Today, my friend came home. For the last three years he has been serving a prison sentence, unjustly in many people’s opinion – including mine. This man… well, I could spend this entire post summing up the goodness of this man and the effect he had on me during our time of closer friendship. But that isn’t the purpose of this post. The purpose is to honor the way, during the last three years, he lived the Scripture, “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer” (Romans 12:12).
I didn’t get an opportunity to visit Pete while he was in prison. I sent a handful of letters and cards and occasionally received a reply. The tone of those replies, the statements he made, added to the stories and descriptions I heard from his family and friends who did visit him, came as no surprise to me. They were true to Pete’s character. True to the young man I knew better years ago; true to the man I have always assumed he has continued to be since then. No, they did not surprise me, but that’s not to say they didn’t move me.
Smack dab in the middle of his doctorate studies, ongoing cancer research at his job, and plenty of other endeavors and activities, Pete was punished for circumstances outside his control. He had reason to despair. He had reason to wallow and slip into depression. He had reason for anger. Yet, beyond a reasonable level of righteous anger, he indulged in none of these things. I’m not saying he didn’t have to struggle against them. I don’t know if there were days when they tried to sneak into his heart and fill him with discouraged resignation. I do know that he did not allow them to take over.
Throughout the three years, Pete remained a man of hope. He remained a man of patience. He remained, above all, a man of faith. We are exhorted again and again in Scripture to endure trials and tribulations with the attitude of Christ. We are called upon to take up our crosses and carry them in the path of our Lord. In the Gospels, Jesus does not assure us that we will see justice prevail this side of Heaven. He does not promise to relieve from our lives the suffering that comes our way. Throughout the rest of the New Testament, the Apostles reinforce these realities of life in Christ.
We are assured instead that there will be crosses and trials. We are told flat out that “in the world [we] will have trouble” (John 16:33). The promised reward is only received in full when this life has finished. The justice is meted out according to God’s terms and timing, not ours. The relief from the suffering is not guaranteed until Paradise.
So many of us know these truths. We’ve heard them, read them, attempted to be accepting of them. In the moment though – the moment of darkness and pain – do we hold fast to them? There is no easiness in this aspect of the Christian life. It is why the stories of the martyrs and saints are such effective buoys of inspiration. We need to know it’s possible. We need to celebrate the lives of those who emanate the attitude of Christ as they carry their crosses. In them we gain encouragement to do likewise.
This is what Pete gives to those who know him. Whether he ever realized it or not, each day that Pete chose faith, hope, and charity in his attitude, thoughts, and actions during the last three years, he allowed Christ to make use of him. He became an extension of the example set by Christ for us all.
Pete isn’t a superhero. He’s not something other than what we are. Which means, we are all capable of acting in God’s grace to live with the attitude of Christ. In every circumstance – joy and suffering – from the most ordinary to the most extreme. By the Spirit of Christ, we are transformed. Let us live transformed lives. Let us honor those among us doing so right now.