Talks with Two Men in One Week
I have found over the last several months that each week or so God seems to bring someone to my mind to pursue, or someone to my life that is searching, or in pain. Often these are people I have known. Sometimes I may have not seen or talked to them for many years. This week there were two people that deeply touched my life.
“Hello Charles! Wow, it’s so good to see you!” After I gave him a great big hug I stood back and saw someone with the “deer in the headlights” look on his face. Oh, he knew me and it hadn’t been all that long since we’d seen each other but it was clear he was surprised.
After exchanging some catch-up information, Charles began to release some deep thoughts from a very challenging place in his heart. He said “John, I’ve let it all go. Everything! I’ve let it go.” My mind went into hyper processing mode.
I didn’t know exactly what he meant. Since I had known him through ex-gay ministry connections I thought maybe he meant that he had let his process regarding homosexuality go. I asked him what he meant and he kind of stumbled for words. He was very unclear about what he had removed from his life but reading between the lines I think I understood that it involved his relationship with God. That much larger issue seemed to be more of the situation then his gay issues which were on his mind as well.
Earlier that week I saw a note on FaceBook written by a friend I hadn’t seen for 10 to 15 years. This was a man who had also been involved in ex-gay ministry, gotten married, divorced and had really been through the wringer emotionally. Due to these and some other pretty traumatic events he described, I replied with a short acknowledgement that I had read what he had written and how grieved I felt about what he had been through. He responded giving me much more of the painful detail. In it he expressed how life had challenged him emotionally and physically. He had been going though a really tough season due to the deep things he had been processing. At the end of his message, he said:
“My faith is really challenged and I’m not even sure if Jesus is Jesus. I do believe in “God” , but I’m not sure what I believe is beyond that. To be honest, I find myself getting angry when I see or hear things related to Christianity. I guess I’ll figure it out, somehow.”
I wrote him back with this:
I feel privileged to hear your story. I am sorry for all you have gone through and yet, as you have said, it is a new beginning for you. You know, questioning all of the things you mentioned about your faith isn’t a bad thing. It is wonderful to find the freedom to go to the deepest things with God and find out that you may find the answers you are looking for in the deepest parts of your heart.
I went on to apologize for some things that were a part of our friendship years ago that I knew I could own. I recognized that some of my interaction with him at that time may have brought this man some challenges he had experienced.
His reply was so amazing.
“I don’t know exactly what to say except than I’m so thankful for your honesty! As I type this message, there are tears rolling down my face. I always thought that you and other Christian leaders were unshakable. Everything was black & white & there was no gray. I’m still in bit of a shock from reading your e-mail John! I completely respected you when I knew you years ago. I just wanted you and other leaders in my life to be proud of me. I respect you even more today!!!! Thanks again for your honesty.”
This correspondence was on my mind when I saw Charles on the street. As he talked it was very evident he had a lot on his heart and I just happened to walk along and touch the wound and the pain came flooding out. I tried my hardest to share with him that I really understood the things that he was saying but each time I tried to respond, he just put his hand up and said “no” and continued talking. This went on for about 20 minutes. I didn’t try to respond again until it seemed he had run out of steam. He was very hurt and it was obvious when he said “I have separated myself from that church completely and everyone there. I tried to stay connected but then I realized that they really didn’t give a “F*#$%” about me.”
Oh man, this is one hurting man. What could I possibly say that would help. I put up my hand this time. I said, “”Charles, I have something I’d like to say.” He quickly said “no” again. Then I put up my hand again and said, “No, Charles, I want to apologize.” His face reflected some surprise at my request. I took advantage of the pause and quickly said:
“Charles, I am so sorry for the role that I have played in your pain.” I went on to specifically apologize to him for things that were honest and appropriate to apologize for. I went to great lengths to be sure it was specific to our history as friends.
He listened to me and seemed to calm down some. Then he said, “John, I hadn’t planned on getting into all of this tonight. I just want to move past it all.” We shook hands and he reluctantly moved away from our conversation, walking down the street. I stayed and talked with others and saw him walk by again, this time he looked over and smiled and waved.
I feel so grieved at the pain that is out there in the lives of those who have felt so wounded by Christians. I remember in my own history proclaiming, “Oh if they would only repent, then maybe they wouldn’t be in so much pain.” I often put all of the blame for their pain on their choices. I didn’t know how to take any responsibility for my role to help. Years ago, I didn’t really want to think about it much and realized it just felt too challenging to face.
I realize that a lot of my reluctance stemmed from a deep feeling that somehow I would have to figure out how to “fix” the problem. I am a “fixer” by nature anyway and find I can get overwhelmed easily when I start to take the problems that seem to present themselves onto my own shoulders. But now that I have somehow become more able to just listen and trust that God will do what He needs to do, it is so much easier.
At the end of my conversation with Charles I begged him to consider taking the time to talk with me at a more appropriate time and place. A busy street corner certainly wasn’t the best. I handed him a card so he’d have my contact information on it. It said “Grace Rivers” on it. He looked down and said, oh, of course; “Grace” and shook his head. I pray he will get in touch with me.