Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
May 17, 2009
A good friend makes a difference when you are hurting
Good friends have made a profound difference in my life. I owe a debt I can never repay to the friends who have come alongside me when I was hurting. Friends have saved my life more times than I can remember.
I don’t mean that a friend has saved me from drowning or pulled me from a burning house. I am talking about the many other ways good friends have rescued me from a fate worse than death.
One friend saved me giving up on God. That friend convinced me by his compassion that God hurts when I hurt, that God cries when I cry. I cannot prove that is true in any tangible way. But I do know that believing God is like that saved me from becoming an angry atheist when our son died.
A good friend saved me from blubbering self-pity. I had become obsessed with a painful experience of rejection by people who had mistreated me. At every opportunity I talked relentlessly about how unfairly I had been treated by these awful people.
One day at lunch this friend interrupted me; then firmly he asked, “Walter isn’t it about time you put this matter behind you? Don’t you need to forgive those people and get on with your life?” I felt like I had been hit between the eyes with a two-by-four. But I knew my friend cared enough for me to tell me the truth. In that moment I embraced the truth, gave up my self-pity as excess baggage, and moved on with my life.
Like most people pastors need to let off steam occasionally. Opposition and criticism can create a buildup of stress. Unless we find ways to release it, stress can kill us. In every church I have found one or two good friends who allowed me to get things off my chest and express my real feelings about my frustrations.
Around such friends I have been free to take off my “spiritual” face and not fear being chastised for having normal feelings of anger and resentment toward my loyal opposition. The names and faces of these special friends are precious to me for they have often saved me from myself.
By permitting me to be “real,” they have allowed me the time and space to overcome my own rotten attitudes and get back on the right track. Their understanding and support have gently steered me away from self-destruction.
One dear friend helped me save my marriage and patiently earn back the respect of my children. For many years the church was the “other woman” in my life. It took me many years to learn to balance the needs of my family with the needs of my congregation.
Finally I was able to admit that I had neglected my own family while responding to the needs of my congregation. It was embarrassing but necessary to confess that subconsciously I was feverishly trying to convince everyone that I was the greatest pastor since sliced bread. I did not succeed but in trying I almost lost my family.
The dear friend who helped me save my family is actually my best friend. At the lowest points of my life, when my failures were overwhelming and my self-image was zero, this friend came alongside me and gave me the hope to start over.
By now you may have guessed that this dearest of friends is my wife of 57 years. So when I affirm that good friends can make a profound difference in our lives, she is at the head of the list of the precious friends who have saved my life. My debt to her and the other good friends who have touched my life is exceeded only by my gratitude. + + +