“James, you can’t avoid this forever.”
He avoided eye contact. “Just let it go. It’s not your problem anyway.’
“But I care about you, and I know it’s impossible to hold something in and be okay.”
“Jack… stop, please.”
Jack felt the desperation in James’ behavior; it was the same desperation he himself knew. He didn’t know whether to let it go or keep pressing. “Ok.” Both avoided the other’s eyes. “Ok. I’ll stop.” He turned to leave.
“I know… I know I need to talk about it… but I’m afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
“Afraid that no one would love me anymore. Anyone who knows even a little of what I’ve done… all I see is anger and disappointment. And really, I know I have nothing to stand on, but…”
“But you need grace.”
“Yeah.” His eyes, which had danced from Jack’s to the wall behind him, settled on the floor. “Do you remember when we saw Good Will Hunting together?”
“The most powerful line in any movie I’ve seen is where Robin Williams tells him, ‘It’s not your fault.’”
“Mm, that is really moving.”
“It’s like, you know, I used to be him. Everyone told me I was so smart but I never did anything. All the drama in my life was from things happening to me. Like Sirius told Harry: ‘You’re not a bad person, you’re a good person who bad things have happened to.’ It’s not like that anymore. Now it is my fault. I don’t have an excuse. I’m the guilty one. I tried to actually do something with my life and instead I fucked it up.”
“You are forgiven.”
“I know God forgives me, but I don’t know how to believe it.”
“I know that feeling. It’s something intellectuals struggle with. Let me tell you this: I was at a concert once a couple years ago. This was right after a bad relationship; I screwed up a lot. Similar to your situation. Anyway, it was a Christian musician. He was talking about one of his songs, and he said something that I had never fully realized. God wants to be with us. He’s not some angry judge in the sky. His deepest desire is to be with us, yet we break every covenant he establishes with us. He talked about a sermon where the preacher preached through the ten commandments three times in heavy detail. Just convicting and heavy. But then, after that, he said, ‘If you have committed just one of these sins,’ (can you feel the tension), ‘If you have committed just one of these sins, this communion table is for you.’ See, nothing can separate us from our Father’s love. Not even our betrayal. As Christ died, he died for the people like Judas. I remember feeling the world slow down. I barely heard the next song or maybe the next two or three. For a kid who felt like he had to earn salvation, this came as an amazing relief. We aren’t trying to work our way to God; He is trying to bring us to himself.”
James told Jack everything he had done. It was a lot, but everything he said was nothing different from what Jack knew he himself was guilty of. When James had finished talking, he looked out a window with a numb feeling.
Jack could feel his friend’s struggle. He said nothing, for he knew not what to say; only he reached out a hand and placed it on his shoulder.
James looked at him and away from him. Tears which had begun to pool in his eyes now ran freely down his face. He turned to a kneeling position on the floor; Jack could hear him whispering prayers as he wept. The sobs came louder and louder.
“James, your sins are forgiven.” He knelt and held the crying child. They stayed like this for a while. Eventually, James sat up.
James exhaled and sniffed. “Well, I should go. I’m going to a stations of the cross service tonight.”
“Oh good! Have you ever been to one?”
“No, this will be my first.”
“Awesome. It’s one of my favorites. It’ll be good for you.”
“Thanks so much.” held out a hand.
“Anytime.” Jack pulled him into a hug.
“See you tomorrow!”
“Sounds good!” Jack watched him leave. “Father, keep him in Your hands.” He walked out into the hallway. Lucy was there.
“What was all that about?” Obviously she had heard.
“Lucy, do you believe in grace?”
“Yeah, I mean, isn’t that kinda what the gospel is?”
“I’m not asking if you know it, I’m asking if you believe in it.”
“I know you’ve been giving James a hard time about this breakup. That’s why I’m asking about grace.”
“Well, geez, do you know what he did?” She said this as though he obviously could not know, because if he did how could he be asking?
“Yeah, I do.”
“Oh.” She was a little stunned. “Like, everything?”
“Yep.” He could tell she felt awkward. “Here’s the thing.” He took a breath to find the right words; “people are so quick to judge other people. We grow up with it ingrained into our minds. And that is the biggest goddamn problem with Christians. We don’t understand how to show grace. Look, I know James fucked up really bad, but riddle me this: is he really worse than you? Take the worst thing you’ve done. Think about it. Really think about it. See, I see your face turning red. Even if it isn’t as ‘bad’ as what James here has done, one day you’ll do something really bad and then come tell me if you can really judge him. Or think about it this way: he is so broken and yet he does not know how to find healing because all he sees and all his fears are summed up in people like you who are so concerned with making him feel like shit for what he’s done that you can’t see him crying for mercy. He doesn’t know how to believe in a God of Love because all of the people who are supposed to be His reflections on this earth show him condemnation. Think about that. Is he really a worse sinner than any of us? There is only one man who ever lived who could claim any right to judge; He spent every minute of His life bringing forgiveness and healing. God has forgiven James, and He will forgive you for keeping him from believing in grace.”
With this, he walked out the door. He could hear her break down, but he didn’t turn around. Suzie passed him on the sidewalk. “Lucy might need some consolation.”
“Yeah. In that building.”
“Alright. Everything ok?”
“Just uh… rough conversations.”
“Gotcha.” Obviously, she didn’t get it.
“See you tomorrow!” He got in his car and plugged in his phone. Gregorian chant for the road home. Maybe he’d go to a stations of the cross. That’d be good. Maybe even go with James. Well, on second thought, it’d be nice to go somewhere quiet. He found a liturgy online and went to a Catholic Church. They had the stations posted around their garden.
First Station: Jesus in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.
We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.