Earlier this week I had lunch with a friend I see only once or twice a year. I caught him up on my recent journey, and he listened with immense compassion and sincere sadness in his eyes. It felt so encouraging to be listened to that deeply by someone who I know genuinely cares about me.
And then he started to do what we all want to do when someone tells you their life has imploded: he started trying to help, God bless him.
In particular, he tried to help me reignite many of the Christian ideas that I used to find helpful. Unfortunately, these days, most of the Old Answers ring hollow, whether I like it or not. After all, one doesn’t intentionally TRY to rip his lifelong foundation apart without a new one to settle upon…the foundation cracks and crumbles, and before you realize how bad the problem is, you need a new house.
We spent three and a half hours at lunch (don’t worry, I left a very nice tip because I always feel badly for the waiter in those situations), most of it with him (kindly, gently, helpfully) offering the adages I’m very familiar with about why bad things happen, where God is in the midst of all of this, and how detrimental it is to be adrift from the God-anchor. I’ve had this same conversation in my head at least 4.82 zillion times, but a small part of me hoped he’d offer some new perspective I hadn’t considered. Sadly, he didn’t.
But in the midst of that conversation, my concerned friend said the very thing I’ve been saying for years: “I’m sure we’re both wrong anyway, Tim!”
Yes, yes, and yes! But why is it so hard for most of us to admit that? I suppose it’s very threatening to think that, when it comes to the Big Questions, I might be off track…even way off track. Who wants to live under the assumption that s/he’s wrong about very important things.
But let me defend wrongness for a second:
Think back to ten years ago – what you believed, what you naively thought life would be like ten years down the road, the advice you gave to friends that you’re now embarrassed to have said out loud, the things you said you’d never do/say that you’ve now incorporated into daily life. If you’re like me, you’d sometimes like to go back to your old self and kick yourself in the shin under the table before you open your big mouth. Or again, like me, you might owe a few people apologies for being “always certain…but rarely right.” The more you realize the second part of that equation, the more you (I) want to apologize for the first part. But even back then when you were behaving so “kickably” I’m sure you (and I) were trying our best. Even those old versions of ourselves deserve our compassion.
So after our three and a half hour conversation, my old friend and I both slowly conceded that the conversation wasn’t going to end with a tearful conversion…on either part. I suspect he was sad for me to be “lost,” and I was sad that it’s very hard to find people who see eye-to-eye with me these days; it gets lonely when your life raft gets lost in the fog and can’t find its way back to the group anymore.
But at least there was that moment of genuine human connection: “I’m sure we’re both wrong, Tim”
Think about the profound beauty of that scary statement. THAT is ALWAYS the point of our deepest human connection, if only we are brave enough to admit it. BUT! We can, if we are willing, connect with people who come from different, even radically different, places if we will start with the fundamental premise that we are all confused, sometimes desperate, human beings who simply long for acceptance and love.
Your angry, reclusive neighbor? A human being who is confused and hurt and wants to be cared about.
Your baffling sibling? A human being who is confused and hurt and wants to be cared about.
Your demanding, impatient boss? A human being who is confused and hurt and wants to be cared about.
Your spouse who doesn’t always say the right thing? A human being who is confused and hurt and wants to be cared about.
Your friend who keeps seeming to sabotage her own life? A human being who is confused and hurt and wants to be cared about.
I sort of doubt that this blog post will change the world (at least until later today), but I’d love to live in a world where people’s first reaction to everyone else’s expressions of loneliness, hurt, and pain is, “We’re in this together. I’m confused, too…and hurting…and lonely…and ashamed…and scared, but it sure is nice to have another single-occupant lifeboat appear out of the fog to let me know I’m not completely alone.”