Counseling the Doubtful
It was the summer before my senior year of college. I decided not to work that summer so I could take a handful of credits to ensure my graduation the following spring semester. So like most students, I went looking for that “throwaway” course. I found it in an art class that explained different art media, such as pottery, and required students to produce examples of the artwork themselves. Another motive (besides having an easy time of it), was that Dan, an acquaintance of mine was the instructor. I met him at an ecumenical event in our town that brought together Catholics and Protestants to work and pray together and to develop professional and personal relationships.
During class, Dan would often have the students form a circle in the art lab so we could work on our projects and converse at the same time. It was during one of these sessions that Dan’s question came out of nowhere and caught me off guard. “So, Andy, how did you meet the Lord?” I only recently returned to the Church and to personal faith after a detour through the sordid youth culture of the 1960s and early ’70s. Right there in front of the whole class, heads down, hands working, he wanted to hear my personal testimony. I chuckled at first, knowing that he had set me up, and then I glanced around the room nervously to measure the responses from my classmates. I wondered if this was going to fly. Would it get us both in trouble? We were, after all, at a secular state university.
I stumbled initially, but then just told the story. In short, my story is one of finding God’s love, or to be more precise, God’s love finding me, regardless of the fact that I was trying my hardest not to be found despite my intense misery. After a short rehearsal of some of the events and people involved, I remarked on how the Lord’s love was genuinely and powerfully demonstrated to me by Christian men and women, especially through the ministry of two Catholic priests. They loved me unconditionally even as I strained under the baggage of my messed-up life. I was not a very lovable person.
Near the end of my unplanned talk, one of my classmates, a twenty-something young woman sitting to my left, began to get agitated. I only caught her actions out of the corner of my eye, but the disturbance she caused by throwing her project materials and books onto the lab table, packing her bag, and pushing her chair out of the way so hard that it fell over as she dramatically left the lab was, well, intimidating. Now I was sure the dean would be calling Dan and me into his office. Yet none of my other classmates remarked on either my testimony or this young woman’s obvious anger toward me for sharing it. I was distressed when she didn’t come to class for a few days, but by the following week she returned. She avoided me. I was too immature and intimidated to offer an apology and ask about her displeasure. Did I say something wrong? So I forgot about the whole affair.
Many months later, while attending another ecumenical event—a conference featuring several interesting speakers—I was talking to my friends in the aisle of the auditorium when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to find the young woman whom I had offended in class standing before me. For an instant I was terrified. I steeled myself, thinking I would do whatever humble thing necessary in order to make amends. Then I noticed she was smiling and holding her hand out to shake mine.
This is her story.
She had quickly grasped the theme of my story in class. God’s love through his Son, Jesus, tracks us down and finds us in the depth of our own mess and weakness to lift us up. Even when we’re immersed in the darkest doubt and despair, the light of God’s love will find us. But at the time, she was feeling anything but God’s love. Her husband had recently left her, abandoning her and their very young daughter. She felt overwhelmed with the horrible feeling of rejection and isolation. How could God love her and let her marriage fail? How could God not take care of her and her daughter? While my story delighted in religious platitudes of divine light, she knew only darkness.