The things that we don’t get a chance to say are always the things that we think about the most.
Often it’s a tiny thing: reminding a friend that you’re there for a chat; or just a smile as someone slips out of that party they’re tired of being at, only the two of you knowing why.
I had a friend who, for the first six or seven weeks of his trying to get to know me, I ignored entirely.
It might have been because he was a quiet, older man who recognised the trauma that I’d been through in the recent months. I was a twelve year old, running around the church after the service with my friends, pretending to be fine after the tragic death of my Grandfather barely weeks beforehand – it had happened five minutes after I’d taken a walk with him, and it had torn my world apart.
But this friend persevered, and eventually this twelve year old learnt some respect, and responded when he said hello for the seventh or eighth time.
His Name was Ted.
He was in his seventies by then. And now I will miss him, for the rest of my life. Ted had a huge stroke in the early 2000s and was told that he would never walk again. He defied doctors as often as the rest of us tie our shoes. He was weakened in his body, but his mind was always there: razor sharp wit and a gentle, quiet wisdom, all the way through our friendship.
Ted died a few weeks ago – not from Covid – he finally lost the fight that he’d been having with his own body for decades; but I like to believe that he fought because he had so much to give to people like me. So much encouragement to share. And that’s why I’m writing this: because Ted told me to not stop writing. He told me it mattered. And he mattered to me.
I’m also writing this here because Heather runs this ministry, this blog, this Instagram page, to try and remind people that there are people who want to sit with them in the suffering and that even if they might not believe it, that God sits there with them too. Or, as Footprints in the Sand tells us:
“My precious child, I love you and will never leave you. Never, ever, during your trials and testings. When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you”.
So, when you sit on that lonely park bench, or alone on your sofa, scrolling Twitter with that numb, dull feeling that pain causes us: please, know that you don’t have to stay there alone.
You’ll be No Smaller
I’ve been that person, sitting alone on my bed in an empty house, in a job 200 miles away from all of my closest friends. I was 22, Ted and I had been friends for ten years, and I’d come to know that the frail, stroke-weakened man was in fact a giant of character, wit and wisdom. And I missed him and his wife, my dear friend Audrey. I didn’t know how to express the loneliness that I felt. I loved the job, but the lonely hours outside of work – that almost killed me; the darkness that crept into my mind in the small hours of the night.
So I phoned Ted and Audrey up, knowing full well that my phone call would start off with me pretending, in the way that young people do – pretending that we’re checking in on the old folk, making sure that they’re ok. Hoping against hope that sometimes, they’ll check on us so that we can tell them how close to the breaking point we are.
But they just know, in that telepathic way that super-cool old people always do. That day, they did. Like they always did.
Ted didn’t say much on that call – I mostly talked to Audrey, and she relayed to Ted. He said one thing at the end, knowing how much I was struggling:
He took the phone and said, Tom, come home. You’ll be no smaller in our eyes”.
Ted sat with me in my pain. He sat with me while I looked for a new job, closer to home when I moved back to the north. He took just a few minutes every week after church, and he took the time. He was my friend.
Two are Better than One.
In this culture and time, despite all these things that we’re encouraged to do, sometimes we don’t share enough. We still tell each other that “yeah, I’m fine”. So please, if you take one thing from this – don’t believe anyone who says that. Even if people are happy, chances are, they worry about something.
Ask them what.
Ask them why.
Ask them how you can help them.
And here is why:
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, while talking of toil, oppression and friendship, says this: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour; if either one of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls, and has no-one to help them up”.
And then, in Thessalonians 5:11: “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”.
God didn’t just sit us down on this planet and tell us to look after ourselves and our own needs. He told us to love and to care for each other. It’s that simple – care. Even if you’re not somebody who believes in the Bible – it’s worth a shot, right?
Don’t do it so that you can post on social media about it; don’t do it so that somebody else might notice. Do it for the reason that Ted made sure to shake my hand every week that he saw me – to ask how I was, and to pray for me, even when I lied to him.
If you’ll indulge me one more story about who Ted really was at heart.
Ted was at my house one day, when I drove home from university, listening to the Test Match Special the whole way. It sounded like England was struggling, and it wasn’t pretty cricket.
Ted was in front of our TV, with Audrey and my Mum out for coffee, when I got home several hours later, with the cricket on.
“Is it as bad as it sounds on the radio?” I asked.
He barely moved, but tilted his head ever so slightly towards me and smiled his tiny cheeky grin. He patted the sofa beside him: “Nope – now that there’s two of us, you’ve halved my suffering”.
Two are better than one.
I will miss my gentle, quiet, wisecrack friend. He fought his illness hard, every day for fifteen years. And yet, in all of that suffering, he took the time to lessen mine.
Ted was a fighter, and his fight is now over – but mine, yours and ours continues: to bother to do what Ted did. He used his mind to care for others: sometimes with a prayer, in private without recognition; and sometimes you have to go a bit further. Make a cup of tea or a sandwich and walk around to your friend’s wall, and just sit there. Make them feel known. Smile at somebody when you know they might need it. Send that letter, email or text to that person that you haven’t spoken to for a while.
And if that doesn’t work – try again, and be glad that you’re not trying, like Ted, to get a twelve year old to pay attention to something that might help them. (Unless you are – in which case, I wish you luck, and remember that I’m proof that that strategy pays off!)
But that’s it – that’s the single most important thing that my friend ever taught me; that’s what being Jesus to others is about. It’s about simple, every day kindness and care – and about trying not to lie to each other about being fine.
Ted never hid his pain: he shared it – shared when physio was hard, but that Audrey kept him going, and made sure that in the same way, I knew that I could share mine with him. So, when that call comes in one day, remind your friend, like Ted reminded me that day:
You won’t be any smaller in my eyes.
His name was Ted Gladsone – and he was my friend.