Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Day That Will Live In Infamy...

At least for me!

It took me over 40 years to learn the lesson I will talk about in church today. Here's the story behind it all...

It was the latter part of 1999 or the early part of 2000. I can't remember for sure. What I do remember is a coffee shop conversation that completely reoriented my life.

The months leading up to that day included the most painful series of events I had experienced at the time. One of my children was struggling over a broken engagement. Another was suffering through a divorce. If you wonder why these would be so difficult for me, perhaps you don't have grown kids yet.

To top it all off, our church was in the aftermath of a split. As splits go, it had been rather tame. On the other hand, I had seen people who felt like family to me walk out the door to start another church. "Sorry you weren't good enough! See ya around!" Those weren't their words, but that's what it felt like.

I was beginning to feel like we were on the way back from the pain when I had the coffee shop meeting. Across the table from me was Tom, the "young guy" on our staff. Tom had been with us for 2 1/2 years when the split occurred and he had responded like a trooper. He was willing to take on extra duties, endure the complaining of people who didn't like the necessary changes and keep a positive spirit.

I had been excited about our meeting that day. I wanted to talk about the future. Before I could get started, he looked at me and said something I will always remember:

"My wife told me I had to tell you this or she would meet with you and tell you. I am very near the decision to leave here."

I was shocked. "What's wrong?" I expected the "I'm tired of this down cycle" speech. That's not what he said.

"It's you, Sam. You aren't real. You have been going through the worst time of your life and you won't let anyone in. I can't work on a team like that."

I wish I could tell you that I just said, "You're right. I'm sorry." And forever after things would be different.

Far from it. That was just the beginning. Why? Because, truthfully, I was clueless. I didn't know how to open up. I only knew how to go through stuff with my "God loves me and I'm okay" face. I struggled to even find it acceptable to hurt in front of people.

It's today. Tom is still on the team. He has taught me much about being open. I don't look as "together" as I used to, but I'm far more real.

That difficult meeting taught me an important fact of following Christ: it's not a solo act. You and I will never be all we were designed to be if we shut out the very people who would love to help us if only we would let them in.

Frustrations, difficulties, issues, hurts. They must be shared along with joy, hope, excitement and victories. That's what it takes to live connectively.

Want to share something with us? Go ahead!


C. Beth said...

I'd never heard this story before. Very powerful. I remember when The Engineer was going through all his "brain stuff," I was writing all these encouraging e-mails to our "supporters" and one day finally sat down and wrote an e-mail about how very hard it really was. I got great responses from it. I do find myself putting on a front of "having it all together," and I want more vulnerability too.

Rachel Cotterill said...

Your post today brought a tear to my eye.

I used to be that person, too - at the time it seemed like the only way to cope with some difficult feelings was to deny that I felt anything. I was denying it to myself as well as to others. I am so fortunate now to have a set of good friends who I know I can depend on for support when I need it.

Liz said...

There have been times in my life that I've been an expert at keeping heavy things to myself until I could no longer move due to all the weight I was carrying.

Somewhere along the way, I figured out that it is better to deal with things as they happen. I still have to take time to sort through the difficulties as they come. Because I have to determine which part of my reaction is emotional and which part is logical and approach it from those positions.

So I don't really have anything to share. Because I really do try to deal with it as it comes!

Sandy Carlson said...

I'm good but thanks! I will remember this when I need to share. God Bless You!!

Julie said...

Thank you for your openness now Sam. One of the many things that attracted me to Stone Ridge a year and a half ago was your sincerity and realness from the pulpit, so God must have done an amazing work in you! God bless those good friends in our lives who can hold up the mirror for us when we need it. I can look back at a few of those moments in my life: they weren’t fun or happy, but the growth that came out of them was incredible. It scares me a little to think about what might have been if those friends had kept quiet.

addhumorandfaith said...

Thank you, Sam, for this touching post.

I think this is a great reminder that our best witness is when others see our struggles and then see how we handle them with the help of our faith.