Philosopher Khalil Gibran wrote “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls. The most massive characters are seared with scars.”
It was early 2014, and these scars were still unfamiliar to me, but there they were, right on me in full view. Losses had piled on deep and heavy, and, to quote Bilbo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings, I felt “like butter scraped over too much bread”. Just a few years earlier we had purchased my dream house, but now the memories of all that had happened in the past twelve months made this home feel cold and empty. I was alone, me and the kids were alone, and our entire world had been flipped upside down. I remember spending so many days hiding my troubles from my children, hoping the past year hadn’t broken them as much as it had broken me.
I had once been this happy-go-lucky guy, walking around Dayton, Ohio with a big, silly grin on my face. As a single father, I remember feeling more awkward than ever, like there was something wrong with me. There wasn’t. But everything still felt…off.
I had played by all the “rules” of this life, so how could divorce and all this craziness happen to me? The more I asked myself this question, the more questions I got. Sometime it just all felt pretty hopeless, but there was always that sliver of hope hanging out there. And here’s why –
Jesus said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message).
Jesus. When life was throwing some wild haymakers at my head, Jesus was standing strong, in word and deed. You see, it was through the scriptures, in verses like these, I was able to secure my hope that God continued to have my back. He led me to a new church, a place where I could breathe and rest. I found comfort in the weekly messages from the Pastor, and encouraging conversations with my friends. I felt more alive in worship than I had in a long time, while becoming far more rock solid in my identity, which is the identity of being a child of God.
And today, I kind of feel like the church needs me, and needs my story of love and rescue. They certainly don’t need the Thad Riley of 2013 who was pretty judgmental, with appearing to have most of his ducks lined up in a row. They need the once, twice, and at least three times broken Thad Riley, the guy who knows how much he doesn’t know and wants to be a friend to those who need some encouragement and a little of God’s love in their life. So yeah, I feel like I have much stronger role in my church today than I did before I got that “Scarlet D” emblazoned on my chest.
By the way, we kind of need you, too. And we WANT you. Right here. With us. On Sunday mornings. In church. I’d say it’s the perfect place for you. We have room for you. In our row actually. You see our row at church is filled with some pretty interesting folks, to say the least. It’s got divorced people, and people who’ve lost a lot in this life. There’s folks who are still thinking someone is going to start judging them for their past or their current life, but it has happened yet, so maybe this is a different place. We’ve got single dad’s, single mom’s, and some of the most interesting characters this side of the Mississippi. Does anybody but me say things like this in New England? Maybe not so much.
So, why not? I mean seriously, what do you have to lose? The truth is, you have everything to gain. The church, you see, it’s this place where your world collides with the story of Jesus, the one who did everything he possibly could to rescue you. It’s a place of encouragement and eternal optimists, who believe in things like hope and forgiveness and God’s love. It’s not a place of judging and raining on people’s parade. The church is part of what I call home, you might say. It’s one of the best parts of my life.
I hope you’ll think about. We’d love to have you this Sunday at 9 a.m. at Bethany Church in Raymond. What do you really have to lose anyway? We even have a free breakfast! How about this – I’ll save a couple of seats and just think about it. And if you think I wrote this for you, guess what? I did.