Even though my fifty hours of training in Christian care giving skills had been excellent and my pastor had assured me that the Spirit would be with me, guiding me, I was nervous. My butterflies and I took a moment to say a quick prayer before I called the phone number I’d been given to introduce myself.
“Hello, Mr. Best. I’m Kent Garry, a Stephen Minister from Sydenstricker United Methodist Church. Pastor Ed shared your name with me and said that you were receptive to the idea of being in a caring relationship with another Christian man. He asked me to contact you.”
“Yes,” the man on the other end of the connection responded. “I know who you are. I’ve seen you sitt’n up front with your wife every Sunday since I starting coming to your church.”
“May I call you by your Christian name, Mr. Best (not his real name)?”
“Yeah … It’s Roger (again, not his real name).”
“Thank you, Roger. How much did Pastor Ed tell you about Stephen Ministry,” I asked.
“Not very much that I can remember,” came Roger’s response. “He just said that he thought I might get some good out of meeting with someone … talking to someone like you on a regular basis.”
“Would you be willing to meet with me, Roger?”
“I donno,” Roger said. “You’re quite a bit younger than me. I’m looking for a wise man, somebody who can explain things to me… things like what Jesus meant when he said that he had come so that we might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
I did not try to explain what I thought this passage of scripture meant, not over the phone. I had wondered about it myself in the past and suspected that it had a deeper meaning than what many believe, that God rewards individuals materially for believing. I simply explained about the Stephen Ministry program of lay care giving and emphasized the program’s commitment to confidentiality.
Roger agreed to meet with me, face-to-face, one time, and later agreed to weekly, hour-long sessions that would continue for an indefinite period. During our times together I strived to listen more than talk and to let the process of caring facilitate God’s will.
The big break came for Roger one evening during the Advent season in the parking lot of our church as he and I sat in his car, the motor running to keep us warm. Roger was a smoker, and was more comfortable knowing that he was free to light up whenever he wanted. He had been telling me about how he missed his family this time of year, his sister and his son who was a product of his second marriage, a marriage that had ended as his first had ended, in divorce and a bitter property settlement fight.
“I send letters and I call,” he said, “but they never reciprocate. It’s like when I pray, I never get an answer.”
“Why do you think your sister and your son don’t answer you, Roger?”
“Has something happened in your relationship with them that has caused bitterness?” I asked.
“Whadda you mean?
“Have you hurt them in some way?”
“No … but I guess I have disappointed them?”
“No,” he said. Then, after a long pause, ” … over and over and over.”
It was a time for silent reflection. I said nothing. Then, after a time, Roger continued, “I’ve disappointed God too haven’t I?”
“I don’t know, Roger,” I said. “But I do know that no answer when we pray can sometimes mean that God is waiting for us to do something, waiting for our hearts to be willing to receive His answer.
Would it be okay if we prayed together now, Roger? Maybe we should ask what Jesus meant when He promised us life more abundant. Is there anything else we need to pray about?”
“Yes,” was Roger’s answer. “I want to ask God to forgive me for disappointing Him. I want to ask Him too to help me reconnect with my family; I miss them so much.”
Christmas Eve that year, as we gathered to worship, Roger introduced me to his son who had contacted him the very night that he and I had prayed together about forgiveness and restoring relationships.
God does answer prayers, in His own time and in His own way. Of this I have no doubt — not anymore. So, in this Advent season, my prayers are for forgiveness and restored relationships, the same things that troubled my care receiver so many years ago.
May God bless you and grant your special petitions this Christmas, the ones that truly matter.