Home > Church, Spiritual formation > Invisible Friend Series, Part 2

Invisible Friend Series, Part 2

Yesterday I posted Part 1 to this series. Below is Part 2, with Part 3, the final part, posted tomorrow. I’d be happy to hear any thoughts!

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It has been three years now since I encountered the old man that day at the fair. At the time I did not know what he had given me, but it soon became clear. He had given me a friend, a companion, whom I would always have by my side.

I still vividly remember his gravelly voice, raspy with age and perhaps a bit of concern. “I release my friend into your care,” he said. “I trust you will take care of him, help him to grow, to become all I created him to be.”

If I’m honest with you, and with myself, I’ve had to grow into my belief that I actually am the caretaker for someone no one else can see, that I am constantly joined by my invisible friend.

At first, I neglected him. I thought he didn’t really exist, I thought that I had been duped by an old Carnie who liked to play tricks on little kids. The thought often haunted my dreams.

But as time went on, I began to realize what I was given that day was more than a story, more than an encounter with a crazy old man – I had been given a gift, and if it really were a gift, I needed to care for it, as the old man had asked me to do.

I remember, as a 4 year old, telling my mom and dad that I did, indeed, have an invisible friend. They pretended to see this friend, to give me what I requested, within reason, in order for me to care for this friend. I’d concocted that imaginary friend during a time when my older brother Grant had begun to spend more time with his friends and less time with me.

But even at 4 years old I knew my imaginary friend was nothing more than a way to comfort myself, to pretend like I was not as unimportant or unlikable as Grant made me feel.

But this was different. There was a tangible presence by my side. This presence was, from the very beginning, a constant voice in the midst of everyday life.  He wasn’t big or small, but he became a real part of me. He could experience joy, pain, love, and loss. He could be affected by others, too, and he was often hurt deeply by them.

He was this curious mix of timid and bold – often times needing to be invited into conversations, thoughts, or relationships, other times inserting himself with overwhelming force into situations.

One day at school, in between class periods, I came upon a group of boys known by everyone as guys who were not afraid to pick fights with anyone. I’d become friends with one of them, and as I approached them they all simultaneously turned towards me, smiles spreading across each face.

What they asked me to do then – to surprise a kid from behind with a punch to his face – was something I knew I should not do, but feelings of acceptance and popularity rose up within me – all encouraged by my silent friend, stoked by him into an uncontrollable flame – and these feelings prevailed; my fist met the face of this unsuspecting kid with authority.

The satisfaction of that moment was fleeting, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t somewhat enjoyable. And my silent friend, whom I had been charged with caring for, with tending to, had grown a bit, thirsty for more.

It was then that I began to see how everything I did, be it for good or bad, changed him, added to his appearance, made him different. My actions became a part of him, sometimes causing him to grow, sometimes to change, and other times it seemed as though he was unaffected, though I knew that was just an appearance, a facade.

Everything I did formed him, changed him.

My silent friend was like a powerful magnet, attracting to him pieces – sometimes small, sometimes big – of every choice I made, every encounter I had, pieces of everything I did.

At first this impact I had on him felt powerful, wonderful. My choices changed something, my choices created something – and the ability to create felt so good.

And so I began to feed my silent friend, I began to care for him by throwing myself into experiences that felt so good. And through these experiences he seemed to ravenously add more and more to himself, as though he could not get enough.

It wasn’t too long before it felt like I was pursuing only those things that felt the best. The things that my silent friend seemed to love the best became harder and harder to find, and more and more difficult or damaging to myself or to others when I did them.

And so I began to resent my silent friend. In my resentment I tried harder to experience life in joyful ways, in ways I hoped would give value to other people and to myself. And for a while it worked – but I could only sustain this effort for so long, before I was back to the same wretched place. Sometimes I even fell further into the places where only darkness and pain resided, the places where defeat lived.

I began to wish, that like my silent friend, I could become invisible. I hid my actions, my desires, my very self from others, hoping that in doing so I would at least appear healthy, like I was not drowning in an endless cycle of self-gratification.

And I succeeded. I became invisible to everyone, even to myself.

But I never became invisible to my invisible friend.

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