Just Keep Trying

Dear Church,

I got together with a friend on the morning of Labor Day for a nice, easy, humid run.  This friend has been connected to my life for nearly the past ten years.  I’ve journeyed with him through some extremely difficult circumstances, and through some extremely wonderful ones too.  He’s battled mental illness along with seasons of unemployment and under-employment.  For a long time, we prayed for a job and the Lord provided a great job.  For a long time, we prayed for a spouse and the Lord provided a spouse.  My friend has since moved out of the area and we’ve remained connected through calls, texts, emails and the occasional visit when he is back in town to see his parents.

Beginning around May of this past year, he shared with me that things weren’t going well in his marriage.  Together, they had sought out the counsel of a marriage therapist in hopes that some of the wounds of the past could be healed and they could grow, both as individuals and as a couple.  My friend acknowledged that there were things he had done that were destructive to his marriage and committed himself to making changes in his life.  He continued to seek the help of counselors, friends, pastor friends in the area and even a team of friends who would be serving as his accountability partners, of which, I was one.  I could see the transformation happening in my friend.  He was doing the difficult work of repentance and seeing fruits of redemption in his own spiritual and emotional health.  Then I got an email a few weeks ago letting me know that his wife was leaving him.  He told me that in her own words she admits to giving up.  I was devasted.  For my friend, for his wife (who is also a friend), for their families, for everyone. So, when my friend asked if we could get together for a run on Monday morning, I whole-heartedly accepted the invitation and was eager to know how he was doing.

He came to my doorstep like he always did for our runs with a big smile on his face.  The first mile of our run was joyful and full of laughter.  I was expecting him to be absolutely crushed in every sense of the word. To my surprise, he was upbeat, positive and jovial.  We of course talked about the current separation and pending divorce, but he shared those things in almost a hopeful way.  He told me that he had and will continue to do all that he can to make his marriage work, but that he can’t make his wife put the effort into being married.  Obviously, he was sad and deeply hurt, but there was also a sense of freedom in his spirit.  He commented to me, “Matt, I’m just going to keep trying.”

Now, I realize that I am only getting one side of the story and my friend acknowledges the role he has played in this situation. But what a hopeful word – “Matt, I’m just going to keep trying.”  Whether it be in marriage, or work benchmarks, or fitness goals, or anything really, the easy thing is to give up.  The easy thing is to call it quits.  That’s always the easier thing to do.  Making changes to something.  Remaining connected to something.  Being faithful to something is always, always, always the harder of the two choices. “I’m just going to keep trying” is always the harder of the two options we face.

I can’t help but think that so much of the Christian faith calls us to do just that – just keep trying.  Not that our trying can earn us God’s grace in some twisted works’ righteousness theology, but more in that our ability to remain accountable to living faithful and holy lives requires our best effort.  A better marriage, a more patient demeanor, a more growing church, a healthier relationship with kids, all of these things take effort.  The easier option is to just give up.  But a more faithful option is one that takes on characteristics of long obedience and patient suffering.  So, just keep trying.

Grace & Peace,

Pastor Matt