Max knows that he will be dead before the end of the year – probably no later than October. That’s about the time that doctors expect his cancer-riddled body to lose the fight for life. Max, who is not a Christian, is the manager at the branch office of a Christian business. His boss, Mr. Stanley is deeply concerned about the fate of Max’s eternal soul. In addition to soliciting prayers for Max (particularly his soul) from other employees, Mr. Stanley sometimes visits Max at his office. They chat about business, life in general and, eventually, Max’s “need for salvation.” Last week, Mr. Stanley took a chaplain, a fellow named Raymond, along with him to visit Max.
Max shared with me a few things about last week’s pastoral visit. He began by saying, “I love Raymond. He’s a really great guy. So is Mr. Stanley. But, sometimes I don’t hold my tongue very well when they start talking about religion. I just don’t want to talk about it. And Mr. Stanley doesn’t always hold his tongue very well, either, so our conversations can get heated.”
After we chatted some more, Max said, “Mr. Stanley wants me to fly out west to spend time with my sister. I said I’d take a couple of days for that. Mr. Stanley said, ‘No, I want you to really take time and be with your sister.’ I don’t want to do that. I haven’t told her how bad my condition is because she’ll get on the religious stuff even worse than Mr. Stanley and Raymond. A couple of days of it is all I’ll be able to stand.”
As we wound down our conversation, Max said, “Mr. Stanley keeps telling me that he’s praying for a miracle for me. I just tell him it’s not likely to happen. I enjoy visiting with Mr. Stanley and Raymond, but I wish that sometimes they’d come over just to chat and joke with me.”
That last sentence makes me want to cry. It’s haunted me for two days. Max has six months to live and all he wants is for the people around him to accept him. He wants friendship, not evangelism. How often do Christians become so concerned about someone’s soul that they overlook all of the stuff that comprises a person’s life and personality? Mr. Stanley and Raymond genuinely like Max, but he’s also something of a project for them. Their primary concern is to get him saved before he dies. Their prayer requests on Max’s behalf invariably include the idea that “Max needs to come to know the Lord before he dies.” I don’t want to denigrate their concerns, because I understand all too well how deeply felt and sincere they are. But, their passion for Max’s soul is robbing them of the opportunities to appreciate Max just as he is and to enjoy his company in its own right. They’re so busy focusing on what they see as his eternal future that they are shortchanging the present. Max’s sister is making the same mistake and the consequence is heartbreaking: Max can hardly stand the thought of spending more than a token amount of time with his only living relative. Mr. Stanley, Raymond and Max’s sister all believe they have relationships with a god. What they don’t realize is that their belief that Max needs a similar experience is seriously straining their relationships with him. Religion is ruining, or, at the very least, damaging, precious human bonds. I find that very sad.
– the chaplain