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An Encounter with a Saint

A little boy approached me after a recent concert with something clearly on his mind. He had waited till the crowd dispersed, and his parents sat in the pews at the back of the auditorium, wanting to give him his space but unable to avert their eyes. He wrung his hands and shifted his weight from sneaker to sneaker. He wanted to ask me a question, he said. I said that was fine, and uncapped my Sharpie marker for the autograph I thought I was about to sign.

Then he surprised me. He didn’t want an autograph, and he didn’t want to ask about songwriting. (I’m embarrassed at my presumptuousness.) He asked me, “How can I be sure I’m saved?” I blinked. I glanced across the room at his parents, then back at him, and saw that he was dead serious. I bought myself some time by answering his question with a question. I sat on the stage steps and asked him why he was asking.

He told me he had been reading Jesus’ parable about the sheep and the goats, and also in Revelation about the final judgment. He was troubled by the parable of the sower, and said he was afraid he might be one of the seeds that fell by the wayside and was gobbled up by the birds. He told me he had doubts about his faith; he was troubled in spirit. By the time he was finished, his voice was shaky and he was on the verge of tears. What a burden for such young shoulders!

I was overcome with admiration, and I told him so. That he was wrestling with these things was no indicator of a lack of faith, but an abundance of it. If he was wondering about things like salvation and judgment and the nature of Jesus’ love, he was farther along on his journey than I was at his age. Anne Lamott said, “The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s certainty.” Faith is obedience in the face of doubt, which is to say, faith requires doubt in order to survive. Faith is a courageous act of defiance, not always a happy-go-lucky frolic.

So the problem wasn’t his doubt; the problem was his fear. “There is no fear in love,“ says 1 John 4:18. So ask your questions, lie awake wondering, wrestle with angels, even shake your fist at the heavens, but don’t be afraid. Perfect love drives out fear, and Jesus’ love is perfect. It is strong enough for our doubt, our sin, and even our secret fear.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about my encounter with this young saint was that after he left and I packed up my guitar, I felt a glow in my chest. My own faith was brighter, stronger, more vivid to me because of his trembling confession. The boy revealed his darkness to me, and God turned it to light.

May I remember that next time I’m tempted to carry my burden alone.


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