So one day I sat down with Jesus and I said, “Jesus, I am a bad man.”
Jesus said nothing, at least not right away. He didn’t rush to my defense, nor did he agree with me. But the way he looked at me, he knew the things about which I talked. He knew them because I knew them. And because he is Jesus.
“What of it?” he finally said.
I shrugged. “I don’t want to be that guy.”
He shrugged back. “Then don’t be. I gave you the power to be whatever you wanted to be. It’s up to you how to use it.”
There wasn’t much to say after that. Jesus can be a buzzkill sometimes. He has this way of holding up a mirror to allow you to see everything, even when you don’t want to see it.
“It’s hard sometimes,” he said.
I nodded, thankful for the out. Jesus often doesn’t give me the out. Instead, he leads me to my own internal contradictions–
“I don’t lead you there,” he said. “You lead yourself there. I just listen.”
Freaking know-it-all. Buzzkill.
“I heard that,” he said, smiling broadly.
When I decide to look into Jesus’ eyes, there’s this incredible warmth, like a perfect summer afternoon that goes on forever. I never see the stormy Rambo Jesus that so many people see there. I don’t know how they can see something so different.
“It’s probably a good thing for you that I’m not like that.” His smile stayed broad, but there was an edge to it, a challenge. Jesus will also finish your thoughts for you sometimes. He likes doing that to me, mostly because it unsettles me.
But as uncomfortable as he can make me feel, I never feel threatened.
“Do you love me?” he said.
I looked away. I can’t lie to Jesus. I mean, the guy can finish my thoughts. How do you hide things from that?
“Do you love me?”
I said nothing.
“You might as well look at me, Chris. I mean, I can finish your thoughts, so it’s not like you can hide it from me.”
I wanted to call him a smart ass, but instead, I just looked at him, at those eyes. The eyes that seem to radiate peacefulness and calm and power at the same time. It’s not something a guy would typically say, and almost never about another guy, but I could look into those eyes forever and not get tired of the feeling that cascades over me.
“You know I try.” My answer sounded like an indictment as I said it. I wanted to shrink away, to run and get as far from this man as I could because I know I don’t deserve to feel the way he makes me feel when I stop and sit still and just look in those eyes.
“I know you do.”
The words weren’t condemning, but they weren’t especially comforting, either. They were simple statement of fact.
“I…I have a hard time with really trusting. With breaking down the walls between me and other people. I want…I want to be better at that. I want to…I just want to be open to other people.”
“You could start with me,” he said.
“For the record, you are a bad man, sometimes. You do things that hurt yourself and other people and I wish you’d stop it.”
I stopped nodding. Suddenly my shirt fit poorly and wouldn’t let me get comfortable. I rolled my shoulders and fiddled with my collar. But it wasn’t the shirt.
“But I can say without reservation that I love you. And nothing you can do will change that.”
It was hard at this point to keep eye contact with him. But I did it anyway, all the while trying to block the way I felt when he looked at me.
“I want to believe,” I said. “Can you help me with that?”
And he was gone. And I was sitting in Panera again, looking over the top of my laptop screen at a little blonde kid. He was with his grandfather, who seemed to think that nothing could beat taking this little boy to get a cookie for breakfast, even if they had to run to the toilet because the kid tried to hold it too long.
The kid was telling a story about another kid named Doogie who fell off his bike, which seemed to be the funniest thing in history. But the story was disjointed and barely intelligible. And still the grandfather didn’t care. He gazed upon the kid with Jesus-like eyes.
He just listened and smiled. It wasn’t much of a smile, except that it was the most sincere I’d ever seen.
And it extended to his eyes.
I don’t remember my grandfather. He died when I was little, but I remember he was the center of my life, the closest thing I had to a hero, I think. And I remember things weren’t the same after he left. I imagined that he used to look at me that way, too. With eyes that radiated warmth.
And he was just a man.