Floating debris. A handful of survivors hanging onto wreckage for dear life. Traces of a commercial jetliner floating in the Potomac’s icy waters. All these news media images raced back into my mind from an event that devastated lives and families years ago. But now I felt like one of those survivors.
No, I was not a crash victim, but my world had just fallen apart. Because of my own moral failure and irresponsible behavior, I lost everything.
Yes, I still had my forgiving wife and loving children, but little else. The career and reputation it took years to develop were gone in a heartbeat, and I was left with just the pieces. I felt like I was drowning in the icy waters of despair.
Without a job, without income, and without my many social associations, the days following my spiritual failure and confession crawled by like epochs. The phone that regularly rang off the hook now mocked in silence. The driveway normally filled with cars became a playground for our cats. Even my e-mail inbox looked like old network TV at midnight after the stations signed off for the night.
In all my Christian life, I had never felt so alone. I was certainly experiencing the Biblical principle, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7).
Again, my mind raced back to images of the shattered fuselage in the middle of Washington, D.C.’s river. But this time, I remembered a story about that incident. A man jogging across a nearby bridge saw the plane plummet and disintegrate in the water. Without thinking of himself, he found a rope that he tied around his waist, and he began to swim in the freezing waters.
He went as far as he could toward the numbed and bewildered survivors, who were fighting shock. Although he could not rescue them, he knew he could talk to them and keep their hopes alive while help was on its way. And that’s exactly what he did. He shouted to them, asked them questions, kept them engaged, and reassured them of imminent rescue.
I prayed for such a person in my own life. Someone to tie the rope around his waist, to risk the cold water of associating with me, to tell me there is hope. My former Christian coworkers were forbidden to speak with me. Other friends chose not to. (They probably didn’t know what to say and felt rather awkward.) But God did answer my prayer.
Donald, a former colleague, chose to look past my sin and see my need. He believed in the genuineness of my repentance, and purposed to be God’s reminder of His grace. As soon as he heard the news of my fall, he called me. We talked for nearly an hour.
He listened patiently as I poured out my soul, and I could hear comfort in his tone of voice. He reminded me of the certainty of God’s forgiveness and love, and assured me that one day the pieces of my life would reassemble, at least internally, as I continued to obediently trust in God.
He affirmed my submission to church discipline and chose to follow Paul’s injunction to the Corinthians with another individual who had submitted to such discipline: “This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him” (2 Corinthians 2:6–8).
From that first conversation on, Donald persisted as the Hound of Heaven. He e-mailed me verses from Psalms, Proverbs, and the Epistles, called me regularly, and always asked me how I was doing. He’ll never know the cruciality of the role he played. In my mind, he was just like that jogger who jumped into a frigid river to shout out words of hope.
It wasn’t long before Donald was joined by another, and still another. These friends became my link with spiritual healing. Even the local Baptist church of which I am a member led me through church discipline with loving accountability and counsel to the embrace of restoration. They reflected to me God’s promise of 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Today, in an answer to the prayers of Donald and other faithful friends, I stand as one restored. My life has been rebuilt by the Giver of grace and mercy. And although the scars and consequences of my sin will always remain (just as in the case of David in the Old Testament), God has given me the evidences of His loyal love.
Donald taught me the true meaning of friendship. As the Bible teaches, “A friend loves at all times” (Proverbs 17:17); and “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). During this horrendous experience, I did learn many critical life lessons. One of those was the blessing of knowing some true friends. Now, I want to be a friend like that to others (John 15:12; Romans 5:8).
The author was formerly a GARBC ministry leader who was disciplined for moral failure. His friend, “Donald,” was a ministry leader who reached out to him during the restoration process. This article was published in Horizons (Winter 2002–2003). Reprinted by permission of the authors and Regular Baptist Press.
Remembering My Friend
Leo is my friend. For over 30 years we have shared fun and laughter, intellectual and spiritual interaction, and the kind of deep, meaningful conversations between men that can take place only after a level of trust and brotherly love has been gained. He is a true friend. He is a gift from God to my life.
When Leo needed a friend, I did not become his friend, I remained his friend. On the one hand, this was simply the act of what we were—friends. On the other hand, as a friend, I chose to remain his friend as I should. The Scriptures teach that “a friend loves at all times” (Proverbs 17:17). It was not a special or heroic choice for me to simply live out that truth. After all, Leo is my friend.
Leo made it easy to remain his friend because he handled his issue with true repentance, sincere humility, and submission to the will of God. God made it easy to remain Leo’s friend because He assigned others to handle the process of restoration. Their role was counsel and accountability. My role was one of friendship expressed through prayer and conversation. My friendship tasks included listening, encouraging, offering perspective, urging hope, and, perhaps most importantly, loving Leo at the moment when he needed to be loved by a friend. If anything, the moment gave me opportunity to simply do what Jesus commanded: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34).
Although it would seem that I was the “friend” at the time of Leo’s need, he was equally my friend at the same moment. He continued to love God and live out that love even in the depth of his despair. He continued to love me and dwell in the friendship we shared. That was as important for me as it was for him. Unto this day I am pleased to say Leo is my friend.