Sometimes good friends just drift apart.
Nobody is responsible. Circumstances change and before you know it, you haven’t spoken to your best buddy from high school for six years.
I know this from experience.
Jim and I played on our high school tennis team together, worked on woodworking class projects together, and we went cruising down Broadway Street together — usually in his black 1970-something Mustang that looked cool, but always seemed to be in need of repair.
We didn’t miss a beat after high school. We played tennis, went to parties, and worked out together. We even dated the same girl (not at the same time, of course). Most male friendships probably don’t survive the dating-the-same-girl-thing, but ours did.
In our twenties, Jim got married (no, not to her), and I was his best man. He and his wife began having children and he found a job that required him to work a swing shift. In the meantime, I became a Christian and had quit going to nightclubs, replacing them with Bible studies and church events.
We still hung out once in a while, but less frequently. Our calls became less frequent, too. Neither of us was upset with the other one. Life happens. Interests changes. We were just pulled in different directions and before we knew it, a year had gone by without us speaking. And then two years.
When my dad died in 2000, Jim and I reconnected just like old times, before losing touch again.
From then on, we had a milestone friendship — one that is secure enough in its own history to show up during milestone moments without any real need to connect on a regular basis.
When Jim's dad died seven years later, he invited me to be part of the family gathering at the funeral home. I showed up, even though I was hobbling on crutches after rupturing my Achilles tendon.
Then we drifted back into our routines, touching base once in a while on the phone. I don’t know how much time passed before he called to invite me to a going away party. His Navy Reserve unit had been called up to Iraq.
When I arrived at the party, I hardly recognized his girls. They had grown so much.
Jim and I ended up posing side by side for a picture at that party (yes, the one above). Neither of us said it, but we both knew it could turn out to be one of those pictures a friend posts online one day as a tribute to his fallen buddy.
We traded letters while he was in Iraq, and he was able to call me once. And thankfully, he came back in one piece. When he got home, we celebrated, and then lost touch.
A year or so later, his mom died and I attended her funeral. That was in 2009, if my memory is correct. I don’t think we’ve spoken since.
A few months ago, I wondered what Jim was up to, so I sent him a text. The funny thing is, I don’t think we’ve ever texted one other. In fact, last I knew, Jim had a flip phone and was anti-text messaging. But things change, so I took a chance.
“Hey Jim. What are you up to?” I wrote.
“Who is this?”
We’d gone so long without communicating that he didn't even have my phone number in his contact list anymore. I guess I could have jumped to conclusions, thinking he deleted my number because he didn’t want to stay in touch, but honestly, the thought didn’t cross my mind.
I identified myself, and he asked if he could call me. We fast forwarded through the last six years of our lives, playing catch up over the next forty-five minutes. And then we broke our pattern. We made plans to have dinner the following week for the mere sake of it.
We traded stories about our physical ailments, and stories about our families. We played a little darts, and we laughed. Underneath it all, a sense of contentment washed over me because we have a friendship for the ages, and those are hard to find.
Pity, complacency, and delight. That's what I'm rooting for today.
But I should back up.
I read John 2:23-25 (ESV) this morning during my devotions: "Now when he [Jesus] was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man."
Jesus didn't trust these people because he "knew what was in man." He knew their motivations, their secrets, their desires.
Does that make you squirm the same way it makes me squirm?
He also knew their faith wasn't genuine.
But what about those who genuinely believe, but still fall short? Here's what Adam Clarke says in his commentary:
“He knows who are sincere, and who are hypocritical: he knows those in whom he can confide, and those to whom he can neither trust himself nor his gifts. Reader, he also knows thee: thy cares, fears, perplexities, temptations, afflictions, desires, and hopes; thy helps and hinderances; the progress thou hast made in the Divine life, or thy declension from it. If he know thee to be hypocritical or iniquitous, he looks upon thee with abhorrence: if he know thee to be of a meek and broken spirit, he looks on thee with pity, complacency, and delight. Take courage - thou canst say, Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I do love thee, and mourn because I love and serve thee so little: then expect him to come in unto thee, and make his abode with thee: while thy eye and heart are simple, he will love thee, and thy whole soul shall be full of light. To him be glory and dominion for ever!”
It's hard not to pray the prayer at the end, isn't it?
I know we are supposed to embrace change, and that it is the only constant in life, but change often feels like loss to me — especially when change comes in bunches, like it has this year.
My grandmother died twelve years ago last week. I drove past her old house on the way to church yesterday morning and I don’t even recognize it.
Her once well-kept lawn is overgrown with weeds. Her front porch, the place of so many conversations over a cold glass of ice tea, is now hidden behind a privacy fence. The yard we played in as grandchildren is filled with junk.
Those changes weigh on me.
It takes me a little over thirty minutes to get to church now because we sold our building recently and are remodeling another facility. During the interim, we’re meeting with a sister church in another city.
I wasn’t completely attached to the old building because I have only been going there for four years. But my mom attended a couple of events there with me, and those moments are precious memories.
And a writers group I’m affiliated with held a couple of writers conferences in that old building.
A friend who taught with me at the first conference died last year after a battle with cancer. I have a picture of us standing side by side in the basement of that facility and she looks like the picture of health. We had no way of knowing she wouldn’t live long enough to attend the conference the following year.
Leaving that old building behind weighs on me.
A month or so ago, I went fishing with my buddy, Shawn, at his cabin in central Nebraska for the last time. He sold the cabin a week or two later (and he’s considering a move from the area).
For the past four years, we’ve gone fishing there on Memorial Day and the place has grown on me.
We always stop first in Central City to buy bait at Central True Value Hardware. The owners have a 19-year-old cat named Pockets who roams the store. When I asked about him this year, the clerk told me Pockets was having a bad day, so he was curled up behind the counter. The hardware store won’t be the same after Pockets passes away.
After we leave the hardware store, we head for the cabin. For a city boy, that’s always so exciting. You’ll never find me on the cover of “Field & Stream” because I love the air conditioning too much, but sitting by the lake and fishing with Shawn while shooting the breeze makes it one of my favorite days of the year.
The water is so calm that you can see your bobber move when even the smallest fish in the world starts messing with your bait. I’m speaking from experience. But I’ve caught a few big fish there, too.
Knowing that Memorial Day 2016 will be spent elsewhere weighs on me.
Last week, we lost Elisabeth Elliot. I’ve already written about how much that has affected me. The old guard of the faith is moving on to glory, and I’m not quite sure how to relate to the new guard.
That weights on me, too.
Two friends have also lost their mothers this year. In fact, I’m attending the funeral for one of them this afternoon. It’s not surprising since most of my friends are near fifty, but as we lose the generation before us, a certain knowing settles in.
We can never go back to Christmases past, or birthdays past, or anything past — and there will be no more futures with these people and/or places. In all of the cases I mentioned above, I have the memories, but I can never return to the scene to relive them.
For the non-sentimental, you are probably asking “Why not just start new traditions and make new memories?” And you are right, of course, but I still need to feel the full weight of the losses first.
When Elisabeth Elliot slipped into eternity yesterday, I lost a spiritual grandmother.
We never met in person, but she still spoke to me like a spiritual grandmother would when I tuned into her radio program “Gateway to Joy” every day in the early 1990s, shortly after I became a Christian.
As somebody who didn’t grow up in the church, and who came to Christ in his mid-twenties, her fifteen-minute program guided, encouraged, challenged and shaped me.
Her message was counter-cultural to a young Christian like myself: we must die to live, we must surrender to be free, and we must accept the lot we have been assigned if we want to find peace (she often quoted missionary Amy Carmichael who said, “In acceptance lieth peace.”)
Elliot’s approach was direct, and her tone was uncompromising, but for a wayward young single Christian man, her words were exactly what I needed to hear. They carried authority, and a ring of truth. They also came from a place of authenticity.
As a woman who lost two husbands in the most horrible of ways, she knew loneliness. She knew longing. And she wrote from those places.
While I was writing my first book (a singles devotional book called “Single Servings”), I sent Elliot a letter along with some sample devotions, asking her if she would consider endorsing my project. That letter was dated July 21, 2003 (I know this because I still have a copy of it). I was stunned when she called me a month or so later.
After introducing herself, she put her husband, Lars, on the phone, saying she doesn’t deal with men one on one. For the remainder of the 15-minute call, Lars was our liaison. She would say something, Lars would repeat it (even though I could hear her). I would respond, and he would repeat it to her. And so it went.
We exchanged pleasantries. She pointed out that we had the same publisher, as if we were equals. Nothing could have been further from the truth. But it put me at ease.
“I received your letter and it looks like your book will speak to today’s singles,” she said through Lars. “But I am unable to endorse it. Not because I don’t think it’s a good book, but because so much has changed from when I was single.”
I knew what she was talking about since I had read many of her books. She opens “Passion & Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ's Control” this way: “In my day we would have called them love affairs or romances. Now they are called relationships. The word love has fallen on bad times. To many people it means nothing more nor less than going to bed with somebody …”
In that same book, she wrote about receiving letters from younger women who were confused about the status of their relationship with men they were interested in. And she made this observation: “The letters keep coming, bombarding me with questions along these lines, suggesting that the experience of one from a different generation might still be a signpost.”
“Passion & Purity” has been revised at least once, and the edition I own is the sixth, so it’s hard to say whether she wrote these particular words before or after our conversation, but either way, she seemed to be saying even then that she was amazed when someone from a younger generation might ask her advice.
She hesitated as she began to explain to me, through Lars, why she couldn’t relate to the dating/relationship culture that had become the norm. She thought it would be better if younger writers like myself addressed it instead.
The irony is, I was 27 years old when I first found her radio program in 1993, which would have made her 66 — nearly 40 years my elder, and yet she became the first female voice to speak into my life, spiritually. She was indeed a signpost who pointed me toward hope, and truth.
But in the decade between when I first started listening to her program and our phone conversation, our culture had shifted so much that she was on verge of passing the baton to a younger signpost. I don’t think the full force of that hit me until her death.
She wasn’t passing the baton to me in particular, of course. She was passing it to the generation behind her, and ultimately, to the one behind it — I just happened to be part of that generation. She seemed to be telling me it was our time to apply the scriptures to a culture that looked much different than the one she grew up in.
Over the past 24 hours, I’ve been trying to process the influence Elliot has had on me. I’ve been twisting the kaleidoscope of her many quotes, books, and radio programs in my mind, but the big picture isn't coming into focus, yet. I’m just too close to the situation.
But in the immediate, I can’t get past this notion that one generation is responsible for speaking to the one or two directly behind it, while we still can. And so I will speak when a situation presents itself.
What an enormous responsibility, and blessing.
Thankfully, through the magic of technology, I can still hear Elliot’s voice every day (BBN is rebroadcasting her old radio shows), and it will remain a guiding influence in what I pass along.
If you have ever fallen for the lie that your prayers are ineffectual, then you need to hear about a man named T.S. Mooney.
Alistair Begg told a story on his radio broadcast Truth for Life this week about Mooney, a man who never married, but made an enormous impact for the kingdom through prayer. Mooney, who was a banker by trade, taught a boys’ Bible class for fifty years in Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
Fifty years. Let that sort of commitment sink in.
Begg asked him one day about his plan and purpose for the boys.
“My plan for the Bible class has always been to give every boy a Bible in his hand, a Savior in his heart and a purpose in his life,” Mooney said.
Mooney prayed for each boy routinely, keeping up with them as they grew up. Begg said that when he visited Mooney in his apartment one day, Mooney had photos of men who went through his class as boys hung all over his apartment. Sprinkled all over his walls were photos of judges, surgeons, teachers, mechanics, plumbers and all sorts of other people – all of whom were influenced by Mooney’s teaching and prayers.
Mooney died in 1986. But he left quite a legacy, even in his death. Begg described Mooney’s posture on the day he died and entered heaven.
“The housekeeper found him in the morning – fully dressed and kneeling over his bed,” Begg said. “He had gone into the presence of Jesus on his knees.”
His housekeeper called for help and the headmaster and one of the men who had gone through his Bible class years prior showed up. As they pulled Mooney back from the bed, they found a little black book alongside his Bible. “They looked down to find their names amongst the list of many names,” Begg said. “It was morning. It was time to pray. And he was praying.”
Can you imagine a better way to die?
And can you imagine how those two men felt when they looked into Mooney’s little black book and realized he had been praying for them?
Sort of makes you want to start your own little black prayer book, doesn’t it?
This post is re-purposed from a different blog I wrote for a couple of years ago.