Near Faith Experiences

All around us this season are near-faith experiences – experiences of other people’s faithfulness that challenge us to evaluate how we live our own lives.

My friend, Marlene, lost her dad a few weeks ago. I never met her father, but I have known Marlene for years. She came with my wife, Maureen – it was a package deal.

Marlene read at our wedding. No, she proclaimed the Word at our wedding. She found such joy in proclaiming one of the readings we had chosen and took pride in delivering the message directly to us.

I have known Marlene to be a person of faith since I met her. She challenges me when I need to be challenged, telling me lovingly but forcefully exactly what I need to here. Among all my close friends – and there are not that many – I count on her to be direct, to bring Jesus back into the conversation when I have made it mostly about myself, and to offer just enough snark to keep things that could be emotionally heavy light enough to believe they are manageable, survivable, and even embraceable.

So, naturally, when I heard that her dad was dying, I offered my prayers and good wishes. Through Maureen’s text exchange, I kept tabs on the family. And that is when the friend I thought I knew challenged me even more.

In one particular text exchange, she admitted that her father was hanging on to what little life there was in his body not because he wanted to live, but because he was afraid of death. Specifically, he was afraid of going to hell. You see, his relationship with Marlene was not always the best. They struggled like many children do with their parents and her father was now admitting that he had not been present enough, had not been loving enough, had not been faithful enough. The thought of dying scared him not because he would miss those who he left behind, but because he was facing the reality that throughout his life, he had not prepared well for what came next.

I should pause here and tell you that Marlene is the consummate youth minister. She has led hundreds of retreats, given talks all over the place, led a parish, a deanery, and contributed more than most to raising a generation of faithful teenagers around the country. She has also suffered much – at the hands a Church that  sometimes forgets its mission, at the hands of doctors who don’t get it right the first time, and at the hands of self-proclaimed Christians who aren’t really that nice after all.

It would have been easy for Marlene to just pat her father on the head and say, “There, there, it will be alright” – or even easier to up the medication so her dad just slips away. But that is not what my friend did. Not even close.

Instead, she admitted that she had witnessed to thousands of young people about the love of Jesus Christ. She had prayed with and for teens and their families. She had written and studied, and taught countless adult leaders on what it means to be a witness of the faith. But never, not once, did she recall being a witness to her dad.

So that’s what she did.

When her dad died, he did so with his eyes closed and his heart full. His daughter had helped him journey from darkness to light, from fear of the unknown to dreams of dancing with his late wife like they did at their wedding. Marlene had opened her heart and her mouth and let God go to work. Through her, God spoke, God acted, God touched – and forgiveness was found. No more fear. No more anxiety. Just peace. Those left behind would be fine, knowing that dad would join the angels and saints in that heavenly banquet our faith promises – and because dad knew this too, the end was not a struggle, but a gentle stride into the loving arms of a Savior he met through his daughter.

I love my friend. Not just because she is always teaching me, but because she is always reminding me that life is not about me, it’s about the Jesus all around me that I often forget to introduce to others.


This originally appeared on Patrick Donovan’s personal blog, Five Minutes on Monday.


Image by GoranH on Pixabay