgiving and willing to renew our relationship with tenderness and understanding. Once again I realize that the things that matter most are the things that make life worth living. One more time I resolve to put first things first so that I can avoid the pain that has been ripping my heart out.

If reading this, you feel like saying I’ve been there and done that, then you are on my page and you know what I mean. You also know the profound difference between a joke and a story that touches the heart.

Given the opportunity you and I could sit down and share our hearts with each other for hours, truly identifying with the hurt and hope that throbs within us, longing to be known and understood.

And, best of all, neither of us would ever think of sharing a joke, because it is so much more refreshing to embrace the truth about ourselves.