Tag Archives: Friendship

The Unexpected Prophecy

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
2 Corinthians 1:3 (NIV)

During the 2008 presidential election, both John McCain and Barack Obama were interviewed at a leadership conference. Both men, in turn, were asked a fascinating question. The candidates were asked to speak about their greatest failure. True to his masterful ability, I recall that Obama spoke for a few minutes in response. His answer articulately wove a beautiful tapestry of words in that graceful, assuring baritone voice. And, I have no recollection whatsoever of his answer.

Asked the same question, John McCain’s answer was immediate and simple: “The failure of my first marriage.”

I will never forget a conversation I had with a wise counselor as I was navigating the failure of my first marriage. My life was strewn in shattered pieces around me. It was the lowest point of my life, and I had been scheduled to speak with this spiritual sage. To be honest, I expected to hear more of the condemnation I felt like I was receiving on all sides. I expected a message of judgment. I expected a righteous tongue lashing and words of dire warning. What I didn’t expect was a prophecy.

Someday,” the counselor said, “you are going to be called upon to walk along side someone who is going through exactly what you are experiencing in this moment, to guide them, and comfort them, and see them through their pain.” That is all that I remember from my hour with him.

It was an Easter Sunday morning several years later that I was walking out of the annual celebration service and spied a man who I had desired to befriend for some time. Seizing the moment, I pulled the acquaintance aside from the crowd and expressed that I would enjoy getting together with him and get to know him better. I’ll never forget the puzzled way he looked at me for a long, uncomfortable moment. Then he leaned in and whispered in my ear a direct answer with the succinct clarity of John McCain: “Tom, my wife left me. Nobody knows it.”

I had the privilege of becoming a friend of that acquaintance, and walking alongside him as he traversed the same agonizing path of marital failure. I got to guide him, comfort him, and see him through that valley. I was privileged to witness, over time, God’s redemption in his story.

Along life’s journey I’ve experienced that suffering produces a common, repetitive question: “Why?”

Sometimes there  is no answer to that question, and I won’t pretend that there always is. Yet, I’ve also experienced in my own suffering that there is often purpose in my pain, just as I’ve read time-and-time again in my chapter-a-day journey. Consider these three similar messages from three different authors writing to three different audiences:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:2-3

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Romans 5:3-5

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
1 Peter 1:6-7

In the midst of my greatest failure, and in the deepest valley I have thus far traversed in my journey, I unexpectedly learned a valuable lesson through the words of a prophet. Sometimes my suffering, and the spiritual comfort I come to find, in Christ, amidst the agony, prepares me to someday comfort another who is making their way through the same dark valley.

The Slog Will Give Way to the Passion

“But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.”
2 Chronicles 15:7 (NIV)

Yesterday I had the pleasure of sharing a rare meal with my oldest friend. Scott and I grew up on the same block growing up and we shared some of our most formative years together. Let’s just say, we’ve got lots of stories. Scott lives in Georgia now and spends a lot of time working in Africa providing love and life’s basic necessities to some our world’s neediest people. We’re lucky if we get a conversation every 5-10 years, but when we do it’s as if no time has passed. We cannonball right into the deep end of the pool.

We were talking about our vocations and where we find ourselves in our careers at this stage of our journey. Scott asked me if I love my work. He asked if I’m passionate about it. The truth is that I do love my job and I do experience passion in my work. Having said that, it’s also work and in my experience every job is a slog sometimes. That’s why it’s called work. It’s also not the thing I’m most passionate about in this life.

In this morning’s chapter, King Asa of Judah is approached by a prophet named Azariah. King Asa and his army were flying high from a huge victory of the nation of Cush (modern-day Ethiopia). Asa had sought God and had been rewarded. Now the prophet brings a message telling Asa that while the thrill of victory and the spiritual high everyone is feeling from God’s blessing is awesome, the work is just beginning. Being passionate and clinging to God can be easy in the midst of a battle. Being passionate and clinging to God when nothing much is going on or I’m slogging through the mundane is a different story.

Scott’s question came to me yesterday morning at breakfast. It was my first day back in the office after a week’s vacation at the lake with Wendy. I knew what was waiting for me after the joy of breakfast with my oldest friend: a pile of calls and emails to return, the backlog of work that didn’t get done last week, and the pressure to catch up. I knew this week would be a slog and I’m wasn’t feeling passionate about it. I’ll feel more passionate next week when I’m working with our client, rewarding people for the great service they’re providing, and helping to make a measurable difference in that company.

Today? I have to listen to the words of the prophet: “Be strong and don’t give up.” The slog will give way to passion.

“When I Could Stand it No Longer….”

For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith.
1 Thessalonians 3:5 (NIV)

Wendy and I had a moment of nostalgia the other night as we watched The Man in the High Castle. The show is set in the early 1960s. The phone rang in one of the scenes and the character answered the classic rotary wall phone. It was a “private call” so she walked through the kitchen door into the dining room. She was able to do this because the phone had a “long cord.”

Oh my gosh!” Wendy exclaimed just as I was thinking the same thing. “Do you remember the ‘long chord?'”

Back in the day our house had one phone line. For a while we had only phone on the wall in the kitchen, but my parents eventually added another wall phone extension in the basement. There were rotary phones on which the handset had to be attached to the base unit. If you didn’t want everyone in the house to hear your conversation you had to have this 20′ curly cord that would allow you to walk into another room and shut the door.

Suddenly I was back in my childhood hanging around by the phone in the excruciating wait for a girl to call me. I can remember the agony that came with desperately wanting that phone to ring, and for it to be her, so that I could pull the ‘long chord’ on the basement phone to the back of our storage room and have conversation in hushed tones. And as we talked, I would pray that my parents or siblings would not pick up the phone in the kitchen and totally embarrass me while I was talking to the girl on whom I had a serious crush.

In this morning’s chapter I noticed that Paul twice uses a phrase in talking about his love for his Thessalonian friends: “When I could stand it no longer….” I began to ask myself how I could relate to that sentiment of being so emotionally invested in relationship that silence and the unknown create anxiety. Those moments waiting by the phone were an easy memory, but there are others. It’s the experience of having your children half a world away and knowing that they are struggling, but there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s those moments when tragedy strikes a dear friend who lives far away and you feel so terribly helpless.

This morning in the quiet I’m struck by two distinct thoughts. First I take solace of knowing that Paul, who is often spiritualized by believers to the point of being morphed into superhuman status, also struggled with the very human emotion of anxiety and fear to the point he could “stand it no longer.” The normal humanity I see in “heroes of faith” remind me to have a little grace with myself.  The second thought is simply the intense love and concern Paul shows towards his friends he left back in the Greek seaport. It reminds me of yesterday’s thoughts, that Paul’s ministry was not an impersonal evangelistic tour, but a life sharing mission that bore the fruit of deep relationship.

I’m left thinking this morning of family and friends with whom I have not conversed for a time; Those who my heart wonders about. Maybe today’s a good day to wander down to the dock and make a call or two. I can do that. I no longer require a 500′ “long cord “.

featured photo courtesy kris krüg via Flickr

Refreshing

I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. For they refreshed my spirit and yours also.
1 Corinthians 16:17-18a (NIV)

Wendy and I just arrived safely home from a short week at the lake. This past weekend was what has become an annual rite of early summer for us, as we spent the weekend with our friends at the lake. The agenda is very loose, but no matter the activities the entire time is woven with great food, great drink, and great conversation. I will admit that my body arrived home a tad sore and short on sleep, but my spirit was completely refreshed.

In this morning’s chapter, Paul makes the final remarks of his letter to the followers of Jesus in the city of Corinth. Three men from the Corinthian believers had traveled to meet Paul, presumably to hand him the letter to which he references and is responding in this response. Paul remarks that his spirit was “refreshed” by their visit and letter. This is a common word that Paul liked to use. He used it again in his subsequent letter to the Corinthian believers. He also used it as he corresponded with believers in Rome, in a letter to his protege Timothy and in a letter to Philemon.

We all need times of being refreshed. Our life journeys are filled with stretches that deplete us in multiple ways. Life is often a slog. We tap into spiritual, emotional, and relational reserves in order to press on with each daily trek. Over time, it’s easy for our tanks to run empty. We need to be refreshed.

I also find it interesting this morning that each time Paul references being “refreshed” it is always in reference to a relationship. It’s another person or persons who have refreshed him. I am reminded of the word picture Jesus gave his followers when He washed their feet. Their bodies were clean, Jesus reminded them, but their feet get dirty from walking in the world each day. They needed Jesus to wash their feet, but He knew that He was soon going to physically leave this world. Jesus knew that His followers would need to wash each other’s feet after His ascension. We need the refreshment of having another human being who listens to us, laughs with us, loves on us, and lightens our emotional load for a few days. We need others to fill our spiritual, emotional, and relational tanks for the next stretch of the journey.

This morning I am thankful for a host of good friends with whom Wendy and I share life’s journey. I’m thankful for friends who refresh us and fill our tanks. I hope to refresh others as well as I have been refreshed.

chapter a day banner 2015

He Went On

source: Keith Chastain via Flickr
source: Keith Chastain via Flickr

But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city. The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. Acts 14:19-20 (NRSV)

I had breakfast with a friend the other day. He is one of my inner circle of friends with whom I share the most intimate parts of my life journey. In the midst of our conversation he asked some very direct questions about life. He is keenly aware of some difficulties I have been facing over the past year and he was doing a spiritual check in. I needed it, and I left our time together re-freshed.

Life gets difficult. Our path sometimes leads through dark places. We face obstacles of many kinds. This shouldn’t surprise us, though I’ve observed that our natural human reaction is almost always to react with incredulity and shake our fists at God while asking, “Why me?”

The truth is that Jesus told His followers to expect difficulties. Time and time again God’s message tells us that the path of spiritual progress leads directly through painful places. It’s how it works. We are called to find joy in the midst, bring good companions for the sojourn, and to persevere.

I was amazed at Paul’s example in today’s chapter. He was stoned until incapacitated, his seemingly lifeless body drug outside the city, and he was left for dead. Talk about a bad day. Then his friends surrounded him, he picked himself up, and he went on.

Today, I’m reminded of this simple fact: He went on. Paul faced obstacles and difficulties that make my momentary stresses pale in comparison. And, he went on. So shall I.

Have a great day.

Out of Ignorance Stream Ignorant Words

English: An early engraving by Blake for the B...
English: An early engraving by Blake for the Book of Job (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What do you know that we do not know?
    What insights do you have that we do not have?
Job 15:9 (NIV)

The journey for Wendy and me to try and conceive a child was a long one. I can’t even recount in a simple summary how much was involved medically, emotionally, and relationally for both of us. As a blogger and active participant in social media I found myself, in the early stages of the process, sharing in broad terms and hints what we were going through. It didn’t take me long to stop, to close in, and to begin withholding information from any but the most intimate of friends. I quickly learned that the most well-intentioned people can say some of the most hurtful things. People who speak out of ignorance say ignorant things.

I thought about that this morning as I read the words of Eliphaz, who brings his next argument to the debate between Job and his friends. Eli’s anger is rising. He is uncomfortable with the questions Job is asking and his discomfort motivates him to go on the attack. I was struck when I came to the question above. My playwright and actor’s brain began to script Job’s thoughts.

What do you know that we do not know?

“Are you kidding me, Eli? Let’s start with with the obvious. Last I knew, your children were living and healthy. Do you know what it’s like to lose all of your children in the blink of an eye? Have you gone through that? Do you even have an f-ing CLUE what it feels like to receive the gut-punch news telling you that your children, ALL OF THEM, are dead?

“When was the last time you found health gone and puss-seeping sores all over your body, Eli? I don’t remember visiting you on an ash heap.

“Oh, and please tell me about the time you lost your life savings and everything for which you toiled your entire life! If so, please share. If not, then shut up.

“What do I know that you don’t know? E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G!”

One of the things I learned through our journey was the importance of keeping my mouth shut and my ears open with friends and loved ones who are going through trials I have never experienced. Even when I have experienced some of the same or similar things, I remind myself in the presence of the suffering that it’s not about me. My role is to quietly step in, to be present, to listen, and to love. Those who are walking the path of suffering know a present reality of which I am completely ignorant. I need to respect that.

Presence and Silence in a Friend’s Dark Hour

Job and FriendsThen [Job’s three friends] sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. Job 2:13 (NIV)

Along life’s journey we all have times of tragedy and of suffering. I have observed and experienced that our western culture, by and large, does not handle these stretches of life’s journey well. In a culture that celebrates temporal success and material excess, suffering of any kind tends to be approached with ignorance (“I have no idea what to do or say”), with discomfort (“I don’t want to be around him/her. It will just depress me”), and even with outright suspicion and derision (“They must have done something wrong. I don’t want to be associated with him/her.”).

For several years, Wendy and I aggressively attempted to bring a child into this world together. I have not shared very openly about it. Some day I know I will write more about my experiences. Not yet. Though Wendy and I have pressed on in our journey together, at times the soul wounds feel acutely fresh.

I will share, however, that this period of our lives was a very lonely time. My heart and soul were taken to places on life’s road that I did not desire to go. Even among our family and our closest friends I observed the struggle to know how to approach the subject, what to say, or how to help. Because of ignorance, discomfort, or suspicion there were many who simply avoided the subject around which our lives were painfully centered.

In today’s chapter, I was struck by our initial introduction to Job’s three friends. We will learn more about them in the days ahead, but for the moment I found myself impressed by two things.

First, Job’s friends showed the courage to put aside whatever discomfort, confusion, or suspicion they may have felt to consciously step into Job’s presence. They were not deterred by Job’s suffering but seem to be compelled by their friendship to be present with Job in the midst of it. That simple act of being present with someone in their pain is the evidence of love.

Second, I observed that for seven days Job’s friends said nothing. Wise King Solomon tells us that there is a time to speak and a time to be silent. It sometimes takes Solomon’s wisdom to discern between the two. I believe that Job’s friends initially choose the path of wisdom in their silence. There is nothing to say at this point that will be of comfort to Job.

I am reminded this morning of conversations I’ve had with grieving family members after the funeral of a loved one. People have often spoken to me of the comfort and encouragement they took by an individual’s presence at the funeral, despite the fact that they did not talk or interact with that individual. It was that individual’s choice to be present in their dark hour of grief which was meaningful. No words had to be spoken.

Today, I am taking stock of family and friends who have been faithfully present along the dark stretches of my journey. I am also confessing my own fault at letting discomfort, confusion, and suspicion deter me from being present with others whom I love in their own dark hours. I want to be a better, more courageous and more loving friend to others as I understand what it means to do so in difficult times.