by Faith Hoyt—
Recently I got to meet up with a friend from college who I luckily manage to see several times a year. She is one of those rare friends who will hop in her car and drive a couple of hours just so we can spend a fraction of that time together. She’s fun company, and our visits are always an education for me. My friend has a good eye for design, a good ear for music, and good taste in plant-based restaurants. She’s also an avid follower on conversations about social justice issues, and I love to listen to her quick and energetic commentary on politics and pop culture.
Our recent visit was one of those trips where, because of schedules, we had about an hour to catch up. (This time I had returned the favor by doing the driving.) The moment we met up at the coffee shop in her town, we dove into conversation. By the time we sat down, drinks in hand, to officially start our visit, we were already halfway into a discussion about mental health. She told me about the anxiety she’s experiencing and that she’s considering finding a counselor. I told her I thought it was a good idea and that I wished I’d had one in college when I was still learning how to manage stress. We shared about our goals. It seemed like a fitting New Year’sconversation.
About halfway through our visit, my friend mentioned that she’d felt guilt about not going to church. I realized that, for perhaps the first time ever, she was candidly sharing with me about her faith experience. We don’t talk very often about religious things; though it’s something I enjoy discussing, I’d always had the impression that with her it was a topic best saved for later. I wanted to honor our friendship by respecting her decisions. I also wanted to understand where she was coming from. I decided to ask her a direct question: “Where are you at with God?”
I’m sure I could have phrased that question better. I’m grateful it came out of my mouth sounding open and sincere, as my heart intended. All I wanted in that moment was to understand the things I had sensed from her for a while.
My friend responded to my question with equal directness: “I’m taking a break from that.” As she answered my question, I suddenly pictured the cover of the book I had sent her for Christmas—a devotional book with a collection of Bible promises. “Good grief,” I thought, “I picked the last thing in the world she wants right now.”
It took me a second to find that neutral place in my heart that does the listening and not the judging. (Good practice for me.) I’ve only known my friend for a couple of years and can’t assume I know anything about the journey that led her to this point. I sat there for a time working to keep my focus on the things she was saying instead of the thoughts in my head that competed for attention. I kept thinking, “She is looking for peace in her life—and walking away from the only source of peace that I know.”
I asked her another direct question: “Where do you find your peace?” Suddenly conscious that I was sounding like a journalist, I decided it would be my last question. She thought about it for a second. Then she told me how music and colors gave her a sense of peace. I listened to her with my full attention. She elaborated a little more, and then the conversation shifted. Soon we were sharing animatedly on a different topic. We took a selfie and sent it to another friend of ours. We sipped our drinks. The hour passed by so quickly.
When we parted ways that evening, I replayed the conversation in my mind. Had I been careful to not make her feel judged? Had I shown her that I’m here as a supportive friend? Had I kept my foot out of my mouth? I’ve heard a lot of thoughtful criticism about Christians who poorly represent God’s love. The criticism reminds me that discussing religion doesn’t excuse us from the need to show tact and thoughtfulness—and love!
I’m grateful that our conversation helped me understand a little better where my friend is coming from and reminded me of the things I need to consider the next time she, or anyone, expresses where they are in their journey. Yes, I’m sad to know that my friend is stepping away from the One I’m wanting to run towards. But I need to remember it’s my privilege to love my friend and encourage her no matter her life’s direction. It’s my opportunity to pray for her as she continues to navigate this part of her journey. It’s my place to show her unconditional friendship, regardless of whether she and I will ever share devotional books.
Right now, where religion is concerned, my friend is needing space. If she’s ever ready to talk about God again, I’m here for that too.
Faith Hoyt is communication intern for the Pacific Union Conference. She lives in Carson City, Nevada, and attends the Heavenly Valley Seventh-day Adventist Church in South Lake Tahoe.