Friend of Sinners
SEPTEMBER 9, 2023
Have you ever been so lonely you could die?
There’s a good kind of solitude. The kind that’s refreshing and renewing. The kind that allows a body to recharge and a mind to reset.
And then there’s the kind of solitude that brings with it an overwhelming feeling of desolation. It’s a feeling of abandonment. You don’t even have to be literally alone to feel it. No matter the circumstances, your heart is lonely.
I’ve wrestled with this feeling off and on throughout my life. I have always struggled with feeling disapproved of, with wanting to be known and understood and at the same time loved and accepted, but believing it wasn’t possible. And then, when I finally did find someone who loved me and accepted me, I made a miserable mess of the whole thing.
I brought a world of sinful habits and toxic behaviors into my marriage, mainly through the use of pornography. I tried to keep these sins hidden, but I couldn’t manage it for very long. Eventually, my ongoing, unrepentant betrayal blew up in my face. My marriage was wrecked. I was utterly alone again.
This was the worst experience of my life, but believe it or not, it was in this soul-shriveling battle for hope that I rediscovered a soul-filling faith. These are the kinds of times faith is really made for, after all. As long as life is comfortable and convenient, we can make do with a comfortable and convenient Christianity. As long as life is easy, we can manage with an easy-believism. But in our lowest moments, a superficial faith won’t hack it.
During that time, for about a year, I vacillated between an inconsolable sadness and a dangerous numbness. I spent countless nights facedown on the floor of that guest bedroom, begging God to do something for me. To do what? I wasn’t sure. I just knew I needed him to fix it. (You pray totally differently when you feel your very life is at stake.) I had come to the end of my rope.
And then one night, circumstantially no different from any of the previous nights, something different happened. I was crying into the carpet as I had hundreds of times before, pleading with God to help me, and there was a change. I felt as if God reached through the roof into that room and grabbed me in his hand. I was reminded of the message of the gospel, the good news that God loves even sinners like me and that God approves even of sinners like me because of the saving work of Jesus. It wasn’t a message I didn’t know. It wasn’t a message I hadn’t heard before. But I heard it that night as if for the first time.
In a very real way, at the moment I most deserved to be utterly alone and rejected, Jesus came into that room, sat on the floor next to me, put his arm around me, and said, “It’s going to be okay.”
At the lowest moment of my life, I came face-to-face with my real self. And I came face-to-face with the truest friend.
I found him true because at that moment I had the least to offer him. I had nothing, in fact. Oh, sure, in the early days of my spiritual journey, I thought I was doing all kinds of big things for Jesus. I operated under the pretense that I was a great friend to him. Then all of that got torn away. I knew myself then better than I ever had. I couldn’t pretend I had it all together. I couldn’t fool others, and I couldn’t fool myself. My true self had emerged, and he was a huge, stinking mess.
To my surprise, my friend Jesus didn’t pull away. Instead, believe it or not, he got closer.
In my deepest, most despondent loneliness, I found a deeper friendship with Jesus. I learned that the power of the gospel is available even to sinful Christians who should know better.
I’m still a terrible friend to Jesus. But he is still the truest friend to me.