Advice From A Friend

By JIM NICHOLS

The friend listened for a long time on the phone. He did not interrupt; he just listened. The two had known each other for decades and, though they seldom communicated now because of distance, they still “connected” in important ways. Initially, this was a wide-ranging conversation with lots of family and personal updating being exchanged. This last topic, however, was notably more important, at least to the one posing the question. The friend responded.

“You have put years of thought and numerous discussions into this concern. You have martialed reasonable arguments and presented them persuasively in multiple settings. It now seems, despite all that, the decision will be for the group to go the other direction, against what you desire. There is no reason for you to be angry nor is there any reason why you must acquiesce to a stance with which you do not agree. You have presented your arguments as best you could and I believe God has blessed them. I believe it is perfectly reasonable for you to choose not to support what you consider is an incorrect decision. Despite your misgivings about this move, you are brave enough to make it. I also believe you will feel a weight lifted from you by allowing yourself to move on from this issue with the decision completed. I am sure that God has some other uses for you besides this topic.” 

Have you ever wrestled with a decision for a long time and then finally realized that the time had come to end that wrestling match? What was it that caused you to reach that decision point? 

For me, in some cases it has been when I sense the same message from God but coming from different directions. For instance, my morning Bible reading addresses a particular concern and then, within the hour, I hear a song that speaks of the same issue. Or, I have a conversation with a friend and the same topic arises. Or, I am tasked with developing an argument for some class and, during my deliberation, a colleague comes to my door and asks advice about an amazingly similar item.

Some would say these are just coincidences, but my faith explains them in a more purposeful way. Perhaps we too often ignore the mysteries of the world and, in some cases, attribute them to simply coincidence. Frederick Buechner suggests that there may be a lot more going on in our lives than we either know or care to know, something more mysterious.

When we sit with someone whose wisdom we respect, their words speak to our hearts in a manner that informs a part of us that needs to be reached. Their words may be convicting or even critical, but we hear them in a manner we know is not an accident. We may not necessarily agree with their words, but they do sit there and require that we give them serious consideration.

In other cases, as in the illustration at the start, the words become affirmation that the most logical decision to us is actually being validated by someone else—someone else we trust deeply.

Perhaps lurking amongst this discussion somewhere is the Holy Spirit. My hunch is that all the smart and inspired people of the past who have struggled with what, exactly, the Holy Spirit is doing might have come up short. The Spirit is not just a retired author of the Bible. Is it taking too much of a leap to suggest that at least one of the current activities of the Spirit is to orient songs, scripture passages, writings by thoughtful authors, and even serious reflections by trusted friends in such a way as to clarify dilemmas we face at a particular time?

We could be wrong; the Spirit may not speak as clearly as we wish. We must, however, be willing to not know and to forgive and to allow the Spirit to speak to others, perhaps in conflicting ways to ours. Nevertheless, we must avoid the paralyzing stance of not acting simply because we are not 100% sure we are correct.  Although ambiguities may exist, as people of God we need to develop a strong tolerance for such ambiguities. We either have to believe in God’s grace when we do something wrong or dumb, or we will live as uncertain, frightened, indecisive, and unhelpful semi-followers of God.

Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain

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