I have spent the past several months praying about today's blog story.
Asking God to give me the right words.
Asking Him to use this story to inspire powerful prayer over our children.
Asking Him to use this story to challenge and change us for the better.
Asking Him to forgive me.
You see, this is probably THE hardest story I've ever told on this blog. It reveals and exposes a decision in my life I will forever regret. I've told only a handful of people the story in its entirety...because it's just so dang hard to tell.
I leave for Cambodia tomorrow.
And oddly enough, part of me is going to Cambodia BECAUSE of this story.
The story takes place when I was in 8th grade. I was 13 at the time. I was awkward looking (as all middle schoolers are) but I was energetic and mostly happy. I had a great family and good friends. And I loved Jesus.
I often look back on my relationship with Him then and long for it. I had a child-like faith, the kind Jesus talks about in Luke 18:17. As strange as it may sound, I often felt the Holy Spirit calling (or prompting) me to do things. His was not an audible voice but a spiritual nudge deep in my soul. The Spirit was active in my life, even at 13, and counseled me through these promtings; reminding me of what Jesus had taught while He was here on earth (John 14:26). I can remember several occasions where He asked me through these promptings to reach out and encourage someone in need (whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually). Yet one night when He called...I didn't listen and obey.
My girl friends and I attended a basketball game on that particular night. We sat in the bleachers and were surrounded by lots of other kids in attendance. We were being obnoxious and silly like all 8th grade girls can be...cheering loudly, talking over each other a mile a minute, relaying stories of the day. We were having a wonderful time.
Until...the Holy Spirit called.
I had happened to look over at a set of bleachers several feet away where I saw my friend Matt sitting by himself. Months earlier, he and I became friends over our lunch hour. He sat (with a few other boys) on the opposite end of the table where my girlfriends and I sat. He did not have a lot of friends and I had felt a nudge to reach out and befriend him. So I did.
You see, it was not surprising that he was sitting alone that night. He was bullied A LOT. He could be awkward and strange; and a little hard to get to know. And he was not like all the other kids. So, unfortunately he was an easy target.
Seconds after I noticed him, The Spirit called. I felt Him prompting me to go over and sit with Matt. In my head I responded with a "Not now God. I'm having fun with my girl friends. I'll talk to him tomorrow."
A few minutes later, a handful of kids around me starting talking about him. They were making fun of what he looked like and laughing at the fact that he was all alone. I'm not sure he could hear them, but I could. I became angry at them and told them to quit it. I defended Matt telling them he was a "nice guy" and "my friend." They laughed off my reprimand and went back to watching the game.
"There God. You see...I stuck up for Him."
Very clearly, The Spirit nudged again. "Renee, he needs a friend now. Go over and sit with him."
Here's the plain and pathetic truth: In that moment, I just didn't feel like obeying this call. I was content where I was and what I was doing and had no desire to do anything else. So I very selfishly and disobediently ignored the Spirit's call.
The night went on, the game ended, I headed home AND never ended up sitting with him.
That night was the last time I would ever see Matt again.
The next school day my homeroom teacher stood up in front of the class with tears in his eyes and told us Matt had shot and killed himself.
I cannot even begin to tell you what I felt when I heard those words out of my teacher's mouth.
Guilt. Regret. Sorrow. Shame.
But mostly I just felt RESPONSIBLE.
God had called me to reach out to Matt that night and I hadn't obeyed.
I just kept thinking, What if I had? What if I had?
I looked around the room at all the other kids crying, so many of them kids who had bullied and teased him. They felt responsible, and probably were to some extent. But I knew that God had asked something of me, I had selfishly refused, and the result was devastating. In my mind, I was way more responsible.
I don't remember telling anyone on that day why I felt responsible.
I simply grieved for Matt.
And I pleaded with God for forgiveness.
I was 13 and had learned one of the greatest spiritual lesson I would ever learn in my life: When the Spirit of God calls me to do something, I must obey the voice of the Lord.
I often think of the story in 1 Samuel 15 when I remember Matt and am reminded of how much God desires obedient hearts. Long story short: Saul was King of Israel and God had given him a specific command (see verse 18). However, Saul had not fully obeyed and had tried to right his wrong after the fact through sacrifice. Listen to God's response (and reprimand) through His prophet Samuel:
"Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams." (15:22)
That fateful night, Like Saul, I tried to right my disobedience with a little sacrifice of my own. I figured my "sacrifice" of sticking up for Matt when the kids were teasing him was enough. It wasn't. I should have obeyed.
I do not carry the weight of Matt's suicide on my shoulders any longer.
Over time, God has slowly and tenderly cared for me.
His forgiveness has washed over me.
And I know ultimately Matt made the choice.
But I have never forgotten.
And ever since, I have prayed that I would never again disobey the Spirit's call.
20 years later, at the age of 33, I felt the Spirit's call to go to Cambodia. After listening to Nicole's stories from her first visit nearly a year ago, I felt the Spirit nudging me to go there. At the time of the call there was no trip in sight so I wasn't even sure how the Spirit wanted me to obey. It was only
a few months later when Nicole asked me to join her on a second mission to Cambodia that I knew.
Friends, part of me wanted to "sacrifice" instead of obey...perhaps by giving money or leading a prayer team here at home. Honestly, this time I was scared to obey. I couldn't imagine leaving my family. There would be so much I couldn't control halfway across the world.
But I knew the Spirit's calling voice.
I had heard it at 13.
And this time, I listened and obeyed.
As our children's relationship with God begins to take root and grow, the Holy Spirit will begin to counsel & call them. Let's take time today to pray that they would obey the voice of the Lord and respond in obedience to whatever He is clearly calling them to do.
Lord God, I now know that to obey is better than to sacrifice after the fact. I pray my children would never have to learn this lesson the hard way (like me). I pray they would be faithful in obedience to You. I pray they would listen for the Spirit's counsel and call in their lives and then OBEY. And as they obey Your calls, may they be used by You to encourage and minister to the lost, the hurting, the oppressed, and the poor.