At fifteen he is needing to know. Disconnected from his peers, not fitting in, he is seeking a sense of purpose and meaning. His girlfriend is disappointing him... she does not want to come to the church meeting with the evangelists from the city. He goes, listening for all he is worth, wanting to believe, not able to make it happen.
The speaker notices him listening and finds him after the service. "You were paying more attention than most of them." The boy is sad; he can't see, he can't understand, he wants to know... but there is no knowing.
At university the lecturers will speak of the Green Revolution and the International Rice Research Institute with evangelical fervour. There is an opportunity to be part of the saving of the world. Some of his classmates will go overseas to the developing world, evangelists of the new science. But he is not convinced. What is the point of all this... something does not ring true... he needs to know something... but he does not know what that something is.
As even the runner's highs and the frenetic high speed rides through the hills fail to stave off his pain, he reads the Gospel of Matthew. "If this is true, I am on the wrong side," he decides and starts a new journey through the church, armed with a new knowledge and a new reason for life. It changes slowly from faith held from fear of emptiness and no reason to live and the fear of death, to love for people and a passion for justice based simply on the fact that God is... or at least so he feels.
The pain is always close by. It takes only a little for loneliness and uncertainty to roll over him, and churning recycling doubt and self loathing to hammer into his soul. Run and swim. Sleep well, don't get too tired. Take time to think things through, love your pain. Don't get too busy. And the pain can be managed. But life is always hard.
Friends give him an outrageously loud t-shirt... to brighten him up they say, since he is always so gloomy. He is really hurt by this... and insulted. He never wears it. His wife wears it for a night shirt. A lecturer tells him he should be more cheerful... as if it is as easy as just deciding!
Slowly he finds a ministry in accepting the pain. Not being afraid of it. Looking it in the face. Women tell him of the rape that shattered their life. He fixes the door of the terrified woman living under another name, afraid the man will find her again and come in through her un-lockable screen door. Widowers confide of their guilty masturbation. People share their unbelief in God, and their doubt, and their wishing to die. Wives speak of the pain of unfeeling clod-headed-husbands. From his own pain he can listen to anyone's, then go home and work it all out in long walking and ocean swims.
Pain never goes away, but there is a reason to it all. Even a redeeming power at work.
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