I got this email the other day and in answering it felt I should let a few others look over my shoulder. I know he is not alone in his concern and perhaps others will be encouraged by this exchange:
Over the past year my wife and I have had some close friends go into deep funks in which they won’t return phone calls, emails, etc. These are folks we have known for some time and fellowshipped with on a pretty regular basis. Each situation is independent of the others and in all cases no one seems to be currently having any relationship with Jesus and are instead showing signs of addictions, depression or…well, funk. Over the past year we have both repeatedly left voice messages and sent emails but have received virtually no response from any one except one who has simply said she would rather feel numb right now than deal with her life.
I know that Father has called, or maybe better put, wired me to pastor. I know what that doesn’t mean but I guess maybe I’m struggling a bit with what it does mean. Over the years I (we) have tried hard to simply be friends with people and have positioned ourselves to be in the messes and struggles with them and not control them. We have offered help and input as we were led but steered clear of controlling people or distancing ourselves if they chose not to take our help.
I know this isn’t the end but rather a season and nothing but nothing can separate them from the love of Father. I’m not sure what my question is but hope you can hear my heart and what I am trying to express. I feel like I could have/should have done more for these friends and that I still should. I understand the old saying, “you can lead a horse to water but can’t make him drink and if you force him to drink it’s called drowning.” But I can’t help but wonder if I had been more authoritative they would all be in a better place right now. As painful as these situations have been for Kim when I express this to her she thinks I’m nuts.
Honestly, I’m with your wife on this. 😉
I’ve had it on my heart of late to spend more time with people who want to help others live loved, than just spending time with folks who want to live loved. I think people have lost all sense of what a true pastor or elder is—someone who knows how to help and encourage others to live inside a relationship with Father in a growing journey of learning to live in his love and share that with others. Your note seems to be a further nudge that direction. I’m not sure how that will work yet, but I know people all over the world who are really gifted as pastors and elders, not in the traditional sense but in the Biblical sense, but simply are unsure how to do it relationally. Without the position, title, or job description they seem to drift aimlessly unsure how to really help others. I want to spend time with people like that, those who are already learning to live inside Father’s love for themselves, and now want to find creative ways to help others. But that’s something God is going to have to show us how to do going forward.
That said, one of the worst things we do to ourselves is second-guess what we could or should have done or said, especially when we are feeling responsible for how someone else is responding. This would have killed Jesus, I’m sure, long before he got to the cross. He invited people to the kingdom, and he didn’t seem to get too freaked out when people missed the open door, and wandered off to spend more time in their self-effort or religious performance. Paul didn’t either. If people weren’t listening yet it was because their eyes were veiled and they weren’t ready to see. Neither of them blamed themselves for not being more authoritarian. The kingdom is an invitation for the hungry not a demand on the complacent. As sad as it is, some times people just need to stew in their mess a bit longer.
Sure an authoritative approach might have gotten them to conform their outward behavior to please you, but the inner life would have been more at risk. Thinking they are doing OK by how they look on the outside, they wouldn’t be dealing with the reality of their mess on the inside. Freedom is all about letting people live inside their choices, even when those choices are hurtful to themselves and others. You can always be lovingly, honest with them, helping them see a better way as God gives us insight and grace. But you’ll come to recognize those who are hungry and want your help, and those who aren’t ready yet and shy away. Don’t think that’s a bad thing. Keep praying and keep loving without badgering them. When they are ready to find healing and life in Jesus, they will fight their way through every obstacle to embrace it.
Perhaps the most difficult part of loving is letting others have the very freedom they are using to destroy themselves. I see the Father of the prodigal son doing exactly that. I’ll give you the freedom to ruin your life, in hopes that the ruin will invite you back to me! That’s more painful loving than the euphoria of welcoming them home when they come.
So don’t be too hard on yourself, Bro! If being more authoritarian wins the day, then I’m not sure you haven’t lost the greater prize for them and you.