November 6, 2016
Sunday, 9:30 p.m.
Letter #460: Judgment or Exhortation: A Tale of Two Friends
God has blessed me with many great friends, people who love me no matter what and whose love for me flows from their heart for God. These friendships are joy-filled, stress-free, and easy to navigate because typically there isn’t much complexity or drama in a game of basketball with a friend here in prison or a chat by phone with a long-distance friend.
The test of friendship really comes when a difficulty arises: a betrayal of trust, a hurtful exchange of words, a missed expectation, or the like. How you handle the complex issues, the tough situations together—and how your friend responds—is a great indicator of how real the friendship is and how long it will last.
Recently I faced two situations that tested a couple of my close friendships, tested my resolve to love unconditionally, and tested my ability to extend grace and mercy and compassion while speaking the truth: two very different scenarios involving different friends, with two very different outcomes. I’ve altered enough details here to keep anonymity possible, but the basic facts are the same.
With one close friend of mine whom I’ve known for years and years, I heard that he’d begun living with a woman he isn’t married to. I hadn’t perceived any indication of this major change in his life in his letters or when I’d spoken with him by phone, which seemed odd to me.
We’d become close over the last few years, so it came as a shock to hear it from one of our mutual friends and not him. I figured it must be because he knew I couldn’t be happy about his choice to live in sin, so he had avoided the topic.
I knew that while I could love him through the situation, for sure I could not pretend to not know about it and keep silent. I also could not just act as if I had no opinion on the matter.
I often prayed for this guy (as I do for many of my single friends) to find a life partner and that he would have the patience and moral fortitude to resist temptation and remain pure before marriage. With my own failures in this area, I know personally the pain of regret and the lost fellowship with God that such sin causes, and I’d hoped to see my friend spared from such tragedy.
In our correspondence and occasional phone calls over the past few years, I’d encouraged him to stay true to the principles of God’s Word as he waited on God’s timing to bring him his mate. Now this? I was sad.
I prayed for wisdom, and then, with a heavy heart full of God-given compassion for my friend, I called him up. After the usual small talk and pleasantries, I asked him how he was doing, following up with a couple of questions about his love life. He finally told me the details, but he made it clear that he already knew I disapproved, that I didn’t understand his story, and that I would probably be just like everyone else in his life who only criticized his actions without trying to understand or bring hope.
I heard hurt and rejection in his voice, so I made sure he knew how deeply I care about him, which motivated me to encourage him to leave the sinful situation and seek God’s ways to receive His blessings. I wasn’t getting anywhere, so I told him how I’d lived similarly, dishonoring God, and how God finally had broken me and gotten hold of my life. I felt the call went well, but my friend hasn’t taken my calls since or responded to my letters either.
I caught the other friend of mine, a guy in my dorm, smoking marijuana. One of our mutual friends had offered it to him and he’d accepted.
I couldn’t believe he’d do such a thing, since he is a Christian, and to get caught by officers would automatically give him additional time in prison. I knew I couldn’t let a moment go by without addressing the situation with him, so I sat at his table in the dayroom with my Bible open and just waited for him to join me. Sure enough, he did, asking me what was wrong, since he could sense that I wasn’t my usual joyful self.
I asked him if he’d like to talk to me about how he was doing, and he said yes, but that he didn’t like how “judgmental” I was being toward him. I told him I wasn’t judging him, that I just wanted to talk about what he had done.
Well, out poured some creative excuses and justifications, but I asked him if he’d thanked God for “providing” him with the weed, and had he asked God to please send more his way. Not surprisingly, he hadn’t. And he also couldn’t answer why it made sense to be dabbling with a substance that could get him extra time in prison. I told him that my care for him and my interest that he do well in life are what motivated me to address him on this topic, and he actually thanked me for helping him see it from the right perspective.
Over the course of that day and the next, I made time to spend with the guy so that he could see my dedication to helping him do the right thing. With drugs so rampant right now, the prison has increased its random testing and searches, trying to catch the responsible (or irresponsible?) parties. One of my friends got caught with weed at his bunk, and he was given several extra months’ prison time.
Eventually, my friend responded well to my counsel and even thanked me for pursuing him with it. He committed not only to stay away from the drug while in prison but also to hold himself to a standard of excellence once he eventually gets out of prison.
Praise God for the opportunity to see growth in this young man’s life. He has taken important steps that demonstrate sincerity, and I’m grateful for his friendship. God, keep me humble! Give me wisdom.