I met Steve (not his real name) at a college retreat four years ago. He had been raised in a Christian home and was a self-professed Christian. After he graduated, I would ask him to meet with me about every three-to four months. We would catch up on how things were going and just enjoy time together – even with 40 years age difference between us.
Recently, Steve began to reach out to me, and we began to meet more often. At first our meetings were during his lunch breaks, so they were limited to about an hour. But then came the request to meet in the evening when he had no time limits.
As our meeting increased in frequency and length of time, the conversations became more personal. I found in front of me a deep-thinking introvert who was frustrated with “pat answers” he was getting from friends his own age at church. He became so frustrated that he attended church less often (not something unusual for a 20-something).
Steve’s questions about faith, and in particular the very existence of God, were quite real and he found in me someone who would listen without judgement or correction. I realized fairly early on that the questions Steve was asking were an indication of his spiritual condition. Yet I simply answered his questions as he put them to me.
Recently, Steve told me that he had asked a pastor a few of his questions a few years ago. The pastor took the opportunity to inform Steve that he was not a Christian and he needed to repent. It wasn’t that Steve disagreed with the pastor’s statement; it was that he wasn’t getting answers to his questions. And without those questions, Steve felt that he couldn’t move forward.
As we talked about a life of faith, I encouraged Steve to begin to read the Bible for himself. Just to open it and read it like a “regular” book. To get the overview, rather than to study words and ideas. Steve chose to begin in Job (not where I would have pointed him) and he was learning that Job had similar questions to his own. And that Job didn’t get the kind of answers he wanted but he learned about who God was in the process!
In our last two meetings, Steve acknowledged that he was not a “believer” (his term). He even mentioned that he did not want to go out with a believer when he wasn’t one. And he didn’t want to go out with an unbeliever is case he became a believer. Oh, the depth of his struggle!
Last week, Steve mentioned that he was having a hard time forgiving people who had done him wrong in the past (including the pastor who didn’t answer his questions). I pointed out that we can’t draw from an empty cistern. In order to forgive others, we really need to experience forgiveness ourselves.
I saw the lightbulb go off. Steve said, “I need to read more about that word in the Bible.” I already learned that God would take him to the place where he needed to go (like reading Job rather than a Gospel), so I left him to figure that out for himself.
I fully expect to get another text message asking to meet once Steve has learned about forgiveness on his own with his Bible. I find that these self-discovery methods are usually far more effective than me taking a teacher-pupil stance. Adults who learn on their own are much more likely to act on what they learn. And Steve will “run it by me” before he jumps in the deep end.
Our last meeting lasted three hours inside Panera Bread. They kicked us out at 10:00 p.m. when they closed. And we stood in the parking lot for another 50 minutes continuing to talk by the light of a streetlamp.
I should have been exhausted by the time I got home. Instead, I understood what Jesus meant when he told his disciples he wasn’t hungry for food after talking to the Samaritan woman at the well.
How about you? Do you have someone who feels comfortable enough to spend a few hours asking questions and then calls you back for another round?