Is it true? Are you really hurting the people who love you? Are you negatively affecting the very lives that have always been there for you – the ones who have loved you through thick and thin?
In an increasingly self-centered world, people often say, “Stay out of my business,” “What’s it to you?” or perhaps “I’m only hurting myself.” This is a radical departure from the social and cultural understanding of just a generation or two ago. Sure, there have always been those who were just out for themselves with the whole, “What’s in it for me?” mentality, but there was a time when that mentality was more the exception than the rule. For the most part, selfish individuals were ostracized by a society who understood the inextricable link we all share.
Several years ago, a member of my ministry, who I will call Bill, was addicted to drugs. Bill hated his captivity and struggled to get free. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we prayed, he just couldn’t shake it. Bill loved Jesus, but he felt condemned and distant every time he failed. Furthermore, he had entered into a co-dependent relationship with a woman who enabled his poor choices. Like so many couples I have counselled, she couldn’t stand him when he was using and wasn’t content with him when he wasn’t. Bill’s struggle made her feel better about herself.
Finally, Bill hit bottom and he decided to enter a rehab facility which provided the support and discipline he needed to finally be free. The whole team was very proud of Bill and encouraged him in his journey. We prayed over him before he left and stayed in contact with him through cards, email and phone. We continued to pray.
One day, Bill told me he was coming home. I asked him if he had been released, and he told me he was better and didn’t need to complete the program. Try as I might, I couldn’t convince Bill that a few more months would be worthwhile. We continued to love him, support him and pray for him. For a while he did pretty well.
In time, Bill came to my office to tell me he was moving to a larger city with his girlfriend. I was devastated. We had invested spiritual, emotional and physical energy into helping this young man- it felt like a huge slap in the face. I pleaded with him to reconsider. I warned him of the dangers of leaving his support family, of traveling to a place where drugs were prolific. In a single choice he gave up and traded his positive friends for negative ones. He assured me that his faith was strong. He was certain he would thrive in his new environment. Although he reluctantly agreed to take a week to pray before finalizing his decision, he left town without another word.
About a year later, Bill called. “Pastor, you were right” – silence. I don’t know what he expected me to say. I derived no pleasure from my accurate foresight. I was only further saddened and burdened to hear the story of how not only his life, but also his family and friends were so deeply harmed by, what appeared to him at the time to be, a logical decision.
In all my years of ministry the evidence is uncontested; we really do reap what we sow (Gal 6:7) and our sins always find us (Num 32:23). Sin is not a solo sport. When we sin, everyone around us gets hurt in one way or another. Perhaps children inherit the sin, or perhaps a daughter is forced to grow up without a dad. Maybe parents lose precious years from their lives as a result of sleepless nights and endless worry. The list goes on and on. I see it every day. And yes, pastors like me grieve and weep over each and every life we encounter as we see the very sin God sent us to combat, wreak havoc on the lives of the very people we have been called to help.
“…I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live!” (De 30:19)
Father, please encourage and help my friends choose life and bring healing instead of hurt to everyone around them. Amen!