Same Path, Different Directions
By Gary Sims
James and Jana had lived their entire lives next door to each other. James was older, by six days. They always felt as though they were twins – just with different parents. Nearly everything they had ever experienced in their lives had been experienced together. When Jana had won the science fair in first grade with her milk-carton Lego sorter, James was right there receiving the next highest commendation for his consumer-interest study on the popularity of colors in a 64-piece Crayola box. When James joined a little league baseball team, Jana was his throwing partner. When she saw she could throw as well as the boys, she joined the team the following year and helped them win the league championship.
Their families had always been close; so close, in fact, that they had even taken a few family vacations together. Joint camping and fishing trips had developed an early appreciation in both children for nature, the wonders of the outdoors, and a love of anything "wild." Their combined trip to Disney World not only gave them memories of Mickey and stories to share, it also resulted in joint custody of a case of measles on their return.
As they grew older, they continued to seek each other for companionship, friendship and advice. Though the colleges they selected were in different cities, they remained in constant contact throughout. When love entered their lives and marriages resulted, their friendships grew even closer in their supporting roles of bridesmaid and groomsman. The choice of who the god-parents for their children would be was obvious.
Their lives were as close to being the same as was possible. Everything that is, except for church.
Jana had never experienced church. Each Sunday morning, before Jana's family had awakened from their late morning slumbers, James, with his family, had attended worship services and Sunday school classes in the nearby church. It was the only thing that separated their lives. It was the only thing they did not share.
Both families had discussed the issue and had come to accept this one difference as a simple matter of course. Jana's parents felt strongly that they did not want Jana "indoctrinated" into a specific religious thought pattern. Instead, they felt that, when Jana was of appropriate age, she should make her own, educated decision on religion. It would be better for Jana to have a completely free choice – unbiased and unbridled.
James' family, however, felt that experiencing and learning the stories and teachings of Jesus throughout James' life would provide him the building bricks of faith when they became necessary. It was not "indoctrination" in their mind, but rather, soil preparation that would enable and enhance spiritual growth.
So, on this one issue, James and Jana went their separate ways. Occasionally, James would invite Jana to join him at a youth event or retreat. At times, she would attend and usually had a good time with James' friends, but never quite understood some of the "worship" things they did. She was polite but not engaged.
They had also had discussions about religion, as James tried to share with Jana, his thoughts and ideas about Christianity. The main problem was that the discussions usually left them both confused and perplexed. It was the only aspect of their relationship that left them cold and disconnected. They did not enjoy the feeling of separation so they generally avoided the topic as much as possible.
As James grew in his faith and became an active member in his local church he became increasingly worried about his best friend Jana. Their lives, to date, had been pleasant and bountiful; without trauma or pain. However, James was beginning to sense problems arising in Jana's marriage. He worried and prayed, but nothing he did seemed to open Jana's heart to the idea of Christ's love. Her despair grew and her marriage dissolved in a fit of rage and anger.
Jana was devastated. She withdrew from James and her other friends, choosing instead to drown her pain with alcohol and a series of lovers she found at the local bar. Her activities resulted in her losing custody of her children and in losing her job. Her life was in a tailspin of destruction and there was, seemingly, nothing James could do but stand by and watch.
And then, one day while in prayer, it came to James that if anyone was to help Jana, it would be him. He was the only one who knew her. He was the only one that understood her life. He could not just sit back and watch his closest friend destroy her life. He had to take action.
As he continued to pray he discovered that he held the key to her life. He knew what to say and how to say it. His Bible study began to reveal the responsibilities of friendship and the importance of centering our lives on God. He saw in the stories of the Old Testament how people's lives could change from a pathway of destruction to a pathway filled with promise, just by turning towards God. He learned from Paul how we all struggle in life and it is only through the love of Christ that hope resides. He knew that the only way Jana could be saved from herself would be to learn what Jesus had done for her.
In addition to prayer and Bible study, James also became aware of the Celebrate Recovery and Alpha Ministries being offered at his church. He knew his friendship with Jana was going to be the main tool in the shed for digging out the rocks and weeds of her life, but he also knew he would need help. The seeds of truth would not have a chance if the soils were not well prepared.
Again, James prayed. This time he asked for the Spirit of God to use him to help Jana. He prayed for guidance, love and support. He prayed that God would soften Jana's heart. He prayed for success. When he finished praying, he stepped out of his car and walked up the path to Jana's apartment.
(Inspired by Matt 13:1-9, 18-23)
Gary Sims is a husband, and father of two teens. He is a Lay Worship Leader and Teacher at First United Methodist Church, Albuquerque, NM. Gary writes a Lectionary-based daily devotional entitled "Reflections of the Spirit", which can be found at http://www.faithwriters.com/member-profile.php?id=2297