A couple nights ago I was having a drink with a friend after a small gathering at his house. We were sitting in his backyard, watching the light disappear and talking. These are the conversations that I love, having an opportunity, one-on-one, to get to know one another. This is the same gent I believe I mentioned in a previous post who grew up within the American, Roman Catholic Church. He's a real person with real questions about life and God.
My friend was sold on the idea of Christ from the time he was a young child. His parents taught him right from wrong and set proper boundaries for him. His recollections from the time are somewhat sketchy, but one thing he remembers clearly are the times he had questions about God, Jesus, Heaven, Hell and the likes. He asked the question that parents hear most often, â€œWhy?â€. I'm not sure how many of you are parents or grandparents yourself, but I'm sure at some point in your life you have heard a child, possibly yourself, as this simple, three letter question.
Certainly when bringing up a child, there are many schools of psychology that would tell you how to answer this question. Many of those schools would disagree with each other, as if there were multiple denominational leaders in the room discussing what the purpose of communion is and whether Christ manifests in the bread and wine or... well, you know the discussion.
Like many parents, his were always very simple in their answers, sometimes as short as â€œbecauseâ€. And as a child, my friend would take that answer, only sometimes asking over and over. So then when my friend turned into his teens and adulthood, he knew the children's Bible stories, he knew that Christ dies for his sins, he knew that there was a right and wrong that was built into this life we live. He didn't always do right (because wrong is much more fun when you're that age), but behind the scenes, there was a faith that existed.
In his early twenties, my friend started questioning rituals that he would go through within church. First it was confession or penance. Next came baptism and communion or Eucharist. The answer given by his parents and church leaders were still simple and sometimes demeaning. It was as if he were challenging God himself to ask such things. His questions were not out of a desperate need to say God doesn't exist, but a true seeking of why he believed and why he did the things he did.
Have you ever regularly or irregularly done something that one day you woke up and had no idea why you did it? What was your reaction? Was it to quickly quit the practice and do something else? Was it to ask your spouse, friend, parent, pastor if they knew why? What is only natural to do when you have no clue why you do something? For me, if I couldn't find the answer I would likely stop.
So it was with my friend. He stopped going to confession, stopped going to communion, stopped attending mass, started living a â€œnaturalâ€ life. He never stopped believing in God or in Christ, but he had no reason to continue practices that â€œappearedâ€ to be ritual â€œblah, blah, blahâ€ that had to be done.
At some point in his life, after kids were born and a relationship/marriage or two were over, he felt that tugging at his heart. His new girlfriend had a similar upbringing and early life. But God worked within them, directing them to a church that was â€œdifferentâ€. I use the term different because it wasn't that this church was better than others, it wasn't about the denomination, it wasn't about the ritual, but it was about them finding relationships within that church of real people, who had real questions and were willing to walk with them. This opened up my friends ears and he was able to hear the words through whatever the sermon was. He learned to serve and enjoyed it so. He found a community in which questions were okay and answers could be taught, in a loving, kind and Christlike manner.
This story of my friend isn't the only I've heard of its kind. It somewhat mirrors my story and many other friends and acquaintances that I have. For some reason God has put us together, crossed our paths with others, those seeking and those answering.
All answers aren't black and white, though I believe it is fair to say that there are many, many black and white answers to questions that people have. But when answering these honest and pure questions, we who answer them have a choice to make. Do we answer the black and white in a cold, curt and â€œof courseâ€ manner? Or do we point the direction and help those who ask to learn how to learn the answers themselves. This brings back the old â€œgive a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach him to fish and...â€.