Matt calls me on Sunday night when I am sad. I believe in God because of maybe five sort-of good reasons, and one of them is the timing of Matt LeGrande.
A couple months into my time in California, I went to a megachurch’s community group meeting. I wanted to make friends, and I thought I wanted Christian friends, and I was deluding myself to believe I could hop back into the Jesus freak subculture without causing a splash.
But if Christianity is a pool, I have been treading water in the shallow end ever since I graduated from Wheaton. I have refused to put my head under water. I have not ventured farther than where my feet can touch bottom. I thought I simply hadn’t had the opportunity to dive back in, head first, but at this small group meeting, truth reared its ugly, waterlogged head.
I hated the small group. Everyone seemed lackluster, pathetic, worn. They used religious language that would’ve been considered rote and disingenuous at Wheaton. They swapped prayer requests for a horrifically extended period of time. They watched a video they’d seen in church that week, a woman’s testimony of Jesus appearing to her and leading her out of a drug-filled life on the streets. I glanced around, sure I’d lock eyes with at least one other who doubted the legitimacy of this woman’s revelation. Sure, Jesus can speak to people, but she was also on drugs. How did we know she wasn’t just tripping?
As soon as the “Amen” was uttered in the closing prayer, I bolted.
In the car, driving home, I lamented over what shouldn’t have been an epiphany – that I didn’t know how to be a Christian, and I didn’t know how to not be a Christian. I was stuck.
To add to the emotional turmoil, I wasn’t feeling settled yet. I didn’t have a solid social scene. I was working four jobs, none of which I liked. I was questioning my move, my dreams, basically my entire existence.
I hated my life, and I began to cry. And I dug my phone out of my purse, but then the wails really broke in, because Who was I going to call? I had a few friends in California, but none I was yet comfortable with requesting they coax me out of an emotional meltdown. In the midwest, where all my real friends were, the clock would’ve read midnight, and as devastated as my soul was, I wasn’t dying, and I didn’t think the situation warranted waking anyone up.
God is maybe not real, and I am utterly alone, I moaned.
And then my phone rang. Matty had called.
I have many lovely friends from Wheaton, but I have not done an exemplary job at keeping up with all of them. Or even most of them. After graduation, Becca, one of my dearest kindred spirits, moved to Prague. Last month, we skyped for the first time. Two years had passed since I heard her voice, and the woman had been one of my best friends.
I let friendships go if they are no longer convenient, if they require too much effort and planning. For some people, an occasional phone call is not burdensome – it’s even refreshing. But communicating long-distance with most friends is laborious, requiring a “catching up,” exchanging bits of information, abridged and censored stories. You’re not “doing life” with them; you’re giving them the greatest hits of your life’s past three months.
Is this fun for anyone?
Good phone calls or skype sessions are possible, I concede. But they demand much more than “catching up,” and they are arduous in their own right.
Matt called me tonight. I didn’t want to take the call. I wanted to write. I wanted to work on stand-up. I wanted to sleep. But we hadn’t talked in awhile. It was time for the obligatory catch-up.
I lied on the couch, in my sad lonely apartment, and I cried as he spoke real, beautiful things. And I missed him. And his realness was coming through the electrolytes, or the electrodes, or whatever it is that can make another person’s voice travel over thousands of miles, from Connecticut, and echo in your lonely little Californian ear. I told him of mistakes I’ve made lately, my failure to respect myself, failure to love other people well, failure to believe that God can provide the power to change these things. And there was quiet, and tears pooling in the valleys of my eyes. Matt told me of his own recent mistakes, disgust with himself, but a steady and certain belief in the covering of grace.
“Maybe it’s not real,” he said. “Maybe it is, and I won’t even get into heaven. I choose not-God all the time. I pray, and I say, ‘I know you don’t want this for me, you don’t want me to do this, and I know you love me more than I can understand, but I am going to do this anyway. I am choosing this temporal, dirty thing over you.’”
I desire to love people deeply and wholly and beyond the selfish love I can currently give. I want to love the entitled customers at the bakery, and the intimidating comics, and the hip kids at church. “I don’t know if God can give you the strength to do that or not,” Matty said. “But you sure can’t do it on your own.”
We spoke bullshit-free. I felt perhaps love, perhaps Jesus, fall in bits from the phone and dust over my body, seep into my pores.