As Max and I began to trudge through the murky road of his secret atheism, we were helpless to keep from being written out of the lives of our friends. The only thing I can liken it to is Matthew Crawley’s sudden departure from Downton Abbey, only Dan Stevens wanted to leave the show. One minute, Matthew was driving down the beautiful English countryside after the birth of his son. The next, the camera panned from the overturned AC Six Cabriolet and zoomed in on the blood trickling a path down his pulseless neck.
We were once main characters in our friends’ stories—years of countless afternoons and evenings spent together, enjoying food, movies, and laughter. Holidays with their extended families. But our exit from their stories wasn’t as swift and tidy as Dan’s was from Downton. It was a series of, “We’re busy this weekend,” and “Not feeling so well.” Six months later, it dawned on Max and I that we’d been written out and there was no going back.
Keep in mind that the people whose stories we were written out of are good people. I’m sure they felt the change in Max even if they didn’t know exactly what it was. I changed too. I grew silent about God anytime Max was around. I also couldn’t tell any of my friends what was really going on because it wasn’t my secret to tell. Since no real wrongs were committed, I did not have just cause to be angry. But what I did have was powerful.
At the foot of Anna’s bed, I would weep in silence while she slept on, blissfully unaware of the way her mom tried to hold the pieces of herself together. I’d weathered dark days before, but I’d never experienced such a profound feeling of aloneness. I did my best to not entertain my bitterness, but since I’d already opened the door and let it into my heart, it became so pronounced I could barely stand to hear the mere mention of a few whom I’d once considered my close friends.
I knew I was in the wrong. I also knew I could not change in my own power. So, I went to God, though it was pathetic at first. I’d rant about this and that and how it made me feel. And how much I knew I needed to forgive Jane Doe for what she’d done to hurt me, but I just wasn’t ready to let it go yet. Because most of the time, self-righteous bitterness feels good. I began to revel in it and play out mock scenes in my head where I gave Jane Doe a witty verbal smack-down and she was reduced to hiccuping sobs over the way she’d cast me off. I mean, is a bit of groveling too much to ask?
Especially when I consider all the hurt I’ve caused other people in my lifetime and how God forgives me every single time. As God slowly brought me to my senses, he began to grant me what bitterness stole—the want to forgive. The want to see those who have hurt me thrive and flourish. The want to love them in a new, fresh way. Now, every time bitterness pounds at my heart’s door, I send God to answer it—and it’s coming around far less. I’ve come to realize Max and I were never written out of our friends stories. We are still loved; we just play far less important roles.
I now believe these roles were meant to change. There are different friendships for different seasons and there is a natural ebb and flow as is the case with anything organic. The unwanted ebb of some of my friendships deepened the flow of a few others. Walking with a friend through tragedy and pain has a way of cementing said friendship in sweet ways.
Sweeter still was, and is, getting to experience a deeper friendship with God. Years before, I’d learned how to laugh with him. But had I never been so deeply wounded, I would never have learned how to be so deeply comforted. Countless times, I would ask God to hold me while I cried, which might sound dumb unless you’ve been there before. Every time I asked, I could feel him wrap his arms around the pieces of me. I felt his breath as he leaned down to kiss the top of my head as he listened to the newest thing to hurt my heart. He listened. He understood the depth of my pain like no one on earth ever could. He cared. He saw me when I felt invisible and friendless. He whispered to me time and again that he will never leave me or forsake me and that even if I took the wings of the morning and dwelled in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there his hand would lead me and his right hand would hold me. If friends had physically been available to me at my deepest moments of despair, I would’ve traded divine arms for human ones.
And truly, there is no comparison.
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted. Isaiah 49:13