The Night Vulnerable Love Stepped Into My Life

By Keith Miller | October 5, 2009

Keith, who was the person who gave you the courage to reveal your own problems and unacceptable feelings as a way to connect with and free Christians plagued by “unspeakable” problems?

Thanks for asking this. I haven’t talked about much, but at one point I knew that what I needed personally was a model: someone who was seriously trying to be God’s person and who obviously was committed to Christ and had intellectual integrity, but who also faced the kinds of fears, problems and failures that I faced. Evidently, this was not a combination to be found in a single Christian communicator. People seriously committed to God either did not have the kind of struggles I had, or considered them too insignificant to be mentioned. I had met some other strugglers who, like me, were trying to slug it out with this paradox, but we were all nobodies. I had never run across a communicator with any authority who admitted to this strange predicament of feeling unable to be whole, in spite of the power and joy to be found in the gospel.

Then in the summer of 1965, Dr. Tournier came to Laity Lodge in the remote hill country of southwest Texas for a conference. I was director of the conference center. And although I had heard of Paul Tournier, I had never read anything he had written.

The first evening he spoke, the “great hall” at the lodge was filled with psychiatrists, psychologists, MDs of all varieties, Christian ministers and lay leaders from various professions. The air was almost electric with expectation, and I realized how much the conference guests were looking forward to hearing this man whose books they had read. Many of the guests had traveled hundreds of miles for this weekend. We had turned down a number of requests to attend, and still the group had overflowed into the motel in the nearest town. As we all gathered for the first session, I wondered how well Tournier would be able to cross the language barrier from his French through an interpreter to us. I had no idea what content to expect.

Then he began to speak. Within five minutes the room had faded and we were transported into another world. A little boy was describing his struggle with loneliness and self-doubt almost sixty years before in a country several thousand miles away. You could have heard a pin drop on the stone floor. I sat behind the speaker near the huge fireplace and looked past Paul Tournier into the eyes of almost a hundred sophisticated American professionals. Inside those eyes, wide open, I could see a roomful of other lonely little boys and girls reliving their own struggles for identity and worth.

After fifteen or twenty minutes had passed, a strange thing began to happen, something I have never seen happen before or since. As Paul spoke in French, we found ourselves nodding in agreement and understanding—before his words were translated. We trusted him so much, and felt he understood us so well, that we knew at a subconscious level we would resonate with what he was saying. He described problems, doubts, joys, meanings, fears—many of which still existed for him—and spoke of them naturally, as if they were the materials God normally worked with in God’s healing ministry among all people, Christians included.

Before us was a man who did not even speak our language, an almost white haired man in his sixties who wore a wrinkled tweed suit and was exhausted from a whirlwind trip across America. And yet as he spoke fatigue, age, clothes and language difference all faded into the background. He turned periodically to make eye-contact with those of us behind him. I was mainly conscious of his sparkling eyes, his personal transparency, and a glow of genuine caring about his face. As he spoke, I felt and heard love and the truth of God about my own life.

I found myself having to fight back tears—tears of relief and gratitude, and release from my solitary burden. Because of my own struggles, I had sensed that, to be healed, we need more than good medical advice or even excellent psychological counseling. We need presence, vulnerable personal presence. I knew the Bible claimed that was what God gave us in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit: his own presence to heal and strengthen us. And I had felt that somehow we Christians were to be channels to convey that healing presence personally to other people’s lives through our own openness and vulnerability. But in Paul Tournier I met at last a living model of the kind of communication I was trying in a stumbling, understand way to find.

I made two decisions during that conference. First, I would go back to school to get some psychological training. Second, as soon as I finished a manuscript I was working on, I would read some of Tournier’s books. I was already in the process of writing a book for new Christians about living in a personal relationship with God. Existing books of this sort seemed to me overly pious, and they did not deal with the “stumbling blocks” that had bothered me as a new Christian. After Tournier’s visit, I completed the manuscript of that, my first book, with great enthusiasm.

And when I sent my manuscript to the publisher, the next thing I did was to read The Meaning of Persons. Again, tears. For years I had been looking for books whose authors were real and transparent so that I could identify with their problems and move toward healing in Christ. The closest thing I had found was Augustine’s Confessions, written in the fourth century, which is what had finally persuaded me to write a book about my own struggles as a contemporary Christian. But if I had read Tournier first, I doubt I would have felt the need to write that manuscript, The Taste of New Wine.

Knowing that a man existed who loved God and yet who also faced his own humanity and used the discoveries and methods of scientific investigation did something for me. And knowing that, at least partially because of Christ, this man could afford to be honest about his own struggles, was to push me far beyond my small horizons of security and faith. From that day forward, until his death in 1986, Paul Tournier became a mentor and friend.

“Give from the center of who you are. Don’t fake it.” Eph. 4:15f THE MESSAGE

Lord, thank you that you want us “to grow up, to know the whole truth, and tell it in love.” (Rom. 12:9, THE MESSAGE) In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Topics: Christian Living, Weekly Devotional | Comments Off on The Night Vulnerable Love Stepped Into My Life
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