Real Lives: Rodney, a trail of bitter losses
Rodney is a slightly older black man. He has tight curly hair that has sprays of white here and there. He’s typically not completely clean shaven and has white, curly hairs randomly sprouting around his chin. His left eye always seems a bit swollen and I can typically only see his right eye. Sometimes it’s a bit bloodshot.
Jaclyn had met him and then introduced us one Thursday when we were doing street outreach. She mentioned she was pretty sure he was unsaved. So for the past month or two I had made an effort to build a relationship with him, even extending the invitation to come to church with us. He’s always promised to come, but at the last moment seems to find a way to back out.
He seemed kind enough to me and was willing to converse. Over the weeks he became more and more open and I knew that some level of trust existed.
Last week he mentioned that he really needs to find another place to live because of the living conditions of the house he’s in at night. I’m not sure if he has a room or what, but I definitely always see him on the street.
So that Tuesday night I asked him about the rooming situation and let him know I was praying.
I’m not exactly sure what happened; I think I was just giving suggestions about ways to find a new place. Talk with friends, make new connections, and then of course you can pray.
He slammed his hands on the table, and slowly stood up while saying, “You know what?”
His tone was drenched with bitterness.
“You know what? I’m sick of this church thing, praying thing. I went to church all growing up. I went with my mother, and even with my grandmother, and I believed it and prayed and everything.
“And then my mother died. And then my grandmother was taken away. And just recently my neice died. All within 4 years. I couldn’t give a rats butt about life because everything I loved was taken away.
“It’s like walking down some steps and each step down you keep losing something you love. I loved them. I don’t know why this had to all happen to me.
“I mean, I believed the Gospel and everything, and always went to church, but then it’s like I lost everything. I had a good life. I had a house, car, motorcycle, a wife, children…and then my wife left me with the kids, and then I just lost everything.
“My life sucks. And you’re trying to tell me that it’s worth living? I’m sorry that I have to be so blunt but…”
“No,” I interjected. “I’m very glad you’re being transparent. I see where you’re coming from…”
“Yeah, you see where I’m coming from but you don’t agree.”
Praying for wisdom in these moments. Not easy to know what to say.
“Have you ever heard of the story of Job?”
“No, no I don’t recall…”
“It’s quite a story.” I gave a brief outline of Job’s story, and how God’s hand clearly allowed it to happen. “Rodney, God allowed that to happened because He wanted Job to know that having God is enough! He was testing him to prove if Job really did love God more than his possessions. And God restored him! He is good. Really He is.”
Rodney tilted his head. “Well, now that you say that, I think I do remember learning about that story when I was a teenager…”
“Have you heard the story of Joseph?”
Another pause. That was all I needed.
“Joseph was thrown in a pit and betrayed by his own brothers, sold into slavery, treated severely unjustly whenever he did something right, and you know what? God used him to save Egypt! Rodney, what story does God have for you, you particularly, that you are missing because you are rejecting him?”
“I don’t care. I just don’t care anymore.”
“So you don’t want hope or another life?”
“I could care less about this life, it’s just been so rotten, so out of my control…”
He went on and on. Bitter words and bottled-up anger spilling over.
At me. at the world. at God.
Our conversation was coming to an end.
“Rodney,” I pointed at him as he was walking away.” “I’m praying for you that God would show himself to you for who He really is instead of this perception you have of God that is not true.”
He cocked his head and said in sarcasm, tinged with anger, “You are a blessing and have a great night, ma’am. I will see you later.”
It’s very interesting to me that the person that had built a relationship with him through kindness and generosity was now the one that was being attacked. Maybe he felt he could be transparent. Maybe I just happened to be the next person that mentioned “praying.”
It then occurred to me– I have been reading and meditating on Matthew 10:16-24 recently, and today I read that Jesus told his disciples that a disciple is not above his teacher and therefore shouldn’t expect to be treated any differently. If Jesus was maligned and mistreated, both verbally and physically, then why should I expect anything less?
If my goal in life is the be like Jesus, then be like Jesus in all ways will I be.
Though his reaction was rather surprising to me, now that I think about it, I’m joyful. Not about his situation; I’m heartbroken over his hopelessness and very wrong perception of God.
But I’m thankful that in one small way I was able to “share in His sufferings” because that’s simply what happens when one determines to know God above all else. “That I may know him…” — sweet words.
So this story of Rodney is continuing. It’s sad, truly it is. But there is always hope– in the real Gospel. Not in a list of do’s and don’ts. But in grace, and mercy, and forgiveness, and freedom. Rememeber Rodney. Pray for God to charge into his world and turn it upside down.
And remember the real costs and joys of Paul’s words: “I count all things as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.”
And if we aren’t experiencing sufferings and rejections…perhaps we are not as committed to knowing Christ as we should be.