Tears fell softly on a summer Sunday morning, soaking the pew between his legs. By this time she would be gone. She was already gone, gone the moment he had said goodbye; off to travel the world, to go and make something of life, to grab a hold of something worth fighting for a wrestle it to the ground wrapped in her arms. To make it hers. Her dreams, her desires, her hopes and plans and future and, everything. Everything but him. He loved her for that. He hated her for it.
She was already gone. There was no helping it, and yet… but no. He could do nothing but leave it in God’s hands, he had said his peace. He had laid out as much as he would, as much as he dared. “Boundaries,” he thought dully, “you have to respect her boundaries, even if you don’t like it.” He couldn’t help if those boundaries kept what he would call the wrong things out and the wrong things in. “That isn’t my decision.” He wished it were.
He hadn’t pined after her for as long as he had thought when she first left. It hurt badly, but months proved long enough to slowly ease the ache from his chest, to soothe the pain from his bones, to give him energy to crawl out of bed. He thought it may last years, originally, thought he may never recover. He was wrong, yet, he was also right. Seeing her again had proven it. “I should not have seen her again. I should have left well enough alone.”
Leaving well enough alone was never his strength, though. Even with a card up his sleeve and the deck stacked he would play the losing play. He always had. Part of him thought he always would. In many ways he couldn’t help it. “There’s no helping it now,” he thought, “done is done.” He had said his peace.
Thoughts swirled around his head, cascaded down rapids of uncertainty, tinged with doubt and stubbornly refusing to give way to any amount of reason, however great. He could not convince himself that he had no answers, he thought he knew so well. Thought that he could answer the “why” that was ever present. That question that oft goes unanswered. He couldn’t, and although knowing the truth, he never convinced himself of it.
Nothing hurt so bad as leaving things be a few nights before. Waiting patiently for the other player to decide to pick up her hand. To play cards, any cards. “Mountains,” he muttered within himself, “as if I didn’t realize there would be mountains.”
That had been her response to his testing of the waters. “There are mountains between us,” she had said. He had gone into the conversation fully aware of the myriad of challenges they would face, he felt he may know some of them better than her, but instantly dismissed that as foolishness. “You hurt her far more than she you, fool, and she broke your heart.” He was no fool, but he was certainly thinking foolishly.
To consider it now seemed nonsense to him. “I can do nothing, change nothing,” he murmured within, “only wait.” He didn’t know if he would ever hear from her again. He didn’t know if he wanted to hear from her. He didn’t know if he would survive if he didn’t. He didn’t know.
Praying, he lifted up his face to ask God, “Would you give me peace? Over this situation, over our lives, our decisions, would you give me peace? Help me give this to you, Lord, help me see you as my savior, and not her. Help me, Lord, help me.” For a while all he prayed was “help me, Lord”. For a while, that was all he could say, could think. Sitting helpless in the pew, he felt grief overtake him again.
A hand lay gently on his back, a woman from church, aware of the Spirit’s prompting and quick to act, praying with him and for him. She couldn’t know the pain of 3 years boiling up inside him, and yet her hand was comforting his sorrow. Unwittingly, she placed it right where the pain was, the Spirit guiding her every move.
He had no words for those around him as service came to a close, had no way of expressing the pain, helplessness, and hopelessness he felt. How could you rip open your chest to show red hot veins of molten emotion searing through you? How could you help someone feel the complexity in the mixture of joy and pain, loss and gain, depression and hopefulness, anxiety and peace? Opposites seeming to come together in one encounter, one night, just about 2 hours total. It couldn’t have been that long, it felt like moments, but, it felt like eternity.
It always was like that with her.
Walking limply around the pews, saying brief hellos to those who stopped him, he made his way out. He forced polite conversation, trying to care for those who he truly cared for, trying to talk about something, anything, as long as he was talking. “Be normal, you don’t have to be fake, but you don’t have to break down, either.” Not sure if he managed that, he squeezed his way around the pews, out the door, and into the parking lot. As he sat down in the seat of his car, he let out a long exhale, gave himself a shake, and let his spirit weep while his body remained unmoved.
He thought again of how wonderful it had been to see her. He considered how beautiful she had grown, not in a physical way, but in a way far more real than that. She was still beautiful to look at, but somehow the realness of life had set in, the challenge and the pain of it. She was more, and yet, it was on account of the reality of life. He thought of how she had grown up in a few years, with so much more growth to do, so much of herself still yet uncovered to her own eyes. So much she knew, so much she didn’t.
She had mentioned that, talking about her internship and the learning she had been doing. He wondered quickly if she ever thought that way about herself, the needle that points her to God. Does she ever wonder if she truly knows who she is? Does she ever think, “why am I so driven? Why am I afraid of failing? Why do I look forward so often? What makes me tick? What is pushing me towards the things I think I want?” These are questions he often asked himself, he wondered if she ever asked herself those same things.
Maybe she did, but he may never know. Maybe she was afraid of the answers, or maybe she didn’t care about them. Maybe she knew the answers and they drove her forward. Maybe she thought life was not about answering those questions at all. He did. He believed God wants us to be fully ourselves, and to do that we have to know ourselves. We can’t do that without those questions. Perhaps she didn’t feel the same?
“Gah! It doesn’t matter right now, because you can’t do anything about anything. You said your peace and need to let it go.” But he couldn’t.
He couldn’t really let it go because he didn’t want to. He didn’t want to let go of possibility. He didn’t want to let go of hope. He didn’t want to let go of despair. He liked feeling so intensely, he wanted to, he needed to. Long ago he became addicted to intense emotions and he did what he could to feel those still. Sometimes, that involved jerking his emotions around himself, neurologically destroying pathways that were meant for good. Using food, sex, and imagination to give himself emotional highs, or lows, and often both in quick sequence. It was his drug. It always had been. He couldn’t remember a time when it wasn’t.
Knowing this did little to help overcome it, but, being honest with himself, he hadn’t known this for very long. Months, maybe? So much growth had happened in the past year for him, so much uncovered about himself. He knew himself fairly well, he figured, and could say many reasons for ways he reacted and responded. He was proud of that. Not in any braggadocio way, but in the subtle satisfaction of hard work done well. He knew himself because he worked to. He struggled to. That was good.
Self-knowledge doesn’t create instant sanctification, however. The work left to do in that area was intense. He would need much prayer, and fasting, to overcome these vices. “Those are all things that require no woman,” he thought wryly, “and all God.” It was true, he knew, but just because it was true didn’t mean it was welcome in his head. Truth almost always requires a battle to stick, and though he battled daily for truth, it was a long war. He didn’t welcome the war, but he fought it anyway.
With how much he grew to know himself, he knew that she would need the same, and the same sanctification. He didn’t think she was particularly sinful, just realized all humans require intense periods of cleansing from God. Sighing yet again, he pressed the clutch to the floor and turned the key. His car hummed and beeped to life. He wished it were that easy to change his own emotions. Laughing at himself, he backed out of the parking spot.
“But it was nice to see her, regardless of anything else,” he thought once more. “If nothing else, I can be thankful she decided to share one more night with me, however brief and seemingly meaningless. If nothing else, there’s that.”
Driving off, he kept the radio off and hoped to hear a message of peace from God, medicine to his weary soul. Driving off, he barely kept tears back.