Each Sunday he shows up. He stumbles in, unkempt and a little noisy. Typically his daughters come with him. (They love our children’s ministry.) He sits in the metal folding chairs in our little church plant startup meeting at our local VFW Bingo Hall. Usually, he sits near the back, a little out of place but tears in his eyes during the entire teaching. He is a walking picture of one man’s alcoholic struggles.
Monday he calls me. Usually 2-4 times just on Monday. Not for any particular reason, but more or less because he just wants someone to talk to. Tuesday he might call once or twice. By Wednesday it trickles off and we reconnect on Sunday. Him, still a mess. And me, not even sure where to begin other than with the cliches that won’t help his battle…
“Keep praying man. God is faithful.”
“Don’t quit studying the Word. Go after God.”
“We are praying with you brother. We really are.”
But for him, the battle doesn’t end. It doesn’t go away and he isn’t really getting any better. And the reality is, I have no idea how to help.
He keeps showing up though. He keeps walking in the door every Sunday morning and just past the smell of mouthwash is a broken heart who has found a place of belonging–a place where he doesn’t feel so alone at least for those couple hours of the morning.
The reality is my heart is the mess in this situation.
I get irritated by the phone calls. Doesn’t he know 9 o’clock at night is my time with my wife? Seriously, four calls in one day? What does he want me to say when there’s nothing new he’s telling me?
I get irritated by my own lack of answers. How do you help someone who cannot step out of the battle with addiction long enough to sober up and understand the depth of his problem? I have never struggled in this way, so I don’t understand these issues, and I feel powerless to help. And frankly, it ticks me off.
My heart is the mess in this situation.
The gospel is clear about one thing when it comes to Jesus–he came near. Ultimately, he was the solution to every addiction, sinful behavior, shame, broken heart, lost love, and more, but the solution was his own presence. His nearness answered our distance. He didn’t come to earth with a list of easy solutions, but rather a ministry of presence.
And so should we.
Nearness is way harder than solutions. Nearness demands time. Attentiveness. Presence. It demands that we live the gospel we read rather than read the gospel and simply think about how to live it. Nearness means I move past the mouthwash on his breath and into the honesty of his broken heart and simply be a friend.
Maybe this is our call. Maybe when we call ourselves a people of the Book it means we are a people who come near… a people who extend ourselves when we don’t want to, pick up the phone when the call comes again, endure the same awkward conversation for the 20th time, and ultimately, do it without the mess of our own hearts getting in the way.