I received an interesting email from the states earlier this week. It was in response to my diary notes regarding the young girl I took to hospital to see the dead heroin addict. The writer was, for lack of any better way to describe it, admonishing me; not for the methodology I chose to use, but his perception of my failure to ‘seize the moment to bring that girl to Jesus!’
This type of comment is not unlike some I’ve received in the past in response to my writings. But I was surprised at how quick the writer was to judge what the moment required for this girl’s 'salvation' (his words) and to a lesser extent, judge me.
For the girl in question, admittedly my goal was to show her a grim reality. But it was not the time or the place to have begun a methodical act of proselytising. It was, however, an opportunity for her to see the realities of where her life was heading.
First and foremost the child needed to acknowledge that she could go no lower. And hopefully, she was to see that there was light ahead for her. There was no doubt that the experience left her stunned and frightened.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, a common feature of parish life in the United States was the parish mission, a week-long retreat in which gifted visiting preachers would come in and try to scare people into repentance and confession.
Subsequent studies have discovered that the scare tactics were quite successful in the short term, but before too many months had passed things were back to normal for most of the participants.
Real conversion - tangible change that keeps on going, isn't all that easy. That’s why St Paul doesn't try to scare his converts to death; instead, he tries to encourage them. In essence, he says that whoever we are and wherever we come from, we’re all in the same boat, struggling against the current to build lives that are right and true. And best of all, we’re not struggling alone, because ‘Christ is everything in all of you.’
When your road gets rougher than usual or when you know you’ve made some bad choices, remember that God’s whole family is struggling along the same road with you and that God’s own son is right there in the midst of it all.
And what I saw and felt and believe this girl needed, more than anything in her life at that moment, was someone to acknowledge her humanity, without judgement, and to be there with her when she began her first steps in asking questions as to how could she change her life.
And if you're determined to judge this as a failure of a ministry, I fear you may have overlooked an essence of ministry that is essential to spiritual growth:
That is the ministry of presence.
Heavenly Father, we are quick to judge and discount others. Help us to have compassion and tenderness for all Your children. Teach us to be good comforters as well as guides, that all may live in Your light, through Christ our Lord. Amen