“‘Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked person, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person to turn from their ways and they do not do so, they will die for their sin, though you yourself will be saved.’
“‘Son of man, say to the Israelites, ‘This is what you are saying: ‘Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?’ Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?” Ezekiel 33:7-11
It’s a strange occurrence. One that I am familiar with and take no pride in. It is the moment when I have the opportunity to speak about God to a non-believer, but I refrain. I have robbed God of a chance to perform a miracle; to bring someone to Christ. Ultimately, there is a word for me when I do not speak on God’s behalf.
I recall a time some months ago when this happened. There really is never a depletion of Doctor Who character names. So to my female friend, whom you will never know, I shall call her Mels. I came to know Mels because we shared a writing class. Her faux hawk was ridiculously tantalizing. My mind struggled between admiration and jealousy.
In any case, I had to speak to the girl with the awesome hair. And I did.
I meandered over to Mels and complimented her hair first. Mels smiled and soon we were walking and talking right out the door and on to the outside campus walkway.
It may have been at this moment, or perhaps it was at another time, but Mels began to pour out her life to me. Being an avid listener, I have often, unintentionally, seduced a companion into telling me her personal heartaches. Such was the case with Mels.
She lamented to me about a car crash she’d been in. The crash had been severe and she’d had to miss school for a year to physically recover. She’d broken one of her legs during the horrible collision, but the real damage was in her mind. The psychological effect the crash had on Mels was evident. Her voice was shaking and her eyes darted around. The tears came, but Mels was already off and talking about her other major problem.
Mels lived with her girlfriend and she feared that her girlfriend’s parents would kick Mels out of the house. Mels would then be homeless. She could barely afford to go to school thanks to her medical bills. She had a waitressing job to help pay and she also wrote for the campus newspaper (I don’t know if that position was paid or not). On top of everything else, including a lawsuit with her medical insurance agency, Mels also had to go to class and do all her outside school work.
I remember looking at her, thinking, “That’s horrible.” I did not think how much better my life was because I’m not a fool. Everyone is suffering all the time. My suffering was different than Mels’ and really it’s not a competition about who is more miserable.
No one’s happy, when you really get down to it, no one’s happy.
It’s grim looking back on this memory because my moment of failure has not come yet. Mels had caused such a raw and intimate moment to happen. She’d given me so much and keep in mind that we had met in class just a few days ago. To say that I didn’t know Mels was an understatement. I probably didn’t even know her last name at the time she was disclosing all of these problems to me.
I really had other things to do. There were also a few names of friends floating around in my head who I could shoot a text and meet up with for lunch. Friends who would make me laugh and relax. Even a nap would have been delightful, but instead, I had Mels.
We went to an on campus café and sat down at a table. Mels ate and continued to tell me how stressed she was. She explained to me that her girlfriend’s parents disliked her because they thought Mels had turned their son on to smoking pot. Mels said that she used to smoke pot with the brother, but that she hadn’t caused him to start smoking. He’d already been smoking it just so happens that the parents used Mels as a scapegoat.
The frustration and sadness went on and on. It was engrossing. Indeed, I felt a bit suffocated inside of this bubble that Mels had blown around us. Everything else was muted. There were other students around us, but all I felt was loneliness. Mels was unloading so much on me. She couldn’t carry all the stress.
The Bible most justly declares that love is an action. Love is shown, not felt.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
I felt moved by Mels’ words, but the only way I could show love to her was to listen. Mels got up for a moment and said she needed to get something. Sauce, probably. I nodded and she left me. The energy came rushing and I started praying to God. I could feel it in my spirit that this was an opportunity. What could I say to Mels? What could I say? My emotions cracked into a hundred pieces and I begged God for the words.
And then Mels came back and I told her a richly woven, God-ordained story that changed Mels’ life and eased her broken mind.
Yeah, no. A thousand times no.
What actually happened is that my lips were stuck together. I thought of several different things to say to Mels, but they all seemed misplaced. As Mels and I were leaving, the urgency became intensified. I knew she needed to leave soon for another class. It was at this moment or it would be too late. Why should I wrongfully assume I have tomorrow to comfort Mels? Humans are like that, you know, always thinking tomorrow is a guarantee.
It was the strangest occurrence. I opened my mouth to speak, apparently having found some kind of idea to offer, but then a girl passed me and shouted “hello” to me. I whirled around, a quivering and confused smile on my face. When I turned around again, Mels had left me. I watched her through the glass doors. What makes this moment so bizarre is the bloody timing. I didn’t even recognize the girl who distracted me and said hello. I haven’t the slightest idea who that was and as for what she cost me, that remains unknown.
The guilt came swiftly. My mind was blank. My feet only allowed me to pace outside so that’s what I did. Eventually, I sat down. I didn’t know what else to do. Right on the side of a very popular walkway I sat down and stared into the distance.
All I could think was, “What just happened? What has happened?”
Another friend of mine showed up. Mickey, that will be his alias. Mickey appeared and said “hi.” I started sputtering as I explained to Mickey what had just transgressed. I cannot recall his words, but he just held me.
Some time past, and I was back in my room clawing at the carpet like a delusional widow who’d just lost her husband. I cried on my knees as I confessed to God that I had failed. If Mels had rejected what I had to say, that’s one thing, but like in the Ezekiel verse above if you don’t say anything at all you’re not even trying. That’s the worst you can do is not even try.
So I wept in prayer because the feeling of regret was so debilitating.
“But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth and you shall say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ Whoever will listen let him listen, and whoever will refuse let him refuse; for they are a rebellious house.” Ezekiel 3:27
Maybe I’d just doubted God. Maybe I thought he wouldn’t provide the words for me to say to Mels. But I should know better.
“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” Luke 12:11-12, also cited in Matthew 10:19-20 and Mark 13:11.
What if that had been it for Mels? I could have offered her something that would have comforted her for a lifetime. Instead I kept my mouth shut…is there a word for such selfishness? I fear this happening again, and oh, it will happen again. Humans wander all over the earth in their wretched agony. Christians, believers, non-believers…all walking about and not speaking to each other. When I say this kind of failure will occur again I’m made ill by the certainty of it.
“Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16
There’s no reason to think we’ve got tomorrow. Really, there are no grounds for saying that. You might not believe in the Judgment Day, but surely your life will end, won’t it? And you’ve not the faintest notion of when that would be.
“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” James 4:13-15
As a writer, to have words just abandon me is upsetting, but the situation with Mels was worse. If you want to live for Christ you have to suffer for him. That’s a part of the agreement. You must be ready for rejection, approval, confusion and even violence. You may be intimidated or uncertain of how to proceed, but a quick prayer to God could alter someone’s life forever.
You must be ready because the days are evil.