Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
“It wears on me.”
His face was glum as he shared the latest incident involving one of his teenage clients. “I know his dad is abusing him…”
“Physically?” I asked.
“…no, not physically, although I see that too with my other clients. No, mental and emotional abuse. It’s apparent during our sessions.”
My colleague paused, his eyes searching in front of him for answers. “It’s not this one case, you know? It’s all of my clients. Hour after hour, I see kids suffering, and there isn’t much I can do about it. I try to counsel them, giving them coping strategies; you know, the usual stuff.” I nodded.
“But it all seems so pointless,” he continued. “The problem is not their lack of coping strategies. It’s their parents, their families, their home environments.”
He stopped while looking me in the eyes. “How do you handle it?”
I shook my head slowly. “To be honest, I don’t, at least some days. It overwhelms me too. But I try to look for the good in the suffering.”
“The good?” he responded, a hint of skepticism in his countenance. “What good is there in suffering?”
“I have an answer, even though you might not like it. I wouldn’t recommend using it for someone in grief. It’s one of those answers for a mind looking for answers when the pain subsides.”
“Lay it on me.”
“Well, my answer is that flowers need fertilizer.”
“Flowers need fertilizer,” he repeated, his skepticism changing to confusion. “You’re going to have to unpack that.” I nodded again.
“It’s like this. Suffering is like s**t: it happens, and there’s nothing we can do about it. We can either allow all of that s**t to suffocate us, or we can grow out of it, like a plant using fertilizer. The flowers in this world, those who shine brighter than others? They experience the same fertilizer as the rest of us. But unlike others, they grow out of it, using the experience to become better people.”
We sat in silence for a moment as my friend mused over my words. He finally began to nod slowly.
“I get that. That’s actually pretty good. Where did you get that? Is that a quote from somewhere?”
“No. I came up with it after my own experiences, although I’m sure it’s been said by others in so many words.”
“Your experiences?” he asked. “Are you talking about some of that stuff you shared earlier?”
“No, not that specifically, although that was a part of it too. No, I’m talking about my spiritual walk.”
“Spiritual walk? I didn’t know you were religious.”
“I’m not religious, but I am a committed disciple. I’m a Christian.”
My friend nearly choked on his drink. “You?! No way!” he exclaimed, wiping the drink from his chin. “I thought you might be Buddhist because of your friendship with…” as he named a mutual colleague “…but a Christian??”
I smiled. “Where do you think my motivation and passion comes from?”
“I guess that makes sense. Still…” He trailed off as he began to shift uncomfortably in his seat. “Um, you do know I’m an atheist, right?”
“Of course. You said so in so many words when I first met you.”
“That didn’t bother you?”
“Why would it?”
He snorted in response. “Seems to bother a lot of other Christians.”
I rolled my eyes. “Well, that’s because most of them are committed to their agenda.”
“What’s the difference?”
“It’s night and day.” I waved my hand at him. “I wouldn’t expect you to know the difference. I know how many Christians behave. Are you sure you’re interested in this conversation?”
“You have my curiosity.”
“Alright. You were suffering, you called me, and I met you here so you could share what was on your heart and mind. That’s love. Christianity is about loving others first. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you believe, or whether you agree with me or not. Love is simply giving one’s self for the benefit of others without any expectation of return. You do the same for your teenage clients, right?”
“Right,” he replied
“Christianity is about doing this for everyone, no matter who they are. Now, the Christians you likely think of when you hear the word “Christian” would use this opportunity to try to convert you. They would tell you how Jesus died for your sins while opening a Bible. Their agenda includes ramming their religious beliefs down the throat of everyone they can find, through many subtle and not so subtle ways. Those who disagree with their beliefs, theology, sources, church, or even their favorite preacher are eventually rejected. While some do this, many others skip straight to the rejection, a display of tribalism rather than Christianity. Regardless of whether they proselytize or not, both do this without a sense of irony.” I paused to take a sip of my drink.
“I agree with many of the same theological beliefs. The difference is that I focus on living out my beliefs, long before I ever talk about my beliefs. If I don’t live it like I believe it, why should you listen to what I say? I don’t speak ‘Christanese’ while always quoting the Bible. Instead, my agenda, if you want to call it that, is to love everyone I encounter in this life while always seeking to love others better than I did yesterday. I demonstrate what I believe through what I do. If my practice leads someone to ask, then I’ll share my beliefs.”
“Well,” my colleague replied, “I’m not sure I want to hear about those beliefs right now.”
“And that’s fine,” I responded. “I kinda figured as much. Love includes respect.” I waved my hand again. “Besides, I was only illustrating the difference. If you change your mind, you know where to find me.”
He nodded in reply as we sat in silence, listening to the music playing from inside the restaurant. “I wish more Christians did what you do,” he eventually said.
“If they did, there would be more Christians,” I replied.