Sunday, 29 November 2015

Letters to a shipwrecked minister


Before I had this blog I had another one. A pseudonymous one. It was called The View Beyond the End. I have decided to repost a piece from it - I think I am ready now, but it has taken a while. This piece explains something of the name of the blog, and how I came to write it. 




Letters

This blog is called what it is because I used to have a life in Christian ministry, and then it came to an end. It came to an end because, over a long period of time, I became cool toward God, professionalised in my work, and neglectful of my marriage. In the end I ended up committing adultery and losing my wife, my career, my reputation and, for a long period of time, all semblance of relationship with God. 

That I have come back I owe to so many factors – above all the preserving grace and infinite mercy of God, but, by way of instrumentality, the prayers of many, many people, and the loving support of my children and their spouses, and of many friends, including from the woman who is now my wife. 

A key instrument that God used in my return was communication by letter, and I wanted to write with thankfulness about the many letters I have received over the last years. You may not be in a position to meet up with a person going through what I was, but you may be able to send a traditional letter or write an email or Facebook message. These all had an impact on me. I stress the word "all", as some may seem to have been viewed very negatively. Indeed, at one level they were, and are, but they still formed part of the whole network of ways that God used in his sovereign grace to bring me back. 


I could categorise the communications in a number of ways 

1)   The aggressive and harsh

2)   The harsh and stern 

3)   The stern and loving

4)   The loving and spiritual 

5)   The spiritual and indirect 


1) The aggressive and harsh. 

I received a small number of letters whose tone was extremely unpleasant. In all cases they were from women; in all cases I knew that what drove the tone had more to do with experiences that the writer had been through themselves than specifically with me. 
 

In one case the writer assumed that I would not know who she was (in relation to other members of her family who I knew far better and who she quoted, unnamed, in her letter); on realising that I knew who she was she replied that she would never have written if she had thought I could identify her. She said that she would ask her daughter's forgiveness for quoting her; to the best of my knowledge she never has. 

Others were less underhanded, but almost as unpleasant. Adultery and betrayal, unhappy marriages and frustration – these things are all around us, and make for very vitriolic correspondents. 

I should say that one friend subsequently wrote to me with sincere apologies for her manner in writing her first letter. Reconciliation was very sweet. 

And the big point is that ALL these letters, although they made me sad and angry at the time, were part of the way God dealt with me to bring me back. Truth spoken viciously is still truth, and it struck home. The viciousness may say a lot about the author's state of mind and heart; the truth can be carried into the conscience.
 

2) The harsh and stern

I received a far larger number of letters, mainly from men, that could be described as harsh and stern. No personal venom, but a definite cold feel.  Sometimes they came from people I didn't know closely, but some were from people who had been close friends. 

 On one occasion the woman I was seeing saw one of these letters.  Her reaction, "THAT is from a FRIEND?" Notwithstanding her ignorance of Christian standards and expectations, she had a point. 

Yet every one of these letters had a real impact on me. Although sometimes my initial reaction was to be confirmed in my rebellion, deep down I knew differently, and over the long haul my conscience was challenged, time and time again. 


3) The stern and loving 

Then again, I received many letters and messages that were deeply serious but extraordinarily loving. These were often from former colleagues in Christian ministry – men I had known well or less well, who wrote to warn me of my spiritual peril. The letters did not pull punches – they told me plainly that if I continued on my present course I would be lost for ever, that I would go to hell – but they did so in a way that ached with pain and affection towards a wandering brother. 

These men were true shepherds. If tone could be described by way of action, while some letters yelled an order at a lost sheep, these letters came and offered to carry me home. 
 

And whereas others often fired off one missive and were done, these brothers sometimes made repeated, non-naggy, contact. 

Such letters never made me feel confirmed in my rebellion. They made me miss the love of these guys. They made me want to come home. 


4) The loving and spiritual 
 

The people who wrote most regularly were a handful of older ladies who never rebuked me at all. Whereas most of the stern letters were one-offs, a few people sent brief notes many times, sometimes with bits of news, a text that had spoken to them last Sunday, or a brief word of encouragement. Above all, I was reassured time and time again that they were praying for me. 

It would be a high-handed rebel indeed who could maintain steady anger towards such people. Some were like my mothers in the faith. Indeed, the most regular writer was directly connected to my conversion; it was after a meeting in her house nearly forty years ago that I had gone home to pray and seek God. 

These letters, too, really made me want to come home. 


5) The spiritual and indirect

This last category encompasses more than letters. It was more about contact. People who knew God, knew where I was at, knew what the score was, but without direct rebuking or nagging, simply interacted with me. Sometimes they asked questions about where I was at, in a way that took my spiritual state seriously, but with more serious empathy than direct condemnation. More often they just talked about other stuff. Life stuff. Being friends.

Facebook interaction was the general method – a comment on a photo here, a thoughtful political comment there, an appreciation for a YouTube music video or for a particular ale – these contacts from Christians who spoke naturally-and-yet-as-Christians broke down the illusion that I was living a brave new life, having all the fun. These people were human, and had warm and interesting and fulfilling lives, AND loved Christ, and let me know it without much direct speech.

They didn't just make me want to come home: they made me feel the pointlessness of not coming home.  That was a very big victory. 


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In conclusion
 

I am grateful for ALL the above categories of correspondence. God used them all. My pastor through all of this was faithful in contact, and if meeting him could be put in terms of the categories of letters, he was both 3 and 5. 

I would say, if you know someone who has wandered:

·       Make contact. The most aggressive of the above types of letters were less painful and less of a stumbling block to my recovery than the massive roar of silence from the bulk of my Christian friends. Men in ministry who I had regarded as friends and colleagues for years made no attempt to contact me at all. To be honest, horrid contact is better than no contact.

·       Be real. Talk to the person where they are. Share your feelings of disappointment and betrayal if you have them. Be honest, so that genuine love may be seen and felt. But interact on a wider range of subjects than simply the sin. Be a friend.

·       Be open. Write in such a way as to encourage dialogue, more correspondence. Don't just fire off a missive (missile?) to salve your conscience as a "watchman"; plant a seed that may grow, starting an interaction that could save a wanderer. 

·      Talk about Jesus. When I was far away, I missed him. Every letter that made me miss him more was a nail in the coffin of rebellion. 


Thank you, all, for helping me come home. 

4 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thank you! Do please make yourself known via a private message/email.

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  2. Praise God! Thanks for sharing

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