By: Shane James O’Neill
My uncle died a few years ago. Uncle Des. He was the man. He was a Father in the Catholic Orders, studied at Oxford, had a cool English accent, traveled a lot, and was as gentle as gentle can be. Uncle Des loved living life with a slow pace, and when he was with you his presence helped you know life better.
His funeral was held by his Catholic Order. The Catholics do funerals well, they don’t ignore the pain, they give you hope, and the service itself carries an ancient feel. It’s one of the few practices that represent the reality well — Uncle Des became a part of something bigger and truer in death.
a unique opportunity
While I was there I found myself beside the head of the Order, the Uber Father. He carried the same vibe as Uncle Des. It didn’t take long for me to start asking him about his vow of abstinence. I mean, you get around a guy who has committed his life to Jesus, 1 Corinthians 7 style, and you have to ask questions. After all, how many people do you know that have chosen to intentionally live a life of singleness?
So, I started rapid firing all the questions that a person isn’t supposed to ask: Have you had sex before? Do you masturbate? Are you lonely? Have you ever failed? And he answered my questions, not like I was asking all the wrong questions, but more like I was asking all the right ones.
He took his time answering and he gave me the whole day. Scene after scene in this day of mourning, this man was near by — making himself exclusively available to a brash young man.
His responses revolved around life being a journey and knowing the freedom of Jesus’ Cross as a relational process with Jesus. Creative communal expression was a big part of his story. He talked about the freedom he found through community. The more he embraced community and got to know other kinds of relational intimacies that did not have sex as a focus point, the more he found great strength emotionally and physically in those areas of life.
Anytime I look back on that day, I see that Father as a part of the heavenly reflection that was taking place. Such an agent of grace.
final words from a stranger
I have a pretty jacked up sexual history. I think this Father was able to figure that out and put those pieces together from my questions. Someone asking the questions I was asking, the way I was asking them, is probably in a pretty desperate place.
I wanted to be fixed.
As the day ended, he walked with my family out to our car. He stopped me a little way before the vehicle, as the rest of my family continued moving. He squared up with me, so I knew he was about to drop his final word. We’d gotten to talk in a realer way than most relationships are ever able to, and we both knew we’d never see each other again, this side of eternity. I took a second to sturdy myself for whatever exhortation this guy was gonna give me.
He had those glassy kind of blue eyes, which made it seem like he always had tears in his eyes. Maybe there were. Emotion seemed to sit in his eyes.
He looked at me and said: “Shane, always remember to be very kind and very gentle with yourself.”
That was it. We parted; I’ve never seen him again.
There are several different kinds of “take-aways” from an experience like this. But here’s what I’m going to leave you with:
Life is hard and the world is broken, and you’re broken. Don’t pretend like you’re not broken. And don’t hate yourself for being broken. Jesus went through the hell of the cross so that you could finally be honest with God. And Jesus went through the hell of the cross to put a God-like value on your soul. Neither hating yourself, nor pretending will ever give you any kind of freedom. God sees you and He’s already all in, so pretending you’re better than you actually are isn’t necessary with Jesus. And God knows what you look like when all the broken pieces of who are you are put together, redeemed, so there’s no point in hating what He’s committed to loving and making whole.
This is the one relationship that it’s safe to be in.
The journey is long; life isn’t easy. But Jesus is good and He’ll see you made new and whole by the time you meet, face to face.
“Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Jesus is saying that in order to know rest, to know his easy yoke and his light burden, you need to come to Him and know Him as a teacher and savior who is gentle and humble.
As you move through your days, your months, and years, and friendships, and dating, and your marriage, as you get to know yourself, and as you get to know Jesus, always remember to be very kind and very gentle with yourself.
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Shane James O’Neill is the Editorial Director for ProvenMen Ministries. He is currently working on a graduate degree in apologetics at Liberty University’s Rawling School of Divinity.