I made a new friend the other day.
He was in Bed A and I was in Bed B of Room 14 in the small hospital here on the island, near Seattle, where we live.
I was recovering from abdominal surgery and was loopy from pain drugs.
He had a stroke and was seeing double. Neither of us could sleep so in our darkened room, we passed part of the night talking across the curtain drawn between us about surprisingly deep stuff.
Although he was recovering quickly from the stroke, he had also recently had by-pass heart surgery, and more ominously, had been given less than a year to live with a diagnosis of liver and bladder cancer. After a fulfilling career, he had just begun his dream retirement here on our island. And, he is younger than me.
This news crashed my own pity party.
But it wasn’t just the news. It was the spirit in which it was delivered.
My new friend seemed to be a genuinely joyful man who though rocked by the news of his impending death, seemed not to be knocked down by the finality of it.
This was intriguing.
Was he whistling past the graveyard?
Lost in a haze of denial?
A super-Christian who thought any sign of weakness might cancel his ticket to heaven?
My curiosity got the best of me. As I’ve grown older and I’m in the later part of my own life, I’ve been gathering coping stories.
How do people I admire deal with the vagaries of growing older or even impending death? I need help with this, though much less so the more I lean into Jesus. So I asked him, “How are you coping?” It turns out he wasn’t in denial and probably couldn’t have whistled at that point if he wanted to, and he was not a super-Christian or a Christian of any kind at all.
He told me he always thought of life as a downhill bike ride and he was going to take it as far as he could, spending as much time with his family and friends as his days remaining would allow.
This got me to thinking; most everyone from the severely confused to the most exacting rationalist employs some guiding philosophy to make sense of life. My new friend’s seems to be, “It’s all good.” Although I didn’t find it particularly helpful, it seemed it made some sense to him.
So, I moved on and asked him, “Do you believe in prayer?”
His answer came quickly back. “I have a number of friends who have told me they are praying for me and I would never devalue the love they are expressing by telling me that.” I felt he left unsaid the rest of the statement that might have gone something like this if spoken out, “… but, there is nothing to prayer and I am not a believer.”
So assuming the unspoken I told him I wasn’t a believer until later in life and realized there was no logical conversation or nuanced reasoning that would have penetrated my defensiveness towards perceived easy answers that would have led me to faith. Instead, when all of the answers I had seemed to fail me, I simply made a leap of faith. I stepped into what I felt was an infinite abyss and said, “Yes, Lord. I want you.” Believing then became seeing. I believed and then I saw that all of life came down to one inescapable truth: Without the undisguised, unmerited grace of the cross, we are all doomed. I was and have remained overwhelmed. There is a God and He offers us life that was lost in Eden before I was born, yet is once again available through Jesus – a life eternal!
I’m quite sure my new friend wasn’t buying it. He opened up and told me he didn’t quite trust Christians who he knows, or knew of, because they didn’t seem to be living out what they believed.
This is the sort of opportunity where you might veer the conversation into a discussion about forgiveness, the general sinfulness of people or some apologetic of true Christianity; but in the end of things, which my new friend is nearing, all of it only finds meaning in the cross.
As Paul writes in I Corinthians 18- 20: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those that are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of our age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”
Jesus isn’t a lifestyle, a philosophy or a pleasant bike ride down a hill. I’m really drawn to my new friend and I don’t mean to be critical of him, but if for some crazy reason he is reading this, I want to address him directly, “John, I want to say something I didn’t say as the conversation waned and we drifted off into our respective IV induced hazes of that early morning.
Give Jesus a chance.
He is the bike and the hill, the beginning and end of all things.
I am praying that God will reveal himself to you; that someone will come into your life and pick up the conversation where we left off, and that person will be more articulate than me and lead you to the same leap of faith I made so many years ago.
It is a joyful ride to heaven.