Courage to say Yes...
The first time I met Tim I knew something was different about him. He was only 16 years old, but already he had a way of letting me know I needed to watch my back. He did this without words. It was the way he looked at me--at the other guys in the community. It was the stories we’d hear of things he had done and the ways he had caused harm.
By all accounts, Tim is someone you should avoid. His track record would imply that he is not safe. He is one of many people in our society that so easily get discarded so we can live more comfortably knowing he is no threat to us.
I have heard it suggested that Christianity is a “feel good” religion. I have heard it said about Celtic Christianity that it is basically nothing but avoiding the bad and pretending that everything is good to make us all feel better. I have a hard time stomaching these sentiments when I think about Tim. When I imagine what would make me feel good, I think about joining the ranks of those who want nothing to do with him. That would certainly be the safer option. It seems to me that the feel good option would be to discard him, ignore him, and condemn him for the many terrible things he has done. But it is precisely my Christian conviction and my deep engagement with Celtic Christianity that doesn’t allow me to chase that “feel good” fix.
Fr. Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest and founder of Homeboy Industries in L.A., says that we should stand in awe of what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment of how they carry it. Never have I found that to be more true or more difficult than I do with Tim. At first glance it’s easy to say that Tim is disgraceful and should be discarded. But then you begin to hear stories of his early childhood. Stories of abuse and neglect that he and his brother endured. Stories I have only seen portrayed in terrible movies or horrifying news stories. It’s at that moment that I am reminded that Tim is not the one I see before me so often causing pain to those around him. Instead, Tim is that still small voice inside of him. Tim is the little child desperately seeking the love of his parents, the reassurance that he is safe. Tim is the one struggling to breathe beneath the wounds inflicted by those who were supposed to care for him most deeply.
During this season of my life, a season filled with the most difficult work I have ever been a part of, I am reminded that our journey of faith is the furthest thing from “feel good”. It is often painful, constantly causing us to question whether it’s worth it to continue listening to these convictions that so often lead us into more pain, more disorientation, more exhaustion.
Tim is currently not doing well. He is plagued by deep mental illness and trauma. He is also desperately pleading with me, and all of us, to find the journey worth pursuing. To dive deeper into the mystery of what it means to follow Jesus into the deepest, most vulnerable places of pain in our communities. It is my prayer that I am able to hear his plea and have the courage and compassion to say Yes.
Ben is a Celtic Way contributor. Read more from him here.