In Praise of Friendship Amidst the Poo-Tornados of Life
FEBRUARY 9, 2023
Smarty pants theologians call the tough underbelly of life the place where God makes Christians into “theologians of the cross.”
Maybe so, but for now, I’ll settle for calling the last five years my own personal “crap tornado.”
Sometimes life just sucks, doesn’t it?
I don’t mean it’s all bad. I’ve got food in my belly and breath in my lungs. I had a great time this summer skipping rocks at the lake with my kids, and eating too many s’mores. I have hot running water and an internet connection. But no matter how furiously I bob and weave, those globs of kaka just keep a-coming my way in the form of career landmines, relational strain, and having to unlearn my own misguided strategies for life.
Sometimes my snarky description of life helps me laugh off the depression, but the reality is that sometimes dodging life’s layers of high velocity airborne poo isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s not funny at all. Sometimes being in the middle of that vortex can be downright paralyzing.
To fight back the darkness, we all need some lighthearted fun to keep things in perspective from time to time. That’s where skateboarding and firepits come in.
In my teens and early twenties I used to go out skateboarding as often as I could. So fueled by a little nostalgia, the last couple summers I’ve been teaching my two girls the basics at a local skatepark. And while we’re all at it, I’ve regained balance on my board too. Sorta. At least until I didn’t.
I swear to you I’m not trying to show off in front of my kids. I’m middle aged now, and I know I’m not ever going to drop into the deep end of the bowl and shred a 50-50 smith grind. But I have tried to retain my skill on a few teeeeny flip tricks rolling along the flatter areas of the park. Well, after one of those cautious maneuvers, my left knee decided it didn’t want to cooperate. The result was a torn ACL.
After a few minutes of closed eyed deep breathing and trying not to vomit from the pain, I tried to stand up. Well, that was a mistake. It hurt so bad I couldn’t put weight on it, and I hopped on one foot toward our car. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up that one-footed hopping an entire city block, and as I was realizing this, two guys at the basketball court noticed I was having trouble and graciously offered to help. They basically carried me back to my car. I’m thankful for guys like that. Imagine that, good citizens doing a good deed for the sake of their fellow human being…
And that’s kind of like life, isn’t it? Sometimes you’re rolling along and you get taken out—snap—and you’re down for the count. After those kinds of breakages, you’re not going to get to where you’re going without a little help. That’s where the firepit part of the fun comes in.
A couple buddies and I meet up for semi-regular firepit hangouts. We drink cheap beer, burn busted up pallets, and talk about the oft-times confusing and painful aspects of careers, marriage, and parenting. Mostly, we cut up and self-deprecatingly tell cringe-worthy tales like mid-life skateboarding mishaps. But amidst the clowning around, I like to think we show one another the kindness of Jesus. Sometimes when we’re stuck, paralyzed or in pain, we can lean on one another so we can get to where we need to go.
I’ll admit, when the poo-tornados touch down in my own life, I’ve always been a little pissed that I don’t “feel” that peace that passes understanding I keep hearing so much about on those inspirational Instagram posts. Mostly, I just lay awake staring at the ceiling lost in an anxiety vortex worrying about unpaid medical bills and job security. I dunno, maybe holy spirit hugs are reserved for our charismatic brothers and sisters. But then I remember, “Oh yeah! God uses means in our lives.” As in, he feeds us by sending bakers that bake the cupcakes, and truck drivers that deliver the cupcakes to the store so I can consume them. (I know, I know. I should probably be eating more kale.)
And while I wish God would do a few magic tricks to gift me with a cheerier personality, heal decades-old relational wounds, and give me the winning lottery numbers, I’m reminded once again that God uses means. Means like kind hearted friends who will stand around a firepit with me when I’m paralyzed by the fear induced tornados of life. In those moments, those guys show me the kindness of Jesus. We don’t say any prayers, there are no spiritual exhortations, “man-up” lectures or parsing the Hebrew from Job. Just kindness. It’s almost like—as paralyzed as I can often get—they bring me to Jesus.
In Mark 2, three friends of a paralyzed guy were doggedly insistent about getting their buddy in front of Jesus. But the people surrounded Jesus, and there was no chance of maneuvering a stretcher through the crowd. So these three friends, they went up to the top of the house, tore a hole in the roof, and lowered the guy down right in front of the son of God. Dang. That’s determination. That’s friendship.
I’m not exactly tearing off roof panels to clear the way for my bros, and neither are they. The only exertion happening is when someone puts another log on the fire. But when any of us lack faith or are paralyzed by life’s trials, we lift each other up. Each of us has got a shoulder or two to lean on. I’ll admit it, my take on this is a stretch: the paralytic’s physical debilitation and my first-world problems poo-tornados aren’t a one-to-one correlation. Not at all. The correlation may even come from the lame sermon illustrations file, but I’ll take all the encouragement I can get these days.
In the meantime, Jesus hasn’t exactly “healed” or fixed anything in present tense life, but through the kind friendship of others, and the friendship I’m blessed to extend myself, I glimpse the face of Jesus, and I’m thankful.
Get Matt Johnson’s book, Getting Jesus Wrong, here