Carte Blanche Companions (CaD 2 Sam 19) –
Then Joab went into the house to the king and said, “Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines. You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead. Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the Lord that if you don’t go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come on you from your youth till now.” 2 Samuel 19:5-7 (NIV)
One of the most fascinating aspects of my day job is the opportunity I have to work with many different companies and to interact with people at diverse levels of the organization from the front line to the C Suite. Long ago I realized that the culture of a company is a trickle-down affair that begins with the man or woman at the very top. I remember one client whose CEO ran the company by fear and intimidation. No one would stand up to him, even when he is clearly mistaken or making a wrong move, for fear of losing their proverbial heads in a board meeting (and, perhaps, their jobs). The result was a highly dysfunctional organization that mirrored the CEO. The entire corporate culture was one of intimidation, fear, and c.y.a. It permeated virtually every level of the operation.
One of the things I’ve observed about David as I’ve been reading his story the past few months is the fact that David had a select group of men in his life who could get in his face and call him to account even if they had to be careful about how they did it. After his affair with Bathsheba, it was the prophet Nathan who got in his face. In today’s chapter, David’s general and right-hand man, Joab, confronts David about the grave danger he’s putting himself in by allowing his grief for Absalom to overshadow his duty as a king and general. The kingdom was in a precarious political situation and David was close to losing it all. Joab lost no time in bluntly confronting David and speaking the truth to him. To his credit, David listened to his long-time trusted general and advisor.
Ever since I was a young man, I have intentionally made sure that I always have at least a couple of friends in my life, men with whom I have intentionally surrounded myself, who have carte blanche to get in my face whenever necessary. These are men with whom I talk and share life on a regular basis. We talk about everything in life. If they think I’m screwing something up, then they have permission to question me or call me out, and they would expect the same from me.
This life journey can become a long slog at times. The first rule any child learns about hiking in the wilderness is “buddy up.” To go it alone is to put yourself in danger. Ironically, our greatest danger often resides within ourselves. Without faithful companions who can catch it and call us out, we may not realize it until it’s too late.
In the quiet this morning, I spent a few minutes recalling all of my carte blanche companions through the years, saying a prayer of gratitude and blessing over each one.
A Note to Readers I’m taking a blogging sabbatical and will be re-publishing my chapter-a-day thoughts on David’s continued story in 2 Samuel while I’m taking a little time off in order to focus on a few other priorities. Thanks for reading. Today’s post was originally published in May 2014.
The featured image on today’s post was generated with Wonder A.I.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Hebrews 13:15-16 (NIV)
I began yesterday with coffee and an English muffin at a friend’s office. We chatted about what is going on in each other’s lives. We shared about the challenges we’re facing with family, work, and our bodies that are feeling the natural strains of age. We prayed together. It was a good start to the day.
It was St. Patrick’s Day, so Wendy and I knocked off of work a little early and met friends in the late afternoon for a pint and some Irish music. As the after-work crowds began to swell we were on our way to pick up pizza and retire to their house where we continued sharing life and conversation. Their college-age child was home on Spring Break and we got the whole 411 on life, studies, and relationships at school.
It was a fun day. It was late by the time we returned home.
In today’s final chapter of Hebrews, the author wraps up his letter with more exhortations to the Hebrew followers of Jesus for whom the letter was addressed. Throughout these instructions are more than subtle allusions to the old sacrificial system of Moses that the author has argued was fulfilled by Jesus and is no longer valid or necessary.
In that old system, there were all sorts of ritual religious sacrifices that an individual was expected to make in order to stay in good standing with God. Of course, like all religious rituals, it is possible for a person to go through the motions without there being a heart or life change, and the author has argued that Jesus has provided the once-for-all sacrifice through His death and resurrection.
“So, are there no more sacrifices?” the author hears his readers asking.
Yes, the author answers. The sacrifice of self just as Jesus taught that His followers must take up their own cross in following Him. Jesus’ word picture tells me that I’m supposed to die to myself, to sacrifice myself for God and others. The author provides a picture of this in continuous sacrifices that are both vertical (me to God) and horizontal (me to others). The vertical sacrifice is that I consciously, willfully stay connected to God through offering my praise and prayer (which is simply conversation). The horizontal sacrifice is my goodness and generosity towards others. Not just physical gifts and needs, but also the generosity and goodness of life and spirit through relationships and sharing the life journey together.
Which made me think of my day yesterday. Along my life journey, I’ve experienced that good relationships, the kind that is mutually and spiritually life-giving, require the ongoing generosity of time, conscious thought, intention, energy, vulnerability, and grace. Over time and in every case, every one of those ingredients becomes sacrificial for me as my friends may need more from me at certain times than I can comfortably provide. But the same is true on the other side of the equation. I need them at times and in ways that require their sacrificial generosity.
With Jesus, I can never get around the reality that He emptied Himself, left heaven, came to Earth, and endured the suffering of a horrific death. He sacrificed everything for me. I can ignore that fact. I might allow other thoughts and distractions to drive it from my mind, but it’s always there. What is asked of me in return? To live in a relationship that is essentially no different than my horizontal ones: time, conscious thought, intention, energy, vulnerability, and generosity that comes out in worship, prayer, life, obedience, trust, hope, and perseverance.
I’m grateful this morning for life-giving relationships, both horizontal and vertical.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership. Psalm 109:8 (NIV)
I thought he was my friend, and I continue to believe that he truly was at one time. I’m not sure when the smile became a lie. I’m not sure when our conversations became reconnaissance for his operational purposes to hurt me. Looking back, I realize that the signs were there and I knew it. I even confronted him once, which is not like me. I chose, however, to believe the denial. I made a choice to believe the best in my friend. Perhaps, I should have been more shrewd. My friend’s treachery left an aftermath of chaos and broken relationships.
That was a long time ago. Still, as my mind wanders back to that season of life I can still feel the pain and the anger. I have come to believe that we all, at some waypoint on our life’s journey, will encounter betrayal. It’s another one of those trials woven into the human experience. And, if I’m truly honest with myself, I must confess to my own acts of betrayal along the way. That whole “speck-and-plank” thing that Jesus talked about. As usual, it would seem He was talking right at me.
Today’s chapter, Psalm 109, is a song of David. Once again he is pouring his heart and emotions into his music, expressing the hurt and anger of betrayal in song. It’s not so uncommon. I think many of us have music that we go to in our anger. Do you have “angry” music? Wendy and I have discussed the music that helped us exorcise our angst and rage through seasons of life. As I read through the lyrics of David’s song it is obvious that he is raging against a betrayer and in the game of thrones that existed in ancient kingdoms like his, betrayal was a matter of life-and-death. With my betrayer, it was simply a matter of relationships and reputations.
What’s fascinating about Psalm 109 is that Jesus’ followers found it a prophetic foreshadowing of the betrayal of Judas. After Jesus ascended, Peter quoted Psalm 109 when explaining to those who were left that they would find another to “take his place of leadership.”
Two things stick out to me as I meditate on David’s song this morning.
First, I am once again appreciative of the honesty of David’s rage. He doesn’t hold back. He lets it all out. He hopes his betrayer dies a quick death. While some readers may be taken aback by this, I find it consistent with what David always did, and I find it to be a good example. I spent a lot of my journey stuffing and hiding my emotions. I cloaked myself with a costume of propriety when my soul was crying. One of the best lessons I’ve ever learned is the need to be aware of, and honest about, my emotions. I don’t think David’s song offensive. I think he found in God a safe place to get it all out.
Second, I find myself thinking about betrayals. Some of them lead to a rather permanent end of the relationship like Judas. There are other examples in the Great Story that have happier endings. Paul (another person who could express rage) felt so betrayed by his companion John Mark that he severed the relationship with both John Mark and their fellow companion, Barnabas. Later in his life, however, Paul remarks in his letter that John Mark was with him. Things obviously got patched up.
Along the way I have found it common for followers of Jesus to expect an idyllic outcome to every human conflict. If things don’t get patched up with a pretty little bow then someone is still “wrong” and there is blame and shame to be doled out. I can’t escape the fact, however, that Jesus knew He would be betrayed. He even said to His betrayer: “What you are about to do. Do quickly.”
I have come to believe that I am responsible to live at peace with others, as I am able to do so. I have also come to believe that there is a grand purpose in relationships, even those that fall apart and break because of betrayal. In Paul’s letter to Jesus’ followers in Rome he writes, “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I choose to believe this, even in light of a friend’s betrayal.
This week it’s Part 2 of “Companions on the Journey.” My conversation with Kevin Roose about friendship, accountability, the Enneagram, and what our chapter-a-day journey has practically meant in our life journeys.
In our conversation about friendship, I referenced one of the darkest moments of my life. In fact, it was a moment much like the ones David often sings about in his lyrics when he felt utterly alone and surrounded by enemies saying awful things about him. In one of the defining moments of our friendship, Kevin called me and the first words out of his mouth were: “I’ve got your back.”
The phrase comes from battle situations in which you have a partner protecting and looking out for the area you are most vulnerable to attack. When you’re moving forward and pushing ahead your focus is on what’s in front of you and the most vulnerable place is your backside. It’s always good to have someone you trust who has “got your back.”
In today’s chapter, David uses a similar metaphor when he says God is “at my right hand,” though the metaphor is lost on most modern readers. In King David’s day, the soldiers who would have served as his Secret Service were armed with a spear in their right hand and a shield in their left. Therefore, the person King David entrusted to be at his right hand was most critical. If attacked, it was the man on his immediate right who would shield the King and deter the attack.
When David says “God is at my right hand” he is making a statement of faith and trust that God is going to protect him, look out for him, and shield him from the attacks of others. I couldn’t help but wonder if Paul was channeling the same metaphor when he wrote the followers of Jesus in Ephesus and told them to take up their “Shield of faith.”
In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about current events in which I feel like so much of our world is out of control. I read the headlines and can’t believe what I’m seeing, hearing, and reading. I wonder what in the world is going to happen next. It can feel a bit like being besieged and under attack. We’re living in a time when anxiety, fear, and worry are running rampant. What am I supposed to do?
This morning, I think I’ll make like David. Say it, and believe it:
I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
I hear God’s Spirit whispering to me: “I’ve got your back.”
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
Those who are even occasional readers of my posts know that I often make reference to the Enneagram. We were first introduced the Nine Types by our daughter many years ago. As it’s grown in popularity, we have been asked to introduce it and discuss it with various groups. We are, by no means, experts. We have simply shared our personal experiences of understanding and how the Enneagram has helped our relationship as we have come to understand and appreciate one another in deeper ways.
Over the years we’ve had many, many conversations with individuals, couples, and groups about the Enneagram. Of course, one of the first questions that is asked is, “Do you know what type you are?” Wendy and I quickly began noticing a certain pattern among women who are card-carrying followers of Jesus living primarily in Christian community.
They almost all say they are Type Twos (a.k.a. “The Helper”). Here’s the summary description of Type Two from the Enneagram Institute:
Twos are empathetic, sincere, and warm-hearted. They are friendly, generous, and self-sacrificing, but can also be sentimental, flattering, and people-pleasing. They are well-meaning and driven to be close to others, but can slip into doing things for others in order to be needed. They typically have problems with possessiveness and with acknowledging their own needs. At their Best: unselfish and altruistic, they have unconditional love for others.
The problem, of course, is that it’s not possible for 80-90% of Christian women to be Twos. Either only females who are Twos follow Jesus, or those who do follow Jesus are miraculously transformed into Twos by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As Wendy and I pondered and contemplated this phenomenon, we came to the realization that “Twos” sound eerily similar to the ideal wife and mother described in the epilogue of Proverbs; She is otherwise known as “The Proverbs 31 Woman.” Motherhood, in and of itself, requires the actions of self-sacrifice and unselfishness that come naturally to Twos. Yet, a person’s Enneagram Type is not rooted in actions, but motivations. I have come to believe that many individuals fall prey to this confusion. They may project themselves to be, or truly desire themselves to be, that idealized version of womanhood that both the church and Christian community have relentlessly told them they should be.
In today’s chapter, the book of ancient wisdom ends with a rather eloquent description of a “wife of noble character.” She’s the picture-perfect supportive spouse who is an asset to her husband’s public image and career. She’s the super-charged industrial homemaker and the perfect mix of Joanna Gaines and Martha Stewart. Her clothes, decor, and children are all Pinterest-worthy. She’s tireless and shrewd. She’s the undisputed CEO of the home which always runs with efficiency, organization, productivity, timeliness, and keeps the household budget always in the black. She is intelligent, spiritual, and practically wise; a combination of Beth Moore and Jen Hatmaker. Her children think she’s the coolest mom in the world, and they all dutifully reflect her Proverbs-Thirty-One-ness in dress, appearance, and behavior. Her husband would never look twice at any of the “wayward” and “adulterous” women that Proverbs has been incessantly mentioning for thirty chapters, and this is because…well…while charm may be deceptive and beauty fleeting, “The Proverbs 31 Woman” actually has those, too! She’s the whole package.
Except, no woman is all these things. In my almost 40 year journey of being an adolescent-to-adult male and a follower of Jesus, I’ve never met a Proverbs 31 Woman. I’ve met women who seem to look like her. They project her image, but it’s never real. She’s just an air-brushed model on a magazine cover painted and lit to look like the ideals of maternal, marital, and spiritual virtue.
I’m probably going to get into trouble writing this, but let me share with you the observation of an old dude who’s spent his entire life surrounded by and in relationships with amazing girls and women.
Unintentionally, the book of Proverbs can easily do a disservice to the women in my life. The ancient sages Solomon, Agur, and Lemuel lived in a brutal, patriarchal society that developed out of a need for a strict social order (as I explored yesterday) to ensure survival. Women are presented in Proverbs in a binary fashion: bad (wayward, adulterous, contentious, quarrelsome) or ideal (The Proverbs 31 Woman). So, lady, what’s it going to be? Do you want to be good or bad? And, if you want to be good, then you must be ideal.
I’ve observed along my journey that the women in my life often allow themselves to fall into these binary mental traps: fat or skinny, beautiful or ugly, sexy or lonely, smart or dumb, popular or not, trendy or so-not-with-it, and etc. So, what I’ve observed happening are perpetual cycles of pressure, hopelessness, despair, striving, depression, and never-ending comparison to others hoping (and/or judging) “If I’m not ideal then at least I’m better than….”
So, I’m going to wade into dangerous territory this morning and I beg your grace and forgiveness upfront. If this old husband, father, grandfather, son, brother, employer, mentor, colleague, neighbor, and friend were to re-define what Proverbs calls a “woman of noble character” for all the amazing women in my life it would go something like this:
A Becoming Woman
If you find a becoming woman, you are blessed.
She is learning to embrace the individual, in mind, body (all of it), and spirit just as her loving Creator intentionally and uniquely knit her DNA together.
She has made an honest inventory of both her personal strengths and her intimate struggles; She is persevering in her efforts to build on the former while diminishing the latter.
She seeks roles and positions that make the most of her unique gifts and abilities, though they may not fit the dreams she once had, the norms of her community, or the expectations that others have placed on her.
She is learning how to accept God’s grace and forgiveness for all of the mistakes, faults, imperfections, and sins that she knows so well, even when others have not forgiven her; She is learning how to be gracious with herself, letting go of her own desires for perfection. She embraces the knowledge that she’ll still be learning all of these things when she reaches the end of this earthly journey.
She loves her husband and children genuinely, sometimes passionately, though often deficiently. She embraces the journey of becoming that is being a friend, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother. She presses on, neither denying the many faults and mistakes of her past nor becoming complacent in the onward journey of becoming that is always leading her further up and further in.
She is doing her best for her family even though it feels like a thankless task most days. She is struggling constantly against the lie that she is a hopeless failure in her role and responsibilities. She is learning to let it go when all that she has already done is summarily ignored while the incessant demands for more keep building up, seemingly with every moment.
She is realizing that the Creator has lovingly made each of her children as unique as she, herself, is unique. She desires that each of them becomes the individual God has made them to be. She desires that each child discover the unique purposes God has for them, even as she’s learning in fits and starts to let go of her own personal desires and expectations which can feel so instinctual and can be so strong at times.
She is learning to care more about the emotional and spiritual needs of her child than she cares about how her child’s appearance, actions, achievements, failures, words, and/or behaviors might influence how others, especially other women, in the community perceive her and her mothering skills.
She is purposefully mindful of her own needs and is learning that taking care of herself in mind, body, and spirit is necessary to manage every other role and relationship in her life.
She is purposefully mindful of her husband’s needs. She is learning to meet the unique needs that fill his love tank (though it may not fill hers), speak his unique love language (though she may not be fluent), and to be gracious with his unique shortcomings as she needs him to be gracious with hers. She is learning to encourage his own unique gifts, strengths, and purposes even when she realizes that they aren’t what she once thought they were or what she wants them to be.
She has surrounded herself with other good women who know her faults and love her anyway and who speak truth into her even when she doesn’t want to hear it. They are present even when time and/or miles create physical separation. They pick her up when she is down. They cheer her on in her endeavors and celebrate her in her accomplishments. They struggle through and survive relational strife with one another, learn to forgive one another, and graciously walk life’s journey together all the days of their lives.
She is learning, persevering, seeking, letting go, embracing, pressing on, realizing, desiring, purposeful, struggling, endeavoring, loving, giving, caring, forgiving, and she is surrounded.
A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!
Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends. Proverbs 17:9 (NIV)
I have been blessed with many great friends across this earthly journey. I consider them a huge part of the reason I am where I am on Life’s road. Even though our respective paths in life led us to different places, there are a number of friends that I can call at any moment and we can pick up right where we left off as if no time had passed and there was no distance between us. As I look back, however, I can also recount friendships that were important and special during a particular stretch of the journey, and then they ended.
In most of these cases, not all, there were things that I said, things I did, or things that I didn’t say or do, which offended or hurt my friend. In at least one instance, my friend repeatedly declined to tell me what it was that I had done to cause such pain. In every instance, my attempts at reconciliation in these friendships were rebuffed. Even ten, twenty, thirty years later, I still feel sad when I think about each one.
Jesus was adamant that His followers practice forgiveness. It was non-negotiable. When asked by Peter if forgiving a person who wronged you seven times was a righteous thing to do, Jesus doubled down and instructed Pete to forgive seventy-times-seven. The hyperbole was the point. Forgiveness is to be on-going and never-ending. Jesus then provided the example as He hung on a cross and said of His executioners: “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”
In today’s chapter, one proverb states that love “covers over” an offense. I couldn’t help but think of an old piece of furniture that is dinged and scratched up with constant use over time. A little sandpaper and a fresh coat of paint make it new again. The scratches and dings are covered over and forgotten.
The proverb goes on to state that “repeating a matter” separates friends. In this contrasting situation, there is no sanding over the scratches and no fresh coat of paint. One friend wants the other friend to view every scratch and see every ding, every time, and be continually reminded that they are there and not going away. There is no forgiveness, just power and leverage, and shame, and the continuation of relational pain.
I’ve come to realize that a relationship can not long survive in such circumstances, at least not with any degree of health. It is not a reciprocal, life-giving relationship.
In the quiet this morning, I begin my week thankful for friends both past and present. I’m thankful even for those who were friends for a season. The end of those relationships, with all their sadness, don’t take away the tremendous, positive impact those friends made in my life during that season. And, who knows? Perhaps reconciliation will yet occur down the road. I hope so.
My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) Colossians 4:10 (NIV)
“There are friends who are friends for a season, and there are friends who are friends for life.” Thus said a wise woman to me while I was a Freshman in college. It was the first time I remember really thinking about the purpose and tenure of friendship in life’s journey.
Everyone knows that Jesus had twelve disciples, but Luke records that there was a wider circle of seventy-two disciples that Jesus sent out (Luke 10:1). Among the twelve it was only Peter, James, and John that Jesus called out to join Him when He was transfigured, when He raised Jairus’ daughter, and when He was in His deepest despair in Gethsemane. Like most of us, Jesus had concentric circles of relationship from the intimacy of His inner circle of three to the wider and less intimate relationships He had with the twelve, the seventy-two, and an even larger group of 500 followers to whom He appeared after His resurrection.
Along my life journey, I’ve had a number of friends, mentors, and protégés who became part of my “inner circle” during a particular stretch. Looking back, I observe a certain ebb and flow of pattern and purpose in relationships. As the wise woman stated, some paths converge for a season and then organically lead in opposite directions. Conflict, sadly, severed some relationships. In a few cases, I’ve realized it’s best to leave be what was. In others, reconciliation brought differing degrees of restoration. There is longing to experience reconciliation in yet others when the season is right. Then there are a few in which time ran out, and only memories both bitter and sweet will remain with me for the rest of my earthly journey.
Most readers of Paul’s letters skip through the personal greetings with which he typically tagged his correspondence at the beginning and/or end. This morning, it was one of these oft-ignored greetings at the end of the chapter that jumped off the page at me. Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, sends his greetings to the believers at Colossae. There is a back story there.
Mark, otherwise known as John Mark, had been a boy who was part of Jesus’ wider circle of followers. Mark’s mother was a prominent woman who also followed Jesus and likely supported His ministry financially. When Peter escaped from prison it was to the house of Mark’s mother that Peter fled. It was Mark’s cousin, Barnabas, who brought the enemy turned believer, Saul (aka Paul) into the fold of Jesus’ followers. Barnabas and Mark were part of Paul’s inner circle on his first missionary journey.
Then, it all fell apart.
In the middle of the journey, Mark left Paul and Barnabas and went back home. Paul felt abandoned and betrayed. Years later when it came time to make a return journey, Barnabas wanted to take Mark along. Paul, still angry that Mark wimped out and abandoned them, would have none of it. There was a big fight. There was a bitter separation. Paul went one way with Silas. Barnabas went the other way with Mark. The season of Paul, Barnabas, and Mark was over.
As Paul writes his letter to the Colossians it has been many years since the conflict with Barnabas and Mark. Paul is in prison and is nearing the end of his life. Mark is with him. We don’t know how the reconciliation happened or what brought them back together again, but Mark is there sending warm greetings through Paul. It’s nice to know that sometimes in this life we get over our conflicts. We let go of the past and embrace the present. Seasons of friendship can come back around.
In the quiet this morning I’m looking back and thinking of all the companions I’ve had along my journey. I’m whispering a prayer of gratitude for each one brought to my life and journey, despite where the ebb and flow of relationship may have led. And, in a few cases, I’m praying for the season when the journey might lead divergent paths back together, like Paul and Mark.
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.
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.
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.