Yesterday I found out that someone I know is no longer a Christian. I’ve known since last fall that he was struggling, but I wasn’t too worried. Wrestling with the faith, after all, is a key component to owning beliefs, and though my friend has gone through some rough stuff the past couple of years, Martin Luther’s Theology of the Cross, and the suffering that goes hand in hand with that, would argue that difficult passages are a normal part of the Christian life. I prayed for this guy every once in awhile, but on the whole was committed to leaving the whole situation in God’s hands.
How did I handle the news that he was no longer calling himself a Christian? Well, conveniently there was quite a bit of snow outside, so I got dressed, grabbed a shovel and spent the next two hours taking out my anger on thick frozen stuff. There’s nothing like catapulting 20 pound ice balls into the river to simultaneously wear oneself out and engage in community service. I’m not mad at my friend, truly I’m not. He has looked sad in recent pictures, and whatever he says, I don’t truly believe this is what he wants. I am mad at Satan for the ways he lied to this guy and got him to exchange Christ for that which is nothing.
As I shoveled and chucked, shoveled and chucked, and prayed, and prayed, and prayed, I realized I wished I had known more earlier, before it got this bad. The reality is, I’m really not that close to this guy. If I made a list of my three hundred closest friends, he’d be hard pressed to be on it. He’s more of an acquaintance. A friend of a friend. And there is no reason why he should have let me know more of what was going on in his heart. We don’t have that kind of relationship.
Yet, as I pondered on, my mind went back to last August when I spent two weeks in the States. I had a lot of conversations with a lot of people who I hadn’t seen since I’d left. Most of those people I had barely talked to in those 16 months. It wasn’t from lack of trying on my part, but I came to the conclusion that my friends were busy with their lives and had other relationships they needed and wanted to invest in. It wasn’t that they didn’t love me; it’s that they do a lot better with friendships when the person is right there in front of them. I’ve moved too often in my life to be really offended by this. At the same time, I made an effort to check in every few months with my closest female friends. I heard the big news: engagements, births, moves, etc., and I figured if that was all I heard – even when I pushed for more – that everyone was doing fine. It was a little shocking, therefore, to sit down and have conversation after conversation after conversation where my friends were refreshingly honest with me and covered not only the joys of those months but also the struggles. They all had struggles in some capacity. Not one of them had a perfect year. And the things they shared with me weren’t minor grievances but major issues that they will remember for years. Over and over again, as I heard some of my closest friends describe how MUCH they had been struggling, I said, “Why didn’t you tell me?” And time after time I heard, “I didn’t want to bother you!”
So I say this, to my friends, to my acquaintances, to the person I barely know: you’re not bothering me. Just because I’m here, not there with you, doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear. You still very much matter to me, and I still care about you deeply. I know I can’t be everything to you that I could be if I were there. I can’t give you a hug from way over here, I can’t hunt you down in church to ask how you’re doing, I can’t read your face to see how stressed you are, and I can’t watch your kids for a few hours so you can get some time with God. But I can pray and I can listen. Whether you have emailed me in the past five months or not, I still think of you almost every day, and I pray for quite a few of you on a regular basis. We are miles apart, but I still carry you in my heart.