Saturday, December 31, 2011

And God Came In – Book Review

I just finished And God Came In, a biography of Joy Davidman by Lyle W. Dorsett; first published in 1983, this edition was released by Hendrickson Publishers in June 2009 as part of its Classic Biographies series. Dorsett is recognized as a first-tier Lewis scholar, having been curator of the Marion E. Wade Center from 1983 – 1990, he is also the author of a number of books and articles on Lewis.

Dorsett writes in the Preface to the Hendrickson edition:

“To be sure, this brilliant American novelist, poet, and critic is no longer obscure like she was before And God Came In first appeared more than a quarter century ago. Nevertheless, Joy Davidman, if not unknown, needs to be rescued from the utterly false images of her that have appeared in two Shadowlands films. Both movies relied heavily upon my research and writing, but in both films the producers and screenplay writers distorted important facts for dramatic effect and for purposes of promoting their own biases. Joy, for instance, never begged C.S. Lewis to marry her so that she could remain living in England…In the same fictional vein the motion picture shows C.S. Lewis devastated and nearly robbed of his faith when Joy’s cancer returns…But letters Professor Lewis wrote after Joy’s death, as well as testimony of several of his friends, reveal that his faith and courage survived in robust fashion.”

Helen Joy Davidman grew up in a secular Jewish family whose faith was, to quote Nathan Glazer, “…socialism or rationalism…which oftentimes seemed to the outside world as Jewish as Judaism itself”, (pp. 3 – 4). Joy was ready for college when she was 14, but delayed entry until she was 15; she received her undergraduate degree at 19 and her master’s degree from Columbia University three semesters later.

If the pilgrimage of C.S. Lewis can be primarily traced through his writings and speaking, the pilgrimage of Joy Davidman can be traced both through her writings and actions – for Joy was not only a person of paper and ink and rapier repartee, she was a woman of action – both in her personal life and in the public arena. Social inequities were deeply disturbing to her, having witnessed an orphan who had been hungry for several days commit suicide. Dorsett writes:

“Joy couldn’t forget this tragedy…and her anger grew increasingly at the insanity and callousness of a society that dumped potatoes in the ocean, burned wheat, and poured lime on oranges, while millions of people were unemployed, malnourished, and forced to stand in soup lines and sort through refuse in garbage cans for sustenance.” I can’t help but wonder what Joy would think of the inequities in America today.

I marvel that Joy, who had a harsh parental upbringing, found herself moved by compassion and indignation at the plight of those who couldn’t help themselves. Perhaps she identified with them in terms of her own relative helplessness as a child and adolescent living with her parents?

And God Came In appears to be a straightforward and well-research biography, and it has created an appetite in me to read Joy’s writings. Dorsett writes:

“Perhaps Joy’s greatest legacy is the example of her transformed life. For over thirty years she walked the way of self-indulgence and atheism. Then she turned abruptly around and followed the beckoning of Jesus Christ. If her walk with Him was frequently graceless and faltering, it was also committed, courageous, and faithful.”

As one whose walk is often graceless and faltering, I’m encouraged by Joy Davidman.

Joy Davidman reminds me of Dorothy L. Sayers in that as women in a man’s world they more than held their own. Neither Davidman nor Sayers suffered fools gladly, exposing sloppy and lazy thinking, often without giving quarter. Of course while Davidman would find marital bliss with Lewis, and it was bliss; Sayers would never, from all accounts I’ve read, know domestic joy.

A friend of Joy’s, author Bel Kaufman, visited Joy in England during Joy’s illness. Dorsett writes:

“Although they both knew they would not meet again…Bel found Joy to be beautifully serene and happy. ‘She was so peaceful and happy in that bed,’ Ms. Kaufman recalled, and one of the reasons for this was Joy’s being so deeply in love. ‘In spite of the gravity of her illness,’ wrote Kaufman, ‘she said something to me that is memorable; it’s a sentence I have even used in my own last book…[Joy] said, referring to her marriage to Lewis: The movies and the poets are right: it does exist!’”

C.S. Lewis – Near the Journey’s End: III

On June 28, 1963 Lewis writes to Mary Willis Shelburne:

“Think of yourself just as a seed patiently waiting in the earth: waiting to come up a flower in the Gardner’s good time, up into the real world, the real waking. I suppose that our whole present life, looked back on from there, will seem only a drowsy half-waking. We are here in the land of dreams. But cock-crow is coming. It is nearer now than when I began this letter.”

As I ponder Lewis’s words to Shelburne…

I appreciate the idea of this life being a Shadowlands, of “seeing through a glass darkly” and “now I know in part, then I shall know face to face” (1Cor. 13:12). I was a storehouse of certain knowledge when I was young; the trouble was that much of my certain knowledge was indigestible to many (most?) people; it was hardtack that had to be soaked in grace and patience before it could be eaten, and even then its nutritional value was questionable.

I know a lot less today, but I think that’s a good thing in that I see Christ a bit clearer than decades ago. It is like traveling toward the Rocky Mountains from the east; they look so close at first and you think you’ll soon be there, but one hour passes and then another and then another, and though they still look close you realize they are far away. When we are young in Christ certainties of the Kingdom rise up before us and we think we are there; we don’t know that we have many miles to travel and many things to learn before we reach the foot of the mountains – and we haven’t even begun the ascent!

While this life may be a Shadowlands, what happens in this life matters; this life is not a land of dreams in terms of unreality, in terms of it not being real; this life is very real. Some of the things we encounter in this life as Christians may not last, such as pain and sorrow, but this life is real and this life matters. Jesus Christ died in time-space history and our sin and sins were dealt with by God on the Cross some 2,000 years ago – so this life, this planet, eternally matters; our witness to others and our own lives eternally matter. Christians have been dying to share the Gospel with others for 2,000 years because there are two exit doors in this vestibule of life; one is the door of the Good Shepherd and the other a door into an unfathomable abyss. As Lewis might say, one door is labeled “God’s will” and the other “Man’s Will”.

Jesus says, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is cast into the oven, will he not much more cloth you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28 – 30).

Of course when Lewis writes about the Shadowlands and uses terms such as drowsy half-waking he is not suggesting that this life does not matter; he is rather reminding us that we know so little and understand so little in this life, and that the desire for joy and beauty and fullness that God has placed within us will one day be consummated in His Presence.

“No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever,” Revelation 22:3-5.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

C.S. Lewis – Near the Journey’s End: II

On June 25, 1963 Lewis writes to Mary Willis Shelburne:

Tho’ horrified at your sufferings, I am overjoyed at the blessed change in your attitude to death. This is a bigger stride forward than perhaps you yourself yet know. For you were rather badly wrong on that subject. Only a few months ago when I said that we old people hadn’t much more to do than to make a good exit, you were almost angry with me for what you called such a ‘bitter’ remark. Thank God you now see it wasn’t bitter: only plain common sense.

[All excerpts from letters taken from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Walter Hooper editor, Harper San Francisco.]

In a recent meeting with clients whose real estate asset (an apartment community) I manage the subject of an “exit strategy” came up. An exit strategy in the real estate investment business is a plan to sell the asset at some point in the future so that the owners can recover their original investment in addition to making a profit on the sale of the property.

Some owners I’ve worked with over the years are not concerned about an exit strategy, they only see the “here and now” and bleed the property of cash flow without reinvesting money back into the property for upkeep and improvements – the value of such properties inevitably declines as a result of not preparing for the future. Smart owners take care of their properties and plan for the future, smart owners have an exit strategy.

A few years ago I read, The Question of God, by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., a Harvard professor. The subtitle of the book is, C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life. If memory serves me well, according to Nicholi there was a marked difference between Freud and Lewis on death; Lewis lived his life in anticipation of death, Freud avoided the subject and was afraid of death. (Again, I’m relying on memory so please correct me if I’m off base).

In the business world it has long struck me that otherwise intelligent business people who are attuned to bottom lines and exit strategies in financial matters often avoid eternal realities, pretending they don’t exist.   

As I enter the 4th quarter (a reference to American football) of my own life, I’m keenly aware that this life is a pilgrimage and that my exit from this life is nearer than it was before. There are macro elements of our exit that we may have little control over; for example, Lewis wrote the above letter on June 25, on July 15 he would suffer a heart attack and lapse into a coma – in the context of 1963 I don’t know that Lewis had anything to do with this major event. On the other hand, Lewis, by God’s enabling grace, could choose to live each day in 1963 in prayer for others (prayer is a theme throughout his correspondence), in witness to others, in encouraging others, in caring for his stepsons and brother, in friendship, and in looking forward to his heavenly home. Lewis’s idea of making a good exit was not passive; it was being fully engaged in Christ and in others.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

C.S. Lewis – Near the Journey’s End

On March 19, 1963, Lewis writes to Mary Willis Shelburne:

I’m sorry they [a reference to doctors I think] threaten you with a painful disease. What have you and I got to do but make our exit? When they told me I was in danger several months ago, I don’t remember feeling distressed.

On April 23, 1963 Lewis writes Shelburne:

What in Heaven’s name is ‘distressing’ about an old man saying to an old woman that they haven’t much more to do here? I wasn’t in the least expressing resentment or despondency. I was referring to an obvious fact and one which I don’t find either distressing or embarrassing. Do you?

Didn’t the flowers all say “Good morning, Lawd!” in the (excellent) film of Green Pastures?

On June 17, 1963 Lewis writes to Shelburne:

Pain is terrible, but surely you need not have fear as well? Can you not see that death is a friend and deliverer? It means stripping off that body which is tormenting you: like taking off a hair-shirt or getting out of a dungeon. What is there to be afraid of? You have long attempted (and none of us does more) a Christian life. Your sins are confessed and absolved. Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave it with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.

Remember, tho’ we struggle against things because we are afraid of them, it is often the other way round – we get afraid because we struggle. Are you struggling, resisting? Don’t you think our Lord says to you, “Peace child, peace. Relax. Let go. Underneath are the everlasting arms. Let go. I will catch you. Do you trust me so little?”

Of course, this may not be the end. Then make it a good rehearsal.

Yours (and like you a tired traveler near the journey’s end)


[All excerpts from letters taken from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Walter Hooper editor, Harper San Francisco.]

Since the above excerpts speak for themselves I don’t have anything to add, other than what Lewis writes in his books he lives in his life – as Paul the Apostle writes, “We now see through a glass darkly but then we'll see face to face”, and as Lewis might say, “Indeed, we now live in the Shadowlands but the real Narnia awaits us, the holidays will soon begin!". Ah – the best is yet to come. Christ came, in part, that when we come into a relationship with Him that we might no longer fear death – Hebrews 2:14 – 15.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dante – The End Of Another Journey

This morning I read Cantos 32 & 33 of Paradise; this morning I concluded another journey – two conclusions within one week; both journeys took 3 – 4 years.

My journey through The Divine Comedy was instigated by my dear friend Michael Daily. A few years ago he mentioned a piece he read about Dante’s Purgatory and spiritual formation, that while Protestants don’t share the Roman Catholic view of Purgatory that there is much to commend Dante’s work if taken as it was written (these italicized words are actually my thinking); it is not written as an argument for Purgatory in the afterlife, but rather as an account of our transformation into the image of Christ through seeking what C.S. Lewis called “joy” and others term “a desire for beauty” – Purgatory leads to Paradise and Paradise leads to the Presence of the Trinity. While Dante believed in Purgatory, arguing that belief was not the purpose of his volume.

There wasn’t one time when Dante’s theology bothered me in the least; here I am in the 21st Century reading the words and images of a man who lived hundreds of years prior to me and who is expressing his desire for Christ in images and terms and paradigms which he knows and lives within. How can I quarrel with such a man? On the contrary, I found myself enjoying an education – as Virgil and Beatrice guided Dante, so Dante guided me – though Virgil and Beatrice had a more enlightened pupil in Dante than Dante had in me. Had it not been for the notes of Dorothy L. Sayers (and Barbara Reynolds) I would have been helplessly lost in the classical world of Dante.

Michael shared with me that the article he read suggested using Dorothy L. Sayers’s translation (completed after her death by Barbara Reynolds); since I’m a Sayers aficionado that was a suggestion I readily adopted. Knowing that Sayers was influenced by Charles Williams, in addition to reading Dante I read Williams on Dante, Sayers’s first series of lectures on Dante, and Barbara Reynolds on Sayers’s encounter with Dante – this all helped immeasurably.

Of The Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise, I’m most likely to revisit Purgatory; but all three volumes have sections I want to return to and contemplate. I wish I had read these as a young man for I think it would take me a lifetime to appreciate the passageways of this grand house, from basement to top floor.

I recently began a rereading of The Pilgrim’s Progress – time for another journey.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

C.S. Lewis – Leaving the Shadowlands

Two evenings ago I read the last letter Lewis wrote before his death that is published in The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis Vol. III, Walter Hooper, editor; Harper San Francisco. Since I have been posting excerpts from his letters in 1958 it was my intention to continue working forward from 1958 through November 1963, therefore not interacting with his last months in 1963 until sometime well into 2012 – it was with this thought in mind that I published my last post on Lewis. 

However, having now completed the journey, with the herbs and spices of those last months of his life seasoning my heart and mind, I feel I must return to June 1963 and revisit Lewis with you in order to better share my sense of the man, the Christian, whilst the aroma and taste is  fresh with me.

But to get to June 1963 I begin with an excerpt from November 21, 1963, the last published letter Lewis wrote (in The Collected Letters). 

“Dear Philip Thompson,
“To begin with, may I congratulate you on writing such a remarkably good letter; I certainly could not have written it at your age. And to go on with, thank you for telling me that you like my books, a thing an author is always pleased to hear. It is a funny thing that all the children who have written to me see at once who Aslan is, and grown ups never do!

As I have previously observed, Lewis wrote to children. Not only did he write for children, he wrote to children. And as he did not engage in condensation in writing for children, nor does he condescend in writing to children. What better way to conclude a life’s correspondence than with a letter to a child? Granted, Lewis may have had no inclination that his letter to Philip Thompson would be his last letter, but I can imagine no better way for the author of the Narniad to conclude a lifetime of correspondence than with a letter to a child.

Lewis’s correspondence as an adolescent and as a pre-Christian adult was often that of an arrogant ass, looking down on others – hardly willing to condescend to others. There were also letters of struggle, questions, and despair in those early years. Lewis’s letter to Philip Thompson is one of a man who not only writes to a child as he would speak to that child; it is a letter from a man who knows that our only hope is the love, grace, and mercy of God – a man not arrogant, but rather a man humbled by the Carpenter from Galilee. The Cambridge professor’s tutor is a Carpenter, and wasn’t it the Carpenter who said, “Suffer the little children to come to Me….”?  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

C.S. Lewis – Nearing the End of the Road

This post anticipates a post that will appear sometime next year, the Lord willing. I’m writing this now because I don’t want to lose the moment – I find myself nearing the end of a journey, and no matter how often I may revisit the scenes along the way, I’ll not take this journey again from first to last.

I have been reading the 3-volume compilation of the Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper; Harper San Francisco, for perhaps four years; I will soon read the last letter, I intend to do so before December 31, 2011. The next letter I will read is dated May 11, 1962, it is on page 1340; the last letter I will read is dated November 21, 1963, page 1483; Lewis will die on November 22. I don’t know if he knew that he’d die on the 22nd or not, but I know it.

I know that he will die just as I knew that his beloved wife, Joy, would die from a recurrence of cancer; I read his letters of hope, of joy, of thankfulness to God that the cancer was in remission…all the time knowing that on a turn of the page I would read his news of the return of cancer, knowing that on another turn of a page I’d read of her death.

This last season of letters is illustrated by the following written to Chad Walsh on April 21, 1962:

The news about me is rather ambivalent. They don’t think my kidneys will ever be ripe for that operation; on the other hand they think that I can carry on without it in an invalid sort of way – always catheterized and always on a low protein diet. I attempt the Cambridge term on Tuesday next.

After Joy’s death Lewis wasn’t the same physically; his health descended until it reached that eternal portal in November 1963. Multiple blood transfusions, heart problems, kidney problems, a prostate that needed an operation but a body too weak to undergo the procedure. He loved to teach, but he was confined to home. He loved walking tours, but they were to be no more. His vigorous correspondence was often reduced to simple acknowledgements of letters – the joy was subdued, he was sick, at peace but sick.

I’ve been on walking tours with Lewis throughout his letters, experiencing the pubs and mountains and vales with streams running through them; I’ve shared his friendships with Tolkien and Williams and Barfield and Dyson and with dear dear Arthur Greeves, a friend since childhood. Lewis’s correspondence with Dorothy L. Sayers has been a like a fine Port meant to be swished and smelled and savored.

These last letters are tough to read. He’s sick. My friend Lewis is sick and I know that in a few days I’ll read his last letter. But oh what a journey!

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Already and the Not Yet

Yesterday our Lord convicted me of selfishness to a degree that prostrated my soul. My selfishness? I was at a function in which a conversation took a turn for the worse and I was not redemptively intentional in questioning what was being said – that is selfishness; I wasn’t there for my own enjoyment, I was there for Christ – yet, was I the redemptive presence of Christ? No. No excuses. It was a long drive home as the Holy Spirit replayed the video in my mind with His gentle (yet straightforward) conviction – the scalpel cuts deeper than the hammer.

Here are a couple of passages from the Valley of Vision, the Puritan prayer book I mention from time-to-time:

Thy loving Spirit strives within me, brings me Scripture warnings, speaks in startling providences, allures by secret whispers, yet I choose devices and desires to my own hurt…(page 125)

The Cross still stands and meets my needs in the deepest straits of the soul. I thank thee that my remembrance of it is like David’s sight of Goliath’s sword which preached forth thy deliverance…There is no treasure so wonderful as that continuous experience of thy grace toward me which alone can subdue the risings of sin within: give me more of it. (page 127).

Ah, living in the Already – Not Yet. On the one hand I am radical about us being complete in Christ – Colossians 2:10; Hebrews 10:10. On the other hand I am radical that outside of Christ I am a cesspool. As a pastor most of my parishioners have had no idea how secure they are in Christ, no idea of their identity in Him – and with most people in Christ my opinion is that until they know security they can’t well know the depths of sin – for when we are shown the depths of sin without knowing our security in Christ it can well be interpreted as God’s rejection, when in fact it is God’s love and mercy when He shows us who we are without Him, and when He shows us things that need to be dealt with by His Word and Spirit.

When we know that we are secure we can freely lay our lives down for others; when we know the depths of our sin we can know full dependence on Christ and we can remind ourselves that we ought not to compare ourselves with others; in Christ we can be ourselves and we can forget about ourselves.

I am praying that God will redeem my selfishness by allowing me to have some individual conversations with the people I was with yesterday. Would you please pray for that?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Friendship – II

 At last Monday’s breakfast meeting it was pointed out that to be a friend to someone is not the same as having a friendship with that person. The word “friendship” speaks (among other things) of two people working together in and on the relationship. We can be friendly toward others, we can befriend others, as others can do to us; but this is not the same as having a friendship with someone. Being friendly and befriending may lead to friendships – but they need not do so.

Depending on our temperaments, and on our situations at any given time, it is possible to mistake someone’s friendliness for a desire on that person’s part to cultivate a friendship. This can lead to unmatched expectations which in turn can lead to misunderstanding, which in turn can lead to hurt, confusion, and resentment. Such are the relational waters of life.

Mentoring relationships can be mistaken for friendships. While mentors and those they mentor can already be friends, or while the mentoring relationship may become one of friendship, it need not do so. Some mentoring relationships are for specific purposes and for a set period of time – let us hope that friendships are not.

Of course friendships have many tiers, or levels of intimacy and trust, and they have their ebbs and flows – friendships can be an adventure, discovering new things about each other or with each other; or they can also be like an old shoe – comfortable; no reason not to enjoy both.

1 Corinthians Chapter 13 is a good paradigm for friendship, and as a Christian I think the idea of the priesthood of the believer is also helpful. A brother recently shared with me that someone he befriended accused him of a certain thing to a group of his friends – and that by and large his group of friends believed the accusation. Considering that his group of friends had known him for a while I found this interesting – why are we so quick to believe accusations? Why not talk to our friend? And as a holy priesthood, is not one function of a priest to cover sin rather than to reveal it? So even if the accusation were true there is a holy way to handle it – and certainly that does not mean believing the accusation at its first hearing.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Puritan Prayer with Challenges for Today

Here’s a excerpt from a prayer (page 117) in the Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett, Banner of Truth Trust:

            “May I …never confine my religion to extraordinary occasions, but acknowledge thee in all my ways; never limit my devotions to particular seasons but be in thy fear all the day long; never be godly only on the Sabbath or in they house, but on every day abroad and at home;

            “never make piety a dress but a habit, not only a habit but a nature, not only a nature but a life.”

Our society seeks to coerce us into compartmentalizing Christianity; it does not appear to seek that so overtly with other religions and philosophies. Yet, the Scriptures teach us to in all your ways acknowledge Him (Proverbs 3:6a), and Jesus speaks of those who are not ashamed of Him and of those who are ashamed of Him (Matthew 10:32-33). Shall we cave in and surrender to the world’s coercion or will we faithfully witness to Jesus Christ?

It seems that most of our witnessing training is covert, as if we lived in a totalitarian society. Do we? If so then let’s not gloss over the issue; but if we don’t then let’s not excuse our closet Christianity. And whatever the case might be, do we have an excuse to avoid persecution for the Christ of the Cross? If we don’t acknowledge Jesus Christ then how will others encounter Him? After all, the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16 – 20) is given to us all.

Hypocrisy can be an enigmatic thing, it isn’t so straightforward as we might think; it isn’t simply about people pretending to be something they are not – that’s too simple. People often don’t know they are pretending; they fall into the deceit, they fall into wearing a mask, and a time comes when they can’t distinguish the mask from the reality – they make piety a dress. The Laodicean Church (Revelation 3:14) didn’t know its own condition, it thought it was doing well, it thought it was healthy and wealthy, but it was poor and naked and miserable and blind; and it was lukewarm.

Those under the broad umbrella of Christianity who reject outright the Divinity of Christ and the Atonement and the authority of the Bible know where they are – there is nothing enigmatic about them – other than why they bother going into the ministry or why they bother operating and attending churches. But those who by compromise and self-righteousness and making piety a dress rather than an inward reality in Christ capitulate to the world’s standards and dictates, and who fail to acknowledge Jesus Christ in their ways – that is enigmatic – because it isn’t likely that they started out that way, it isn’t likely it was their intent – and no doubt we all have elements of these things in our lives.

We are so accustomed to not witnessing that our training in witnessing is nearly all stealth oriented, we are taught not to be straightforward (what Biblical warrant to we have for that?) – seldom is it inculcated in us as the fabric of life; and as much as I value and practice relational bridge-building – that must not be our only paradigm for witnessing, it certainly isn’t the only Biblical paradigm. The central Biblical paradigm is acknowledging Jesus Christ in all our ways, throughout all facets of life; bridge-building should be done in this context – Jesus is not some trump card we hold in our hand until a future time – that may be the norm in the current church, it is not the Biblical norm.

Lord Jesus, help us to acknowledge you in all our ways; let our acknowledgment of you be without self-consciousness or conceit or religiosity; but rather let it be as one friend speaking of another friend, let it be as a spouse speaking of his or her beloved, let it be as a hungry man telling others where he has found bread.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


The past week began and ended on a note of friendship – and friendship was woven throughout the week. Dense as I am, I think that even I should perhaps pay attention to the theme the Composer orchestrated.

It began with a breakfast with men I have, for the most part, not seen for about 18 months due to work obligations. I wanted to see those men, I missed them – and on my end it was as if I’d just seen them last week, we picked the conversation right up where it was 18 months ago. When I left the breakfast I was refreshed, it was as if I’d been bathed with living water – pure and sweet and radiant. The subject of our breakfast discussion? Friendship.

On my way to the breakfast I called a friend with whom I speak at least twice a week, sometimes more. He lives a few hours away and we seldom see each other, but we talk and we share and we pray and we share our joys and burdens – and oh, we laugh a lot and tell each other tall tales. I left him a voice mail message. By Friday I hadn’t received a call back, which is highly unusual. On Saturday morning I thought about calling a mutual friend in his area to see if he’d heard from him – for they typically see or talk to each other every week.

During my morning prayer time, both with Vickie and my solitary prayer time, I pray for friends and their families. During the past few weeks I’ve been strongly impressed to pray for two couples on a daily basis – I don’t pray for all my friends on a daily basis, but I do pray for all of my friends on an ongoing basis. These two particular couples have now been added to my daily prayer time and have been deeply “on my heart” for a few weeks. One couple lives in Massachusetts and the other in Florida; I haven’t seen either couple for a few years. Two weeks ago I called both couples, one answered the phone and we had a sweet time of catching up – as a result of that phone call Vickie and I have a very specific thing to pray for on their behalf. The other couple didn’t answer the phone and I didn’t receive a call back as I usually do. Throughout the week I was conscious that they hadn’t called back.

On Monday I received a voice mail from a friend whom I haven’t seen in about ten years. Even though we haven’t seen each other for such a long time our friendship has taken on a special meaning in the past two years as he walks through a challenging season of life. We’ve had many phone conversations in which my role has usually been to listen, ask questions, and pray. Sometimes I’ll have observations to make and sometimes I won’t. I wasn’t able to return his call until Thursday; during this phone time he said, “You know, I never imagined that our friendship would become what it is – I had no idea”. This friendship began when I asked for his help with learning Greek in seminary; that led us to meeting regularly for prayer and reflection; that led us to time with our spouses; and friendship grew.

On Tuesday I had lunch with a friend who I see at least once every two weeks for coffee or lunch. We’ve known each other for over twenty years and have been friends for most of that time – our relationship grew into friendship. At lunch he shared something with me that happened to him that morning, and even though he tried to downplay the incident, I knew better, I knew because he is my friend. After lunch I called Vickie and shared the substance of our lunch conversation because he is also Vickie’s friend and I knew she’d want to know and to pray. This particular issue was a matter of intense prayer for Vickie and me – as we prayed together and individually. On Thursday morning I called this friend to see how he was doing and rejoiced to hear that the troubling issue had been favorably resolved. That evening Vickie and I had dinner with my friend and his wife (also a friend!).

On Friday I had coffee with another friend. While Vickie and I have recently seen this friend, I hadn’t had any in-depth discussion/catching up time with this friend in a very long time. Driving home after our coffee I reflected back on my Monday breakfast and its focus on friendship and it struck me how friendship had been front-and-center all week.

On Saturday Vickie and I took a daytrip; it was a holiday open house tour of historic homes along the Rappahannock River. During the day we talked about my two phone calls that hadn’t been returned yet, and I said that when we got home I’d either call or email to see how our friends were doing. During the day my cell phone received two voice mails – one was from my Massachusetts friend giving an update and explaining why it had taken a few days to return my call, and the other was from my other friend, who lives in Virginia, explaining why it had taken him a few days to return my call. On the second voice mail (my Virginia friend) I think there may be more to the story because, after all, he is my friend and I can usually tell when there is something else going on. I’ll call both these friends back, one I’ll call today (Sunday) and the other tomorrow. I know their schedules and I know the good times to call.

It was great to end the week with a day out with my best friend – my wife.