I came out of college in pieces and had no idea how to put myself back together.
I had helped start a household that had collapsed in on its own rigidity, climbed the ladder of campus leadership only to plummet like a chicken from a tall building. I left ready to try my hand at a career and instead landed a part time youth ministry job that had me living with my parents, carpooling with my brother, and working in a packaging warehouse to make it work. I was really broken when I met Mike.
I had been pursuing this beautiful Palestinian girl who happened to play in the worship band at Mike’s church. I showed up ready to disregard these foolish protestants and instead found myself sobbing on the floor after the first worship set. I wiped myself off the floor and promptly crashed into someone’s car in the parking lot, because sometimes when God decides to walk in the room you're motor skills stop working.
I knew it wasn’t a fluke when I went back the next week, committed to finally making my move and asking out that girl after the service. Again I had to mop myself up after melting into a pool of tears in front of these silly heretics. I never did end up asking that girl out, but I did keep making the hour drive from the suburbs into east Dallas despite my family’s protests. There I experienced a level of care and hospitality I’d never encountered in the Catholic Church before in my life. The second week I was there, I was invited out for coffee by the pastor. The third week I was there, I was invited to a lifegroup, which I joined, and the fourth week, I went up to the pastor for prayer at the end of the service and he told me that he felt that the Lord was calling me to be “discipled.”
"Discipleship" before it was a thing.
This was before Sheryll Waddell’s book on discipleship came out, so it was not plastered on the cover of every new Catholic book or added to every new parish mission statement. I had no idea what that word meant. Jordan, the pastor of that little church, did not seem phased, and simply began pointing out random guys in the congregation. The first dude looked a bit too wild, the second man was too much of a salteen craker. The third dude was bald, tall, and reminded of me of a Franciscan brother without a beard, so I said “sure” and I let Jordan introduce us. That was how I met Mike. He was just some random dude picked out of a crowded little non denominational church in east Dallas.
We met up for dinner at his place the following day. He was paleo, so dinner was more or less fermented nuts and flax seeds. We shared our stories with each other over this strange meal when we were done Mike asked me what I was doing at 5am the following day. Needless to say I was a little taken aback. I told him I was a youth minister so I shouldn’t be expected to get up before 11am. He said he wanted me to come and do his morning prayer time with him. I made the 45 minute drive.
No one had ever done that before. I’ve been in the thick of it. I went to one of the best youth groups in the great country of Texas, I went to seminary, I lived at Ave Maria, and no one had ever asked me to do anything like that before.
Part of it was just the sheer audacity of the dude to ask me to drive 45 minutes to his house and pray with him at 5am, but the rest of it was the fact that I’d never been invited into another man’s most intimate prayer space before. I went, and what I saw totally transformed my prayer life. I learned more about prayer in that one hour than I had at all four years going to Catholic college, and all he did was let me into his life to see it from the inside.
And that was just how Mike always did things. For the next two years, I met with Mike and my friend Jarrad every Monday night while my soul was slowly eviscerated. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was leading us through a 12 step program for the emotionally broken. During that season, I was known and seen by Mike and Jarrad like I’d never been known or seen before. My junk was out on the table, and they could sort through it and point it out to me in total honesty and love. I realized that I had never been so wrong about so much in my whole life. I saw for the first time my own selfishness and pride and my wounds and how they colored every intention and action and experience I’d ever had. It was unbelievably freeing.
Mike's Rules for intimacy
When we met every week, we started with two guidelines that made it safe for us to be that open. The first rule was that we would never share anything that was said in the group to anyone outside of it without permission. That one is sort of an obvious one that a lot of small groups try to employ to make intimacy possible. The second rule was much more rare. The second rule was this: No giving advice unless it’s asked for.
Seems simple, but try it out. I’ve been trying to follow it for 6 years now and still can’t do it.
I asked Mike why that rule, and this is what he told me: “We’re not here to fix each other. That’s God’s job. We’re here to work through our own junk, and to do that we have to deflate our need and desire to place ourselves above each other. Our pride being crushed is more important .” I feel like that principle is one that we need to do a better job of applying with each other. Often time in forums or discussions, when a person surfaces an idea or a belief, our first reaction is to try to fix what’s broken. The problem is we’re not the fixers.
I was a punk ass kid all my life with a tape that played in my head all day every day “no one understands you, you just don’t fit, no one gets it.” Over and over again those thoughts would run through my mind until one day Mike finally told me “Bro, you can be understood if you go deep and commit.” He was right. He created a space for me where I wasn’t judged, where my experiences and emotions and opinions were accepted and heard. Once that happened, my heart softened and God did most of the work of transforming me in the secret place of payer. All Mike had to do was listen and share from his own experiences vulnerably.
We need to believe that our God is big enough to work on ourselves and each other. We don’t have to fix each other, we don’t have to fix ourselves, we don’t have to fix the Church. God will move through us if we are faithful to letting him move in us first.
I want to offer this as a principle that I’m going to try to follow in our dialogues with each other. I promise not to try and fix you. I promise not try to educate you. I promise not to give you advice that you didn’t ask for. I’m going to listen to you and just ask that you do the same for me.