I gave up reading the blogs and MySpaces of our students this year because they weren’t having a good effect on me. Without sounding arrogant, I’ve heard it all before, and the personal references to my school, my friends, my fellow teachers and my life’s mission weren’t giving me any motivations or insights that truly mattered.
Student writers say some things that inspire me, and some say things that stir me up to be a better preacher and campus minister. But I didn’t like knowing so much about some of our students. The gossip and bragging about immorality, the tales of misbehavior, the determination to lie, the stories of abuse and dysfunction, the demeaning of education and faith…these are all things that surround me and knowing the names and faces simply distracted me into cul de sacs that weren’t good for me mentally or emotionally.
So I stopped reading those student blogs…all except for one. One has captured my attention- and my prayers- for most of the year.
Her name is Susan (not her name.) Other staff tell me she was a student on our campus for part of a year. I don’t remember her. Her picture is striking. She’s attractive; blessed with a simple, innocent beauty that is all the more haunting when one knows she has traded away her childhood innocence for the usual menu of illusions, poisons and heartbreak our culture offers to girls who will live an immoral life at the disposal of men. Someone’s daughter; someone’s treasured little girl; someone’s heart and soul joy…now far, far away from what any mom or dad would ever dream or imagine for their child.
She hasn’t been able to relate much to or live with her parents for some time. Her deepest emotional bonds are with friends, but sadly, most of those friends have moved on in their lives, while she has taken a road that has isolated her from her friends and classmates. She misses them, and wishes she could turn the clock back to when her friends were close. She looks like she might have been a cheerleader or an athlete, and she writes with engaging correct prose and a confident voice. She’s smart. I’d love to have her as a student now, and have the chance to point her to the Gsopel and a different life.
She’d have done well in college, and she writes of wanting to go to school, or to get married and start a family. She’s been forced to work to survive, and her talents are quickly recognized. She moved up quickly in her training class, and was offered promotions almost immediately. She took pride in her job and the opportunities it created for her. God made her gifted. A leader, a quick learner, an individual with survival skills.
What captured my heart was the compromise Susan made in order to live her life without school and away from her parents. The key was a relationship with a young man named Graham (not his name.) Graham has a good job, a house and the means to do whatever he wants. He offered Susan a situation and she accepted it.
Susan moved in with Graham and became his house girl. She cooked, cleaned, and provided sex. Susan makes no secret of the fact that she enjoys the sexual experience, the pleasure and especially the sense of being loved. The problem, of course, is that Graham doesn’t love her. He is attracted to her sexual availability, and Susan hopes over and over that this sexual relationship will become a true romance.
From time to time, Susan breaks my heart talking of how she has convinced herself that Graham really does care for her. As a man, I can tell what kind of person Graham is, and I understand why Susan has difficulty believing that he could be so crass as to simply keep her in his house for sex. Isn’t love just on the other side of sex? If we have sex enough, are that vulnerable and giving, won’t we find love and all that it comes with it?
No…that is not what happens. But Susan doesn’t know that, though she may be learning.
On more than one occasion, Susan has had to wait in the house while Graham has sex with women he’s picked up in bars and elsewhere. In those moments, Susan expresses her rage at life, the other women and Graham. But she doesn’t leave.
Most recently, Susan risked asking Graham for a real relationship. The sex is great and the living arrangement- Graham owns a home- is great, but she wants him to love her, choose her and say he wants a family and a future with her.
Graham was, predictably, uninterested by the suggestion. He felt pressured and had no plans to change what was a great situation for him. A quarrel apparently followed and things came crashing to an end. Now Susan is back with her parents, and writes something like this.
I can’t feel anything. Life seems like it’s a mirage. Standing still with everyone moving past me. Nothing touches me, there is no emotion. Times when I need to cry, nothing happens. I feel like one weight has been lifted, but with the end of that stress everything left. It seems so emo, but I feel like a shell…. This isn’t how life is supposed to be, you’re supposed to enjoy and love every minute you have. But when you lose the one thing that was keeping you together you wonder if it’s worth all this? This is one of those times I wish I could go back and many so many decisions differently. When you’re taken out of the situation and realize what was so wrong. So many things you could have done that would make everything perfect. I don’t know where my life is going now, I don’t know what to do…
Susan is like dozens and dozens of students I’ve known. She’s made choices, one after the other, pursuing happiness and freedom, and found herself miserable. She’s made the moral choices that our culture advertises and sells endlessly. She revels in the pleasure, the freedom and the independence of the autonomous self.
In the midst of it all, it seemed like she was just one “yes” from Graham away from true happiness. Of course, at the same time, right before her eyes was the cruelty of the lie; the truth of the selfishness of men; the truth of the delusions women tell themselves about love, sex and happiness; the truth of consequences; the truth of our gnawing appetite for intimacy.
My heart breaks for Susan. I pray for her. I have long ago given up the illusion that students like Susan need me to tell them anything. I know what they need, and if Susan came my way at OBI she heard the Gospel. I’m sure heard it from her teachers and from the faith evangelists on our campus.
She’s said “no” to putting her life in the hands of the Father. She sees no treasure in Jesus…yet. My prayer is for that to change.
The woman in John 4 saw no treasure, no love from God….at first. She only knew her life, her culture and her norms. And then her path crossed a man who told her all she ever did. That man was the one she’d always been looking for in all the wrong choices she made. Jesus knows Susan’s heart, her longings, her hopes and dreams. He knows what the gaping, gnawing hunger really is. He knows that what she finds with Graham or any man is the echo of what God created her for when he made her for eternity.
Jesus knows that there is a capacity, a possibility of joy, love and intimacy in Susan that’s beyond her capacity to imagine. My prayer is that even in this experience of misery, Susan learns some of the terrain of her soul and begins to reconsider the God she rejected when she was with us.
Susan, Jesus isn’t some rule-making robot with your misery as his program. God isn’t a way for your parents or anyone else to control you. He’s the one who loves you most. He loves you with the kind of strong, exclusive, faithful, promise-keeping love that you dream of knowing. The love you believe exists does, but it is in Jesus. What you are feeling right now is the echo of a very empty place; a place within you made for God alone. Your life was created to be a vessel for the light, life and love of God. What you’ve filled your heart with to this point can never begin to fill that void. They only make it worse.
Perhaps, in this moment of reconsidering your choices and feeling the pain of consequences, you can reconsider Jesus. If you can, find someone who can introduce you to Jesus and walk with you as you start out following him.
The real adventure in life is following Jesus. The love of all loves, and the freedom that makes life worth living, is in the crucified and risen Lord. I pray that you realize he’s already found you, and all you have to do is believe that he is worth trusting with all of your dreams, fears, longings, hopes and plans. In his plan for you, if there is a man who wants you and will love you till death, but it won’t be a man like Graham. It will be a man who wants to be like Jesus.
Here’s the amazing heart of it all: Your mistakes are already forgiven. You are already reconciled. You don’t need to “make up” for what’s happened. God is delighted to forgive you because of what Jesus did; He delights to do so. The book of your mistakes is already covered in his blood and everything is blotted out. It’s simply your turn to do something: to believe that Jesus has loved you, forgiven you and bought you a new life that is right in front of you. To him, you are that lovely girl, and those sad eyes are eyes he created to look at his face.
Give your life to Christ, Susan. That’s my one prayer for you.
I am sure there are many people with “Susans” in their family reading this piece. I have prayed for you, too. I pray for your lost daughters, sisters, classmates, friends. I hope they Good Shepherd that has found them will speak so they hear his voice and come joyfully home…or at least start back this way.
Peace to you, Susan. May you find your way. It’s there, because the one who is the way, the truth and the life is always there for you. He’s never left your side. It’s his voice that’s calling you to himself. Take one step…then another…then another. Perhaps you will find yourself running. I’ll look for you.