Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Vows

On a perfectly miserable day, I went to the gym to work out. It was raining and 40 degrees, with low clouds sinking lower by the minute. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon it was dusky, and streams of water were sliding across the parking lot towards the storm drain.

The gym was nearly deserted. The weather held down the crowd but mostly it was flu season, and people are careful not to congregate in places where lots of folks routinely sweat profusely while breathing deeply, and exhaling with great force. I practically had the place to myself. I dropped into the locker room to put my jacket and towel away. I saw a friend sitting on a bench leaning against the wall with his eyes closed. For a second I thought about going about my business without saying anything to him. His eyes were closed, so he probably didn’t see me so he wouldn’t have thought me rude. But, I found myself saying, “ Hey buddy, rough workout, huh?”

He opened his eyes abruptly. His eyes were red and tired. He had been crying.

In that instant, I desperately wanted to be on a treadmill, lifting weights, or cleaning out the toilets, anywhere but in a locker room with a grown man who had been crying. Men are not good at certain things, maybe not all men, maybe not even most men. Ok, I’M not very good at certain things, like comforting another man who is hurting. I never know what to say. I feel embarrassed, for myself, and for the poor guy across from me who now suddenly stands and walks over to my locker, “Doug, do you have a minute?”

We sat down and he begins to talk. He tells me about a friend of his who just got caught cheating on his wife. This couple were close friends with him and his wife. They used to do everything together. Everyone involved is devastated. There are young children involved. He thought he knew the guy, couldn’t believe him possible of such a thing.

“Doug, the worst part is, he’s probably the most committed Christian man I’ve ever known.”

I listened a little longer, tried my hand at saying something comforting. After a while, we were talking about the Ravens-Broncos game or something, and I soon held the handles of my elliptical machine in a death grip, trying to control my growing anger. My friend’s story is just the latest in the long continuing saga of infidelity among supposedly “committed Christian” men. With each new revelation, my faith takes another body shot.

What is a committed Christian, anyway? What does the term even mean? Apparently, when it comes to wedding vows, it means absolutely nothing.

I finish my run, then head upstairs to the weight machines. As I’m resting between sets of bench presses, I think about all the Christian guys I’ve known at my church who are my age who have divorced their wives. They were all good guys, at church every Sunday, guys who studied their Bibles and prayed for their families. For them, their faith wasn’t enough to save their marriages.

But by the time I’m on the abdominal crunch machine, I’m also thinking about all the Christian guys I’ve known who are hanging on to their families, who are making it work, who are still committed to their wives. There are a lot of them, and I start to feel better.

Still, when I hear the next sad story it will still make me angry. I will still feel like punching something. For although I know that my faith doesn’t promise me an easy life, and my belief in Christ doesn’t guarantee me success, my gut tells me that it ought to make it easier for me to keep my sacred vows.

I finish my workout, go sit in the sauna for ten minutes, then gather my stuff from my locker. My friend is gone. I get in the car and drive over to my Dad’s with his dinner. As I take the Montpelier exit towards his house it occurs to me that he was married to my mother for 65 years, and though she passed away 6 months ago, he’s still in love with her, …still honoring his vows.

The heavy mist covers the windshield. It’s been raining for two days now. As I make the turn onto Winn’s Church road, I think that it’s a good day to see my Dad.