Thursday, July 2, 2015

#Life’s Awkward, Messy Problems Featured Guest Post by Marcy McKay

Life’s Awkward, Messy Problems
What do you do when a friend is in trouble?

Well, maybe not a buddy from your inner circle, but someone who’s more than an acquaintance.
I have one such person in my life and will call him Brandon for this story. For seven years, Brandon and I worked together on a volunteer committee at church that required both a lot of time and energy. He’s quite beloved in our congregation. Fun-loving, big-hearted, with a loud, infectious laugh, Brandon has a gift for connecting with teenagers. Especially, struggling teenagers.
From the outside, Brandon and I appear quite different. I’m 48 and female, been married almost 25 years, and have two high schoolers. At 36, he’s still a bachelor, with no kids. Nevertheless, we’ve always clicked and think the world of each other. A mutual friend of ours called me awhile back to say he was worried about Brandon. They’d gone to dinner the night before and Brandon had pounded beers, while unloading his frustrations. He said he would stop taking #X@$ from…then listed all their closest friends. He’d also been drunk the weekend before and had unprotected sex with a homeless girl in a truck stop parking lot. After that, he went home and put a gun to his head. He’d contemplated suicide many times before.

Please set aside your judgment that this man was drinking alcohol and having premarital sex. When people are in extreme pain, they’ll do pretty much anything to stop the suffering. I clutched my phone because that behavior sounded nothing like the man I knew. I advised our friend to call one of our priests and tell him everything he’d just told me. I knew this priest would treat Brandon with compassion and not attack him first off about his sins. I’d done my job. I’m not a trained professional with suicide. Besides, I wasn’t supposed to know anything of this. I couldn’t help Brandon any further. Right?
A Friend in Need
There were other details about Brandon’s back story that explained why he was so depressed. I thought about them Sunday after Sunday, as I continued to watch happy, go-lucky Brandon.
Except now, I knew the truth. This was a facade.It made sense. The forced laugh. The first one to ask how you were, so you wouldn’t ask him. A quick joke to deflect attention.

A few weeks later, I visited with the priest about Brandon. Everything sounded good on that end. Still, my stomach twisted as I watched from afar. Weeks later, something happened that made me take action. I texted Brandon and we met for coffee. We chit-chatted for five minutes, then I told him I was worried about him. Our mutual friend had confessed that he’d called me, so Brandon knew all this time I’d failed him.
I apologized for being a lousy friend, then shared what pushed me into contacting him. On Sunday morning, I parked on the back street of the church and was about to head to Sunday School, when Brandon whipped his truck into the space in front of me. I watched him hop out, stomp his cigarette into the asphalt, then rush to the side door of the sanctuary. He grabbed the handle, but didn’t move. I saw him take a deep breath and square back his shoulders, like he was forcing himself to go inside. I knew then how hard it was for him to slap on his Happy Brandon face and reached out to him that afternoon. 
When I finished, he stared at me blinking. Finally, he said, “I can’t believe you could see that.” I said, “I know what it’s like to be something I’m not. Plus, you can only see the pain you’ve experienced yourself.”Now, I’m not being self-destructive like him, but I’ve experienced such heartache I thought I might die. Brandon seemed so relieved. That’s when the conversation got real and we connected. On top of the secrets I already knew, Brandon also shared how he’s lost his faith in God. His prayers feels abandoned and forgotten.  

We talked a long time and text regularly. We’ll meet again for coffee soon. He’s trying to find better coping mechanisms to help him crawl out of this dark place.Why did it take so long before I reached out to someone I knew was in pain?I’m ashamed of my answer. I was afraid.

Love One Another
I was scared to look into the darkness of his life. I was afraid whatever awkward, messy problems ailing him might inflict me and my family, too. Yes, I’ve got my own struggles, but they’re trivial compared to my friend’s current reality. My behavior was selfish. 

As Christians, we are called upon to help others. It’s our #1 mission. John 15:12 makes it clear: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” God doesn’t specify love one another, as long as their problems are socially acceptable to you. Or, you approve of their race, gender, religion or sexuality. It’s love one another, period.
The church is made up of broken people; financial struggles, relationship woes, alcoholism, addiction, illness, good ol’ fashion guilt and shame. Often, we see shiny folks show up for worship, dressed nice and ready to seem “fine” for 60 - 90 minutes. Sadly, there are thousands more who never walk through the church doors because they don’t think they’re good enough to be there. They worry they’ll be judged for their unworthiness. Some have experienced that firsthand.
We’re failing, people. God expects more from us.
We Must Do Better
Matthew 25, 35-36 points us to help others with the most basic parts of human dignity: food, shelter, clothing, community: 
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you invited me in,
I need clothes and you clothed me,
I was sick and you looked after me,
I was in prison and you came to visit me.
Are you doing that on a regular basis?
Me, neither. I was fortunate that Brandon’s spirit was stronger than my fear. I’m trying to be more vigilant to rise to the occasion the next time I’m asked to help someone else in a messy, uncomfortable way, because there will be a next time. A friend, a stranger, someone I know, but don’t really know.Any time I’m serving others, I’m serving Christ. That’s what He calls us to do.

What moment would you like to redo in order to better serve someone else struggling?

Marcy McKay is the author of the forthcoming novel, Pennies from Burger Heaven. She has a blog for writers called, Mudpie Writing. She lives in Texas with her husband and two teens, who all still like her…most of the time.

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