Epic failures on my part

I have to break my blogging silence because I’m heartbroken today. I need to sort through my confusion. I feel sick to my stomach as I write this. Within a single day a friend I recently made on Facebook has “unfriended” me and some dear friends from out-of-town have all but disowned me. To be clear the names / details have been changed, but the following stories are true. If any readers recognize the situations I beg you to keep it to yourselves.

My Facebook friend is a young Christian in the States who had a rocky marriage. He launched a Christian evangelistic ministry before maturing as a Christian and while his marriage unraveled before his eyes. He threw himself into the arms of another woman. I fully believe it was a combination of spiritual immaturity, a faulty understanding of human sexuality / marriage (when will the church ever start doing proper discipleship with new believer?!?!?) and a whole pile of hurt and confusion. His life was a mess and so he should have withdrawn from Christian ministry in order to take time to properly heal and grow, and also because having somebody with his openly unBiblical lifestyle at the helm of a Christian ministry would send a very bad message to the unbelievers he would interact with. With him at the helm the clear message would be, “You need to trust in Christ even though I refuse to obey him.” Could it get any clearer than that?

I tried, as best I could, to re-iterate time and again that my motive for the advice I was offering was the future success of his new relationship. Even sociological research (as if God’s word isn’t enough) has revealed something called the “cohabitation effect” whereby couples who cohabit have significantly worse relationships than those who do not, and eventual failure is far more probable. Go ahead and check it out on Google Scholar, don’t trust me. In other words his actions now are almost certainly putting himself on the path toward future suffering. If I stay silent and simply “bless” his actions then I am saying nothing, knowing full well he is hurtling down a road of self-destruction once again and will almost certainly be in as much, if not significantly more, pain in the future than he presently is.

And, of course, if he continued leading his outreach ministry at the same time as cohabiting that would lead to a very confusing message to those he was attempting to minister to. Frankly he would be placing a significant hurdle in the way of their journey to God by telling them to follow Christ while he refused to do so himself. Other people’s destinies are at stake here which is even more important than his own personal trials and tribulations.

Despite my best efforts to explain all this, and offer reasons for what I said (as opposed to “this is just my opinion…”) he blasted off the last word in our dialogue and hit the old “unfriend” button.

In a week or two we will visit some childhood friends of ours in another part of Canada. We moved away a long time ago, but kept in touch; visiting them every year or two. They have maintained certain “Christian” habits like praying before meals, but over the years I’ve heard stories from their very mouths that have seriously made me wonder what kind of Christianity they adhere to. Tales of wild parties involving illicit drugs. Drunkenness. Photos on Facebook involving “teasing” nudity (i.e. technically nothing was showing). Stories that demonstrate that some in this family are falling far short of God’s design for sexuality as well as literature around the house that implied a certain comfort with pornography.

We love them dearly and always enjoy our visits, but at the same time their lifestyle concerned me. I said nothing, though, because I only see them every year or two so it’s not like we are super close. “It isn’t my place to confront them” I kept telling myself. I just prayed somebody who was closer to them would call them on it and point them back to Christ.

But something has changed now. We have kids. They are growing up. They can read and they are starting to understand not only the meaning of the words, but often times the abstract worldview significance behind the words. If they see the word “pornography” they are likely to ask about it. If I have to explain it to them at this tender age then they will wonder – or at least they ought to wonder – why friends of ours who pray before meals would have literature around the house that, though not technically pornography in itself, gives positive lip service to pornography. It suggestively approves of it.

I brought this up in an email because we are planning our trip to visit them. The response was disheartening. After all those years of keeping silent for fear of damaging our relationship it became immediately apparent that my suspicions were right. It turns out their entire family has come to think of me as the rude, judgmental guy who insults people from behind his computer.

This family has been through a lot too, like my Facebook friend. Broken trust and broken marriage. Deaths of loved ones. The list goes on. They are suffering so they engage in behavior that will offer temporary “relief” while guaranteeing future suffering.

Here’s the root of my problem; most people are focused on two things, 1) themselves, and 2) the here and now. I tend to take a perspective that looks beyond myself, and into the future. In the present my friend from the States is suffering from a broken marriage. Right now he is in pain and right now it “feels good” to shack up with his girlfriend. But what I see is future suffering for himself and his girlfriend, and the future worldview confusion in those he attempts to reach for Christ.

Right now my friends are hurting from divorce and recent deaths. Right now what they are doing gives them some sense of release from the pains of this world. But what I see is their future suffering. What I also see is my son’s future. If his first exposure to pornography is an implicit endorsement of the act by close friends, and silence from his own father on the issue, what message does that tell him?

Here’s the ugly truth; I’ve suffered from that particular problem myself. I’ve wrestled with it for years (only recently becoming more or less free of it) and I have seen the destruction it has wrought in my own life. And, honestly, I didn’t even get anywhere CLOSE to the really bad stuff. I was about as “light weight” as you can get, but still it absolutely messed me up for many years and I still see the consequences of my poor choices to this day.

I’ve never enjoyed alcohol so drunkness hasn’t been a problem for me. Yet I have seen the effect it has had on others. I’ve seen alcoholics. I used to babysit for a couple that would go out so the mom could get absolutely hammered. I’d pop by during the day sometimes and she’d usually have an open bottle in her hand.

I’ve seen all that, and then I look at my son. He’s 8 and growing up fast. He’s a bundle of energetic passion and youthful innocence. I’m terrified for him. I don’t want him to repeat my mistakes. I love him so much and I want to go out of my way to protect him. I would climb Mt Everest if I knew it would keep him from ever giving into the temptation of porn. I would take a bullet for him if it meant he would never be drunk.

I see my daughter. She’s a delight to everybody who meets her and her innocence is inspiring, frankly. The thought of her venturing out into a world that expects her to strip down to some dehumanizing bikini and perform sexual acts to gain the approval of the boys is enough to keep me up at night. What sane parent would not try to change the world? Can anybody seriously say that my motives are wrong? Is there any person out there willing to stand up and declare that I am making too big of a deal of this? You have not met my daughter, if that is the case.

My kids are beautiful kids with purity and innocence, and I am scared of the world on their behalf. I write this with tears, I kid you not! I weep, mourn and wail. I have seen so many people throw themselves down a path of personal destruction that I am terrified my kids might do the same thing. There is no desert I wouldn’t cross, no money I wouldn’t spend, no career I wouldn’t give up, no friend I wouldn’t lose if it meant that I could keep my son safe from pornography and my daughter safe from drunkenness.

I’m just a normal parent wanting the best for my kids.

Part of trying to keep my kids safe involves me doing my little part to make the world a better place. But it refuses. I say nothing it grows corrupt. I say something it shuts me out and grows corrupt anyway. I know I only have so many years before my kids are no longer within my protection and I am terrified, absolutely terrified, that I will have wasted those years. It horrifies me to think that I might either be tempted to remain silent while people demolish themselves under my implicit approval (too polite to speak up), but for the life of me I have absolutely no idea how to get a person who is repeatedly (metaphorically) stabbing themselves to stop! If I say nothing my kids learn, “oh, that must be ok because dad didn’t say anything.”

But it’s not all the world’s problem’ here’s my part of the problem. I’m almost certain that I approached both of these situations the wrong way. I almost certainly said things I should not have. I wish I could take back what I wrote. I wish I could recover the lost relationships. But what should I have said? How should I have brought it up? Is there any way that such issues can be raised whereby the other person will actually consider what you have to say instead of slamming the door and lighting a fire to the bridge?

If I stay silent I can maintain a friendship in the present while ensuring my friend (and probably others) will suffer greatly in the future. What kind of friend am I to say nothing? If I say something along the lines of what I did I am virtually guaranteed to lose my friend AND they (and probably others) will suffer greatly in the future. Where is the middle ground? How can I bring up the issue in such a way that they will not suffer greatly in the future and bring others down with them? How can I lovingly confront them?

I am writing today to make one thing perfectly clear: I DON’T KNOW.

I have no answer. I have spent too many years wanting to gain the approval of others by keeping my mouth shut. I have lost friends by opening my mouth, only to watch them continue down the path of pain and suffering smelling the roses beside the road while ignoring the screams of anguish coming from just around the corner.

When the trucks were carrying the Jews off to Auschwitz did the German people comfort themselves by saying, “hey, at least I’m not driving the truck; I am not participating?” They should have done more! They should have resisted! Would they have lost friends? Yes! Would they have lost career opportunities? Yes! Might they have even lost their lives? Bonhoeffer certainly did! But when they said nothing and did nothing they lost something far more significant than friends, careers or even their lives; they lost their dignity before God.

Silence in the face of evil is implicit consent.

But obviously I have not learned how to properly, effectively, point people in the right direction. What to say? Where is success to be found?

I have no idea.

I have no answers.

I don’t know.

Help me, and please forgive me when I do it wrong.

I will not reply to any comments that are left, I need to just listen right now.

5 thoughts on “Epic failures on my part

  1. Don’t beat yourself up. You are doing the right thing, and with the right heart. Not all hear God’s voice either. What does God say about suffering for His name? I know that you argue with gentleness and respect and have a very winsome character. Some just close their eyes and ears and refuse to hear it. Keep preaching my friend, out of obedience to Him. Leave the results to the Spirit. I’m praying for you.

  2. You say, “But obviously I have not learned how to properly, effectively, point people in the right direction.” My friend, even God has not learned how to do that. We killed Jesus because he spoke the truth: the truth about us and our relationships, the truth about power and political realities. We killed Jesus even though he spoke the truth in love. He knew the extent of our self-destructive behaviour and the future that lay ahead of us. And yet he spoke the truth. I know this does not lessen the grief of lost friendships and slandered character. Know that God grieves with you. Know that I grieve with you. And know that you follow in the footsteps of one who suffered for you and called you to likewise suffer for his sake.

  3. Mr Paul Buller, there’s not a whole lot that I know, but one thing I am most certain of is the sovereignty of Christ. When I read my Bible, I read about the great men of faith making countless mistakes that, had the Bible only been a story book of these people, it would only speak about people who were foolish, afraid, doubters, liars, deceivers, failures, etc. But ultimately, the Bible is about the God of the universe who has a plan– is sovereign, wise, just, merciful and loving– having everything under control and completely undeterred by our lacks, failures and fears. Time and time again. God has a plan for every single one of your friends; and He definitely has great plans for your son and your daughter. We can never be in control, and it’s not up to us to manipulate our circumstances, regardless whether our intentions are good or bad. It *is* up to us, though, to listen, to draw near, to pay the price, and to learn. Always to learn.

  4. When people are disobeying the Lord (and believe me, they know it) then it is like they have a huge painful boil on their foot. There is no way you can point out the problem without them screaming. However, if you do not point out the problem, then it will only get worse. Once that is done, then you may just have to withdraw and pray. Prayer may be the only thing left.
    Your children are the most important people in your life and you have a responsability to them first. Staying true to the Lord and to them is the most important thing here.
    When my son was 13 he went to Japan with his classmates. The school was very adamant that he not mention that he was a Christian on his passport. They said that this would make them all have to sit and wait while he was interrogated. He came home and asked me what to do. I showed him the passage in the scriptures where Jesus said that those who confessed Him before men, He would confess before His Father in heaven and those who denied Him before men, He would deny before His Father in heaven. I never told my son what to do. He read the verse over, looked at me, cocked an eyebrow and said, “Well! That’s clear enough, isn’t it?” “Do you think so?” I asked. “Yep,” he replied. He went to school and filled out the form with Christian proudly placed beside the question about his religious inclination. When the group got to Japan, they looked at his form, nodded, and passed him through in a moment. He got to the waiting room and sat … and sat… and sat… and eventually the rest of the class showed up. They had all been thoroughly examined by the agents and it took ages. Sometimes doing what is right can bring temporary difficulty. Sometimes, yes, it can cost you your life. Eventually God will reward you if you diligently seek him (Hebrews 11). Hebrews 11. Read what those people went through. Life was not all roses. Being accepted by the world is not wonderful. Being rejected by the world may hurt for a season, but it is still better to be accepted by God!
    At some point you will have to talk about these things to your teenage children. Tell them about this struggle that you had.
    By the way…forever you are their spiritual umbrella…no matter how old they are. As long as you are alive on this earth…you are their spiritual umbrella and if you fall, it takes away some of the protection over them…believe me!
    I am praying for clarity for you and for wisdom.
    Sincerely,
    Sharon

  5. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of the enemy – Proverbs 27:6

    Your friends feel that you have wounded them by having talked with them about their sin. Even the most loving confrontation can leave them feeling this way. And we should sympathize, of course. Who wants their deeds done in darkness to be exposed? Exposure hurts, and wounded people tend to get angry at the one doing the wounding. This is the deceitfulness of sin.

    You question if you could have said something differently. This is a good question, as we want to ensure that the love we have for our friends is effectively communicated in a confrontation. But I get the sense that the problem was not with the string of words that you chose, but rather with the fact that your mouth was pointed in their direction. You could have reworded your speech a hundred times and the result would have been the same. The offense is that you opened your mouth in the first place.

    You ask, ‘Where is success to be found?’ But what are you counting as success? I don’t see many places in the Bible that we are asked to guarantee a result. I do see many places where we are called to act in spite of the results. In giving a loving rebuke, you have been a true friend. It may not feel like it when your friends forsake you, but the other option is to validate them all the way into Hell.

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