More Than Just You: A Letter to my Son

August 19, 2014

I just picked up fresh organic eggs from a woman who was a stranger to me before this summer began. She is young and beautiful and a mama to a few young children. And every week, her mother brings eggs to her to give to me. I have yet to meet her mother, but I have spoken to her on the phone. This mother and daughter duo is so interested in you. They ask about you. They pray for you.

And there are my gym friends. Many of them are thinking of you and ask about you regularly. They have never met you and yet when they hug me in support, I know they are hugging you too.

And then there’s the church up north, one of the several I get to preach at regularly. This little church has faced significant struggles and I have been honored to walk with them through those struggles. On Sunday, they put me in tears when I opened an envelope and a check shook its way out- their small contribution to the mounting bills that are all stamped “Your Recovery.” 

There’s also your family, and a couple pastor friends, and even my hair stylist who all ask about you and care about you and text me messages to let me know- to remind me- that they are in this with me in whatever way they can be.

I find myself amazed at such a community. Yes, that word community, a word I will tell you is so overused and misunderstood and undervalued. That word that is more a buzz word than anything significant. Yes, I used that word. Because in this case, it seems to be very true. You have this entire community of people- many far away, many you don’t know- who are all loving you and rooting for you and praying you well. Doing things as small as a text or gathering fresh eggs from under chickens to sending checks in the mail.

I have had a mixed relationship with this concept of community. I have been in good, healthy, healing communities. And I have been in unhealthy, difficult, and painful communities. I have been in the midst of communities that loved me to Jesus and I have been in communities that made me feel lonelier than ever before. And both have made valuable impressions on me.

Sometimes I would overvalue a community- especially a healthy and vibrant one. Wanting it to fill my need, to reassure my insecurities, to be the place that spoke my identity. All those things are good things for a community to do until they become the only thing that does that. One thing I have learned in these long and lonely years here where we live is that as much as it matters to have a healthy group of people speaking into your life, they cannot take the place of God. Sometimes I let that happen. And in one community, it nearly destroyed me, because that community was not equipped to speak wholeness and wellness when I wanted them to. They were not whole or well to do so. And I made that vital mistake of believing that voice that smothered out the voice of God. So much of these last years has been me relearning the voice of the Shepherd. My overvaluing of community led me to a place where I needed to learn that again. And I have.

Sometimes we undervalue community. We think we can do it alone. Not share our lives with others. Now, there is a huge wisdom in sometimes holding back things from others. You must know when you can share your deepest concerns and when you must keep them private. You must have wisdom on what to speak and not speak in particular places. But to withhold yourself from others due to fear of what it might feel like to love and be loved is just silly. To hold yourself back from others due to a false sense of pride and toughness (and you will run into this, especially as a boy) is ridiculous. We are indeed created for community. Don’t be so foolish as to forget that the people closest to you- hopefully the healthy and hopeful ones- need to speak into your life, love you, hug you, know you. It’s how you stay in touch with your humanity. It’s how you learn more of Jesus.

But you also need to realize that your expectations of people may need to change sometimes. My dear ordination mentor was a man who is a saint. The Covenant doesn’t have popes or canonization like the dear Catholics do (and he hasn’t died yet), so he just has a spiritual direction center named after him. One day we met to discuss ordination and pastor stuff, and he said these words I hope I never forget, “Don’t be surprised if the people who walk closest to you now aren’t the ones walking with you in the dark valleys. Sometimes, even our closest friends are too afraid to go with us into those places for fear they will never get out.”

I was stunned then and I am still stunned all these years later. And writing that just now made me long for my meetings with John at the Cracker Barrel restaurant, him feeding my soul more than my belly. My precious moments with him were indeed community.

But he taught me such wisdom like that. On a lot things, but that’s one of the many I remember. I have had my fair share of disappointment with friends who didn’t accompany me into the dark places. I imagine there are friends of mine who could say the same about me. I think John was right. And so you must appropriately value community, but not place such high expectations on those friends that you are wounded when you walk the deathly, dark valley without them. As much as you (or I) wish they were there, there’s is some reason they are not. For their sake or mine (or yours). I’m not sure which.

The thing I can guarantee is that you will have companions in the dark journey- however and whenever you take that journey (or journeys because you will walk many difficult seasons of suffering… we all do), you will have companions. You will have community. God is gracious that way. In each of the difficult seasons of my life, I have always had someone, sometimes many someones, who would join me. People I least expected and some I would not have chosen because I did not know they were just a gift. I have learned (finally) to welcome anyone who wants to sincerely journey with me- whether for a few small steps or a long sweaty trek. And while I long for the closeness of my dear friends, I lift my hands in gratitude for these companions who brave the terrible to join me. Learn to see these people as gifts, instead of staying angry that the familiar faces are not there. It will make the journey better, trust me.

But here’s the thing: sometimes- oh my goodness, I pray you never face this!- sometimes in the deepest darkest parts of pain, there is no human face with you. I know that may defy common thought that there are always people who love you- oh and there are always people who love you- but sometimes, in the deepest parts of your suffering, you walk it alone. Sometimes not even a spouse can join you. Not even a best friend. It’s in those terrifying dark places that God is your companion. He’s also in the faces of the friends and the new people who come alongside. But in those places, in those scary places, the air grows thin, and God becomes your companion. I know you won’t always feel it. I know you will cry and long for the familiarity of best friends. I know you will shake your fist at God and feel abandoned. But in those very, very deep places, I know… I so personally know… that the community you have there is Jesus. And I hope that you will learn, as I had to learn, to lean hard into that community. To lean hard into that friendship. To trust that even if another living soul is not around, you have him. Always and forever. Especially in the darkest parts. And even in the spots where you are surrounded by many people. He’s there.

For now, dear little one, you don’t walk alone. This scary ugly thing that is seeking to destroy and steal you- it has to go through so many people first. And your daddy and me- we are at the front of the line. This time- this season- you are not by yourself facing the hard scariness alone. This time, this season, God has gifted you will so many people. People who love you. People who pound on the door of heaven for you. People who long to see, with us, the redemption of Jesus in your body.

This will be the last letter I write to you for a little while, so for now… for this moment… Remember… we walk with a community- not necessarily of our choosing, but of God’s gifting. A community that holds us tight to the heart of God.

Love always, Me

2 Responses to “More Than Just You: A Letter to my Son”

  1. gdluehosh said

    Karen…this is profound.

  2. wrenlk said

    Thanks, Gavin! I try… sometimes it even works! Thanks for reading.

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