Doctor L sat across from me, his left leg crossed across his right knee so that his skinny argyle clad ankle showed, bony fingers intertwined while stroking his beard, eyes creased merrily. Merry is his normal expression, the expression of a man whose conversation I have come to enjoy immensely in the past weeks, a friend as much as a counselor. One does not need to know the man to know he is Jewish, his appearance says that, the richness of his faith evident in the conversations we have. The doctor is excited to be able to talk about his faith with me, my strong background as a Christian something he appreciates, and often our conversations go in the direction of how our faith in God affects our lives.
He was about to share something about faith, his posture giving him away, his smile showing the satisfaction of the God he loves to talk about.
“There is a willingness in people who believe that there is life after death, a heaven where life continues, a better life than here. They are able to accept a life here that is less than acceptable, live in pain, stay in a relationship or a career that does nothing for them, all because there is something waiting on the other side. They ask God to do something about the pain they are experiencing here, but they don’t really expect it to change or they don’t do anything to change it because of the hope that something better is waiting on the other side of death.”
He paused again, hands uncrossed and now folded across his lap, a signal that it was my turn to talk. His statement had struck a chord, a bit of that thought ringing true with me, maybe because Doctor L was going somewhere close to the destination my thoughts were already going. The man is not going to give me specific advice, I know, but there are times when it is real evident he is trying to get a certain point across to me. The man is also a good listener, a quality any counselor should have, but he seems to do it better than most. It seems like he leads me to a place where I am already going and I know it’s because he is listening to what I am saying.
He also knows that it often takes very little to animate me, to engage the talker I can be. This was a thought I could wrap my mind around.
I had just read James 4 in my bible that morning.
What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
Life is so short.
“What do you think is going to happen? What is heaven going to be like?”
I had to confess that I really don’t know. There is that inkling of a notion that heaven is a second chance, a place where not only is my body is new but I will have a shot at relationships that I missed or had put aside in my youthful foolishness. New relationships, full in not only a sexual way but a relational way made rich by the presence of God. Better. Heaven may just give me hope that the relational emptiness, the lack of meaningful touch, is only temporary and renewed when I get there. Is heaven a place of constant and eternal worship or singing, bowing to an everlasting sovereign God? Maybe it is.
“If it is, then why be satisfied with what does not satisfy me here on earth?” It wasn’t the doctor who presented that question. I asked that question, not really of Doctor L, but really just so I could say it out loud.
The message he was trying to get me to understand is pretty simple. We had spent the few minutes leading up to his statement talking about not only how Christians approach the notion of divorce but also how Jewish law approaches divorce. We even talked about how the purpose of marriage has evolved in our modern world, how it has gone from a practical arrangement less geared toward romance, more towards survival, to one that has become focused on relationships and meeting emotional needs.
And he got my wheels churning. Thinking about change.. it is the end of the year, after all. My thoughts do go to that, my natural tendency to internally organize taking me there whether I realize it or not. The biggest arguments I have had with my wife, ones that have focused on what I need changed, have come at this time of year, a huge one happening on January 1st of this year. Coincidence? Maybe not.
The good Doctor L assumed the pose again.
“Much of the Jewish religion is about peace, finding it and giving it. We even make concessions in the name of peace when it comes to marriage, allowing one untruth to be told. Do you know what that is?”
No. Please tell me. This should be interesting.
“You should tell an ugly woman at her wedding that she is beautiful.”
Nice story. Funny. But what does that mean to me?
“Sometimes we lie to ourselves, make our situation out to be something it is not, all in the interest of peace. No one wants to be a bad person.”
True enough, but is anyone really a bad person? A person can do bad things, we all do and we are all sinners, but our sin does not make us bad. I understand that.
“Nothing you do is going to make you a bad person. And you can not let that hold you back.”
I am changing whether I want to or not. Even my willingness to talk to the good doctor is evidence of that, my central Illinois macho male put aside in the interest of finding a way to wrestle with my demons.
The doctor stood and I stood on cue with him, his arm outstretched in my direction, hand on my shoulder as he smiled warmly. This day, as usual, he had given me a lot to think about. Shared that peace, gave me a reason to put away that ugly bride persona.
“Until next time, my friend”