Babies, bathwater and brothers

I had a casual lunch today with a friend. Nothing special about that. Except that six months ago me and this friend went through, well, a rough spell. Not kitten tongue or scrubber brush rough. Skid-your-knees-on-gravel-and-wash-with-sandpaper rough. And because our friendship affects others, and the health of our friendship has pretty big picture implications in the larger context of my life, how that rough patch resolved was going to determine a lot of other significant decisions that would need to be made.

So when I say that me and this friend had a casual lunch, I’m really saying several things. First, I’m saying that my relationship with this person isn’t defined by our roles in each others’ lives in any official capacity. We choose to be in each others’ lives and to define our relationship by that choice and not circumstance or proximity. Secondly I’m saying that we shared a meal. We have some significant differences of opinion. We have hurt each other and damaged each others’ trust. We haven’t “forgotten” what happened six months ago; those events are part of the brick and mortar creating the structure of our relationship. We’ve chosen to allow other events to be added to that structure, and every time we break bread and share stories and trust each other with sensitive truths about ourselves we build a stronger, steadier structure. Finally, I’m saying that this lunch was casual and without agenda. We both had things we wanted to say, but it was largely free from ulterior motive. We talked about weddings and gender roles in the church, my crush and his recent retreat. It was the same sort of conversation I’d have with any other friend.

I could say that “time heals all wounds,” that enough time has passed that we can resume our friendship on this side of the wounding. I could say that we are both such mature people with such strong faith that we were able to rise above the differences (and anyone who knows us could have a laugh on us). I could even say that we’ve repressed our differences because we have to deal with each other and we’re creating a reality that makes that possible. I don’t think any of those things are true.

My faith background taught me that the Spirit of God is alive and active among His people. That presence was manifested in all sorts of interesting, even bizarre, ways. We believed that Jesus still heals, still delivers, still sets people free from bondage. Sadly, this belief led to an unhealthy obsession with external manifestations. Much of what resulted was emotionalism wrapped in spiritual language. Without going into all the gory details, that environment caused in me a state of anxiety, depression, and languishing “spiritual” desperation. Eventually I rejected the entire movement, told the Holy Spirit we needed some time apart, and I tried to find other ways of experiencing God. In that process I’ve learned a lot of amazing practices, encountered the Lord in some very unexpected places, and have become a much healthier person emotionally. I’ve learned that He is constant, that Jesus was purposeful in His ministry, that much of faith is lived out in the gritty realities and decisions of regular life and time.

Lately, though, I’m starting to feel the Holy Spirit creep back in. I can sense the Lord in ways I haven’t for a long time. I can tell that the Spirit is ready to pick up where we left off. And I wrestle with fear of becoming weird again, of losing the emotional balance I’ve gained and falling back off the charismatic deep end. But then I have lunch. With a friend. And I realize that it’s not time or repression or maturity that’s led to the growth in our relationship. It’s the Spirit. The same God who has always healed wounds, who promised extraordinary power in the act of forgiveness, who called us to lean into Him for the power to love His way, has done what He does in. He saw a brother and sister fighting, let them work it out their way, and waited for them to do what would honor Him. We forgave, prayed for each other, spoke well when we wanted to rant, and chose to face our fears and trust each other. And He gently breathed His power into our words, coated our wounds with balm of Gilead, and out of the dry and broken dust spoke life and growth.

The lessons I’ve learned? Brothers and sisters fight, but don’t have to break up. God still performs miracles, the most amazing of which are often intangible and unseen. And the Holy Spirit is a faithful and patient friend.

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