The door opened and a soaked young man, about 20 years old, walked in and threw himself down on one of the vacant 1970s sofa chairs, as if we had been expecting him on this rainy night. And by our response to him, he may have thought that we were indeed expecting him, as we greeted him with the delight of a long, lost friend.
“I’m drunk,” he stated, almost expecting us to be horrified. We didn’t take the bait. A drunk guy walking into the church building seemed like the best dry place to be at that moment.
“I’ve been thinking about killing myself lately.”
“Oh yeah? Why have you been thinking that?” we asked gently.
“Because I don’t have a purpose in life. I think about it all the time, and I have come to the conclusion that since I have no purpose, there is no reason to live.
“My friend told me that if God wants us to be at peace … and if death will give me peace … then God wants me to die so I will be at peace.”
All I could feel at that moment was a deep and profound sense of sadness. Yes, for him, but even more so for the millions of people in our country who are just as confused and hopeless.
We live in an incredibly unique time in history in which there is a strange mass collision of shallowness, superficiality, competing narratives that try to explain our existence, and depersonalization wrought by technology, all accompanied by a growing disdain for spirituality, in general, and religion, in specific, from a hyper-rationalistic culture.
This collision is leaving a growing number of people, especially younger generations, questioning their worth, value and purpose in life.
The truth is that humans have a longing to know that their lives matter and that there is a purpose for which they live.
On that rainy night, we were witnesses to both the wreckage and the longing. The cry amid the scattered parts was for someone, anyone, to help make sense of the devastation.
From that vantage point, all one can see is rock bottom. All one can feel is utter hopelessness.
Who can help me? Who can save me? Who can help me make sense of my life that is falling apart? Do I not have a purpose?
He was asking the right questions, but I wonder if those in the same exact situation as this young man are left completely alone in their brokenness and unanswered questions.
With more people than ever abandoning faith and the wreckage of lives continuing to pile up, I wonder when we, as the church, are going to come to the realization that something needs to change?
As those who have been in the wreckage ourselves and as those who have asked in the past about our own identity and purpose in the devastation, we know that the real beauty of the wreckage and all the broken parts is that a restorer can piece them back together.
And that is the greatest news one could ever hear. But I wonder if we ever get a chance to share that with anyone on a daily or weekly basis?
For it is God who restored us in Christ and gave us a new identity and purpose for which to live, restoring the lives of others.
I am not talking about this abstract, generalized idea of the church in which we each can agree that there is a problem, but easily hide and take no individual responsibility.
If there is a problem, we, as individuals, are the problem.
And it is you — not your pastor, not your church staff, not someone more educated in the Bible. But you, who has been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ for the purpose of being a minister of reconciliation — a minister whose task is the restoration of people to God.
“I don’t think that God wants you to die. In fact, God wants you to live — and to live a full life. And I am not quite sure that a full life and peace is found in death.”
I had his complete attention.
“There are two ways,” I started. “One way is full of life, love, joy, kindness, unity, peace, turning the other cheek, forgiveness, mercy, service, grace, and hope … and it is beautiful and our hearts long to be a part of something so exquisite. That is the way of Christ; it is our true identity and our true purpose in this life. Christ gives us a new identity and then our purpose is to take that new kind of life to others. And that is what you are being invited into right now.”
I could see his eyes beginning to tear up as if he could never imagine such a life.
“But there is also another way. There is the way of death, hatred, bitterness, revenge, retaliation, division, self-centeredness, rage, resentment, judgment, pride and despair. This way is not of God.”
“I don’t want that,” he said.
We all stood together, embraced as brothers, and began to pray. And it felt as if the prodigal son had come home. Home to the open arms of the father through the embrace of a few guys who realized that we are all ministers who God is using for the restoration of others.
Brandon Andress is a former church leader and a contributor to the online Outside the Walls blog. He can be reached at his website andthentheendwillcome.com or brandonandress.com.