Reader, I apologize for how late this is today. It’s been a helluva week at the office here with all sorts of office problems that earn their own “hashtags” of self-mocking judgment on various social media sites, but today has also been a helluva day. I am filled, Reader, filled to the brim with bittersweet sorrow.
It snowed last night in the Land of Pilgrims, a light dusting over thick ice that took me several minutes to scrape off of my car this morning. What a delight it was to see the shock of white when I opened my curtains, an instantaneous button to change me into a wriggling five-year-old laughing at being joy-filled. I am glad of that joy, glad of something to hold in the back of my mind as I went to work and got the news of a friend’s father finally giving up the fight in the early hours, of a friend beginning the long and torturous process of registering an autistic child as Officially Disabled, of a friend dying.
This friend of mine who died—let me tell you of him, Reader, because his death is that which fills me so today. It is of his death and life that I am mindful, that I am mind-filled after calling his widow to say that I am more present than a Facebook message. He was a fisherman and a hunter, neither of which I understand but which brought him such joy. He had a terrible sense of humor that made him laugh and laugh and try to explain to the rest of us, often getting us to laugh by the intricacies of the explanation rather than the merit of the original joke. And he was a man of fierce faith, such that even on his deathbed he was speaking of Jesus with his doctors.
How easily I roll my eyes at others’ faith, Reader! Have I become so calloused, so cool, so chagrined by the evangelical brouhaha of politics that I see only embarrassment in witness? Not another of those religious nuts, I hear in my mind, aware that I am myself one of those nuts. Would I lie on my deathbed, losing against cancer and knowing it fully, and tell others that this suffering was nothing like that of Christ’s? Would it even occur to me to embrace the fact that my hope ultimately was not in the doctor, but in my God?
I’d like to think so, but then I’d also like to think that I really would practice guitar if I bought that used Stratacoustic I saw for cheap, and I’d like to think that I would be a great cook if I had the time. I know myself better than that, and hearing the stories of my friend in his last months is a suckerpunch of accountability. Sure, I will talk about the Church for days on end, and I will teach about theology with glee, but when do I talk about God? When do I use the name “Jesus” save in orchestrated prayer in a constructed service?
I would love to blame this on a society that finds Christianity passé or a church that does a good job of distancing itself from Those Crazy Conservatives or a family that tolerates my faith without making any move to understand it, but that’s a cop-out and we both know it. It is mine to wonder how far I am taking this Great Commission, to wonder not if my life speaks of the Presence of God but if I do. Yes, actions speak louder than words, but why should my words not speak also?
“But I don’t want to be pushy,” I say, “pushy religious folk are the reason so many have turned away from the Church.” True enough, and pushy is not the answer. My friend would probably have been classified as pushy. But is it better or worse that I make absolutely no attempt even to be present in the conversation of Christ? I shy from discussing my own experiences with God Himself—even here, Reader, even in this space I have dedicated to telling you of the places God is in my life, I records the events rather than the interaction. I have no testimony, no heart for telling others that Jesus is the way, the truth, the life.
My friend was a strange and wonderful man, and he and I are not alike. We cannot approach faith the same way, and I don’t know that either of our ways are better than the other. But in the sorrow of his death is the joy of his surety that this life was spent well, that he had heard the commandment given him, that he had loved others enough to tell them about the God he’d come to cherish. Do I have any idea what it looks like to love someone that much?
What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. (1 Corinthians 9:18-19, ESV)