“Hard is trying to rebuild yourself, piece by piece, with no instruction book, and no clue as to where all the important bits are supposed to go.”
― Nick Hornby,
There is an interesting group behavioral phenomenon that occurs when someone belonging to a micro-community, acts or behaves outside of the norm, which was pre-established by that same community. Because story is such an intimate medium in which the same micro-community can define itself (case in point a church – or more specifically a church in a city that has regular attendees week after week), or even a group of friends that regularly socializes together, or another example would be a work place where the majority of the employees have worked together for more than a few months; Story becomes an important part of that micro-community’s identity, and thus a group effort arises in order to preserve it.
Case in point. My church back in this valley city, the first church I attended as a new Christian, had a youth pastor. The youth pastor suddenly resigned because his wife had an affair with the husband of another congregant who was also married. Both marriages consequently ended, the youth pastor and his now ex-wife moved to separate places down at the coast and the ex-wife of the congregant also moved away. This left only the offending husband, who shortly afterwards left the church but continued for years working in the community in one role and running a successful business on the side. However, the new story within the micro-community (the church) was nothing short of a character assassination of this offending person.
Another case in point was me. I was now back at home but the thought of their son having tried to commit suicide was too difficult a topic to talk about with other family members – let alone me, so instead the default was to deny it even happened or if forced to talk about it, the whole incident would be minimized, with the story being re-written to suit their emotional needs. No more was this so painfully true then in a few years when I would be orchestrating not one but two funerals – one secret for family where their getaway vehicles were left idling behind the church and out of sight where as that funeral ended and family was shuffled out the back door the ‘real’ funeral began, complete with ex-wife sitting in the audience.
It is difficult to exist as a mess. There is an expectation it seems to have one’s shit together at the best of times and at the worst of times. Mess makes most of us uncomfortable. We tend to minimize, deny, find excuses, or shove into some pre-constructed character box in order to understand it for ourselves, without ever taking the time to just sit with the person in their mess until they can figure it out for themselves.
I was a mess.
Nothing made any sense any more. It barely made sense before but I had constructed some sort of meaning and identity with this girlfriend and it involved my future. But now the reality of the situation was shattered all around me, my hands bloodied by my efforts to put it all back together. I had no future. I had no now. The boyfriend of the perfect couple has returned from the coast without his girlfriend and a community was waiting for an explanation, for some way of reworking their story in such a way to help them make sense of it all.
I was just trying to survive.
It would be a few weeks before I returned to church and even that particular Sunday I wasn’t so inclined to be there – still unsure as to what I was going to say, supposed to say, to this community who had seen me as a new Christian and over this past year and a half bold in my faith, faithful in my attendance and participation, and who had it all in terms of an exciting future. Instead, I entered the church late that Sunday morning and took a seat further back in the rows, to one side, sitting as much alone as I could.
The service went along, nothing in particular popped out. The end of the service was now here and as was the custom every once in a while an altar call was announced, thus providing any one in the congregation an opportunity to come up for prayer. Along the front of the church stood the elders, the leadership of the church, spread out along the front of the stage, waiting for anyone to come forward for prayer. I suddenly found myself being one of those people.
I approached this one elder, a very large man, probably twice my size, who was a successful businessman in the city. People wanted to hear from him a lot and he liked to share his opinion a lot. He was equally liked and disliked, depending on who you talked to. But, here, today, in his role as elder in this church, he stood at the front waiting for someone to pray with.
I reluctantly approached him, not because it was him, necessarily, but because I didn’t think I was ready to make such a step again. As I stood in front of him he asked me what I would like prayer for. I responded that I did not know but that I had tried to kill myself a few weeks earlier.
Instead of praying for me this man placed both his arms around me and gave me a hug. He had tears in his eyes and he did not speak a word of prayer but instead he just hugged me. In that moment, standing there, everything vanished. I was no longer standing at the altar in my church in this valley city but instead I was standing in a vast room, brightly lit, and it was as if Jesus Himself had his arms wrapped around me, giving me a hug. It is one of those vivid memories that is full of sensory memories with it, making it alive once again when remembered.
The moment was probably brief but it lasted for a long time emotionally. When the elder released me from his hug and was composing himself from crying I returned to my seat feeling different. Very different. I arrived with my mess and instead of being instructed on how to deal with my mess, I received a hug. It was communicated to me that me and my mess were okay. That I was loved regardless of my mess.
I was broken still. Bloodied and bruised. I had no future and no present. But that flicker of hope burned a bit brighter now and for that I was thankful. Somehow the pieces would be put back together again, and although I had no idea how that would happen, I was somehow okay with it all, for I had received a hug letting me know that He was okay with it all as well.