What About Bob? By Clarissa Worley Sproul

A Lesson In Self-Awareness
Photo: Morozova Tatiana

When I first started out as a pastor, one of my favorite people to hang out with at our annual pastor’s retreats was a fellow single-ite (as we called ourselves) who I’ll temporarily name Bob. Bob and I had great fun. In a world where most pastors are married men with children, having Bob to kick back and philosophize with was perfect. Our comradery did raise more than a couple dozen match-making eyebrows (pastor’s wives love to match-make for some reason) but it was all for not. Bob and I were like brother and sister.

With this little bit of history, just imagine my shock when our mutual employer called to let me know that Bob had lost his job. What? I couldn’t believe it. When I asked why, I got my first big lesson in the school of self-awareness and responsibility, and it’s a lesson that has stayed with me to this very day. As confusing as it may sound, they did not release Bob from his job because of something specific, like infidelity, and yet, his reason for departure had to do with married women in the church and their disquieted husbands.


My boss went on to explain that while Bob didn’t do anything wrong—at least that anyone could quantify—there was definitely something going on. He had all these married women who brought him cards and nice words and wanted to meet with him throughout the week. What? Yes, that was about it. It seems that because Bob was continually surrounded by married women (whose husbands felt less and less safe) he slowly fell out of favor with the whole congregation.

I couldn’t imagine it. At first I wanted to rail upon all those silly women who were seeking attention from a single guy. It was not fair! Bob hadn’t done anything! What was a guy to do? Run and hide? But the voice on the other end of the line soon brought a bit of balance to the whole situation. Spoken as almost an afterthought, my employer mused on Bob’s looks. He was good looking, but not that good looking!

Getting off the phone those words rang in my mind. This was years before I heard the brilliant adage—we teach people how to treat us—and yet I knew somehow that last comment alluded to the fact that Bob was at fault. How? Well, Bob wasn’t that good looking, and this meant something else was drawing women in. One wayward wife, all right: two, ok, maybe; but a long line of them? It made me think of the wisdom of Moses who wouldn’t entertain an accusation unless there were three witnesses. How very clever. Moses, when looking for who was responsible, searched for what the common personality was—Bob was the guy in every story.

What a good thing this was for me to learn early on. After all, it’s very possible I was (and am) actually promoting behaviors in others that I do not deem healthy, and without knowing it. I talked a few years back with a counselor about Bob and her words were very clarifying. Most likely he had a deep emotional openness toward women who are not available. Lonely women would pick this up in a second and respond. Thus, whether intentional (conscious) or not, Bob had been drawing these women in.

Wow, you mean we have to be that in tune with our own emotional issues and needs? Well, yes, and you can relax because it’s not as complicated as it sounds. Basically don’t blame others for problems you’re facing in your life, and then, if there is a kind of dynamic that drives you nuts and you see that it permeates the bulk of your friendships—well then call yourself on the carpet as the common denominator and ask God to reveal your part in things. It’s that simple.

All it takes, really, is an open, humble, teachable spirit. All you need is to be willing to see you for you and your behavior for what it really is. You don’t even have to understand things… all you need to notice is the fact that you struggle in an area, and don’t blame those involved. For Bob, this would have looked like him acknowledging that somehow he was inviting such inappropriate advances. Then all Bob would have had to do was cry out to God, see his part in things and seek healing and new behavior patterns to go with that healing.

Sadly, this didn’t happen. Although it was tough, I tried to connect with Bob a few times and it always was negative. He was resentful. He seemed to take the victim roll in all that had happened and plant huge seeds of bitterness and blame in his soul. Not only did this make for a rough few years, even worse, it robbed Bob of the incredible revelation about himself that could have made all the difference. It could have been this grand learning experience—not to mention, had it he done this immediately, saved his job.

So how self-aware are you? Do you own the weirdness that keeps cropping up in your emotional garden? Do you name the weeds and pull them out? Are you willing to take responsibility? 

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Clarissa Worley Sproul writes from the Pacific Northwest.
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