During my sophomore year at university, I met a freshman new to college life. His dad was a business-exec in a wealthy suburban neighborhood; my dad was the pastor of a poor church in a dodgy Detroit neighborhood. He studied performance violin; I studied physics.
His dad frequently traveled; my dad never missed family dinner. His older sisters taught him boys were naughty, and to flee from danger and dirt. My older brothers taught me that boys are fun, and that nothing is more fun than a set of bloody elbows and a pair of muddy trousers.
Nevertheless, a deep friendship was born. We played in racquetball matches, performed together in several small concerts, and sailed the Great Lakes. He asked my opinion when he switched majors from violin to computer science, and he gave me good advice when I switched from physics to history.
After school, we worked together for a few years. Then he took a job in Latin America and later in Europe. We saw each other infrequently, but our friendship always resurrected instantly.
After an absence of seven years, we met again a month ago, but he seemed distant and our former friendship felt aborted. We stumbled through family narratives, and we parted cordially. I emailed him the next day and suggested we not wait another seven years.
He didn’t respond.
Surprised by Tears
Three weeks after that depressing lunch, he finally responded to my email, beginning, “I couldn’t bring this up at lunch because I would have bawled like a baby.” Then he wrote,
When I first met you, I was not very masculine and desperately needed masculine role-models and friends. You became both. You showed me what it meant to be masculine and virtuous at the same time.
You could’ve just said, “That wimpy kid is a lost cause, don’t waste time on him,” but you didn’t. You pushed me in directions that helped me become the man I am.
I am incredibly grateful to you. You have no idea how much. I realize what a blessing you were in my life and I’ve never thanked you for being there as a friend, a mentor, and a brother.
I don’t tell you this story to share the impact of my life: I write it to show the impact of yours.
The Very Best Fruit
Every human being wants their life to matter. We consciously try to leave the world a better place; when the greatest fruit of our lives is always born unnoticed. But only by us. I was completely unaware of any impact my life had on my friend. If I listed the top hundred ways I may have influenced the world for good, his name would never have entered my mind.
I thought he was “just a friend.”
The Gospel of John explains the secret to a fruitful life: Abide in Christ. Oh, we work hard to build a legacy or leave an impact, but we will always be unaware of our greatest fruit, because God himself bears it through us. Our efforts are good; his efforts are longer lasting.
God’s way is better, it leaves no room for us to conceive self-conceit. Yes, let us consciously bring all the good we can to the world; but even more so, let us rejoice in the life of God in us. For he can do through us far more than we can ask or even imagine.
The fruit of Abraham’s life was not his conscious work conceiving Ishmael but the supernatural work of God in birthing Isaac.
There I was at lunch thinking my friend was cold and distant, when all the time he was near to tears. It never dawned on me. I never sensed it. I was ignorant. And when I read his email, I wept.
Boys may be fun, but their heads are very thick.
To nurture the life of God in us, who bears fruit through us even in our ignorance, I suggest you read Hearing God in Conversation.
After all, what did God save us for?
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