“I have a friend who’s falling away… What do I say to her?”
I don’t know. The reality is hard to stomach: either your friend ultimately holds on somehow as she looks to God, or she just slips away. And only God can keep us to Himself… I don’t know. It’s times like these that test love for Jesus, y’know? If it’s true or not, if it’s lasting. God’s “tests” aren’t there for her to prove it to you or me, but for her to know it for herself, between her and God. God already knows, because He’s the one who breathes it into us. But sometimes we need to know for ourselves, too, and the test draws it out. The Apostle Peter tells us to “make your calling and election sure…” It makes me think of the song, “I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back.” Did you see that article about it?
I feel like the depth of our intimacy with God can be measured by the weight of our sacrifices. And sometimes our biggest sacrifice is, in the midst of all the uncertainty and discouragement, to choose to say, “Still, I will follow.” It sounds like just a decision, but it’s a sacrifice, isn’t it? It’s hard as hell. We let go of our need for understanding, our entitlement to an explanation, our comforts and dreams. It’s an offering of yourself despite it all, a confession of persistent love, a living sacrifice. It’s like each moment of pain, loss, failure, injustice and disappointment is like a giant boulder that falls on our path and puts a fork in the road. One way chooses to say, “Still, I will follow.” The other way, I guess, doesn’t say anything at all. The decision your friend makes in her heart can either deepen the roots of her commitment to the Lord or put her on a road that might not lead back.
I don’t really know if your friend is even ready to hear these kinds of things, or how she needs to hear it. But that’s really the truth of salvation: we don’t know it’s true until we’ve walked it to the end of the road. But by then, we’ve owned it, and we’ve treasured it, with every decision to stay made with a thousand wounds and a million tears. Every heart wrenching “yes” makes the prize shine a little brighter; every painful, beautiful confession of “Still, I will follow” makes our home with Him a little bit sweeter.
Frederick Beuchner said this:
If you tell me Christian commitment is a kind of thing that has happened to you once and for all like some kind of spiritual plastic surgery, I say you’re either pulling the wool over your own eyes or trying to pull it over mine. Every morning you should wake up in your bed and ask yourself: “Can I believe it all again today?” No, better still, don’t ask it till after you’ve read The New York Times, till after you’ve studied that daily record of the world’s brokenness and corruption, which should always stand side by side with your Bible. Then ask yourself if you can believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ again for that particular day. If your answer’s always Yes, then you probably don’t know what believing means. At least five times out of ten the answer should be No because the No is as important as the Yes, maybe more so. The No is what proves you’re human in case you should ever doubt it. And then if some morning the answer happens to be really Yes, it should be a Yes that’s choked with confession and tears and great laughter.
Your friend… I don’t know. I really, really don’t. This happens so often, and I never know what to do. I still don’t. I still feel helpless, every time.
But maybe the best thing, I think, is to let her know, with your own wounds bared, that many, many people have been where she is before—and actually, most of them have walked away. More than you’d believe; more than I have the heart to admit. Maybe not the first time, but eventually. Strong people, godly people, people we know and love and trust and admire, they’ve stood in the same place that your friend stands now, seeing and feeling the same things as her, the pain and the doubt, and almost all of them, I think, if I’m not just being cynical… Most of them walk away, and don’t come back.
But some don’t. And hopefully somehow, perhaps through you, through some weakness in your eyes, if she can just catch a glimpse of the treasure we hold in jars of clay, a glimpse of what we see in Jesus’ face—maybe then she’ll understand, and remember again, while so many walk away, why those few don’t.