Sometimes the hardest part of loving people is that you don’t always get to hear the whole song.
You reach out. In a time of need or hurt or maybe even hope.
And you get pushed away.
You get chased away.
You get shoved away.
And you wait and you help and you stand in the storms of life with someone, and you feel like you are throwing a ball against a wall. You can’t tell if any of it matters. If your words or your actions matter at all. You think about giving up. You feel called to be salt and light, we know that’s printed in red, but sometimes in the space between hours and arguments, it’s hard to feel that way.
You keep loving. You keep hoping to see a change, not because it’s all about change, but because that would at least be a crack of light under the door.
But the light never comes. The door is never opened, even a little, and then they disappear. Not dramatically, maybe. They don’t float away on a hot air balloon or in a fast car. The ebb and flow of life just drifts them away. You feel you’ve wasted your time or maybe their time or everybody’s time.
They were so eager to blow things up. So eager to sink their own ship with bad, easy-to-spot decisions. The bridge was out ahead. You saw that a mile away, but they ignored you and kept driving. So unwilling to stop the car until it had hurtled deep into the valley of regret.
You forget about them. Or, mostly, you forget. A year gets stacked on another year and stacked on another year, until that person becomes one more person you reached out to who didn’t reach back. One more person you helped who ignored your help.
That’s the hard part about loving someone. Sometimes we don’t get to hear the whole song. We get to be a verse or a single lyric in someone’s journey, but the song doesn’t resolve. We watch relationships fade into the horizon, not really knowing if we’ve made a difference.
But sometimes, in moments that are so comical you can’t help but laugh, God plays the last note right in front of you.
That’s what happened to me three weeks ago.
I was a mess in college. There’s no need to dress it up with stories or adjectives. I was a mess. And in the midst of that, a guy named Dave Waller reached out to me. With no agenda, and at no benefit to him, he was kind to me. Time and time again as a student minister, he reached out to me at Samford University. And then I disappeared back to Boston and never saw him again.
That was 14 years ago.
Three weeks ago, I spoke at the Orange Conference. When I walked off stage, someone said, “There’s a guy at the edge of the crowd that wants to say ‘hi’ to you.” I walked into the dark of the room, passed the soundboard, and against the security barrier…
…there stood Dave Waller.
He laughed. We hugged. (I did a much better job with that hug than I did with my on-stage Reggie hug.) We caught up for a few minutes and exchanged phone numbers.
That night, Dave texted me. Here is what he said:
“Hey Jon. It’s Dave Waller. I’m so proud of you. All I think about was the last time we went to lunch, and you were so hurt. And frustrated with life. To see you now is awesome.”
I don’t know who the Jon Acuffs are in your life right now.
I don’t know who you are reaching out to that is just a jerk right now.
I don’t know who seems oblivious to your kindness right now.
I don’t know how you are helping someone who seems blind to your help right now.
But I do know what I’d say to you right now:
Don’t give up on people who have given up on themselves.
Don’t quit just because it seems hopeless.
Fourteen years ago, Dave Waller didn’t. In the last lunch we ever had, I walked in a mess and left a mess. Dave had better things to do. Things that would have shown more immediate results or progress or improvement. He could have given up, because it’s not easy. Sometimes we don’t get to hear the whole song.
But sometimes we do and, in dark arenas in unexpected moments spanning a decade, God reminds us why you and I have got to keep singing.