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The Rev. James Ellis III The Rev. James Ellis, III

The Rev. James Ellis III is Chaplain of Discipleship at Hope College in Holland, MI.

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iStruggle

October 17, 2016

Even before moving from the pressurized studios of multimedia journalism production in my former career on yonder to work of the cloth, I felt obligated to help others, to esteem, equip, and protect those who may feel less than or ignored. Bullies made my blood boil, so I have exchanged more than words with more than a few of them through the years. Sometimes that's just how it goes down on life's playground. Narcissists and self-absorbed socialites have gotten it, too. As far back as my memory travels, I've been thought of as that smart, really nice, quiet guy who, though never looking to start any problems, was perfectly willing to stand on the side of good. This was much to the chagrin of my parents. In a bind, "Go get James," my peers would sometimes say. Squashing beefs, or trying to. Breaking up fights. Laying down the hammer of peace and reconciliation. Being mindful of those on the margins because I know how it feels. That's been me.

And this was all well before I knew anything about the Lord, although I'm now sure that he knew me. At the time I simply stood-up for what was right, at least in part, because it seemed like someone should even if it meant enduring the arctic winds that come when you stand alone. Since then, having traversed the torrential waters of death to experience Christ as a young adult, I've endeavored to be this way even more because of his example. While my vocational calling necessitates constant hands-on--proactive, active, and reactive--engagement in the human condition, I struggle with friendships. I don't have many friends; maybe any at all. I never have. It has always been an area of unfulfilled ambition.

And it isn't that I haven't sought them out. I've done my best, showing myself friendly and the whole nine yards, but eventually the results are the same. Close, but no cigar. I'm a good friend, but the other parties flake or turn out to be only interested in you editing their term paper or you being there during their time of need. It begins to feel one-sided and disingenuous, or inauthentic at the least. And since I don't believe in turning a blind eye to this sort of revelation, when I broach the subject head-on, that's it. I am labeled persona non grata and wouldn't you know it, I am back at square one.

In full disclosure, admittedly, I'm a real-deal introvert, a proud one, whose take on friendship is different than what is popular, I know, so I can appreciate that there are those who may say that my standards are too high. I get it. Maybe a fair-weather acquaintance is as good as it gets today. Maybe virtual, voyeuristic connections are all we can handle. Although I may be doomed from the start, given my own eccentricities, it still feels rather crummy to invest so much in others without a true community of my own. I'm a qualitative cat, so having a bevy of friends with whom to commiserate has never been my prayer. Two or three would be perfectly fine.

As it is, my closest friends are octogenarians or close to it. I love them all dearly although it would be nice to also be close to wise people my own age. In truth, most of them are mentors or stand-in, godly grandparent figures, but I at least know that they care for me deeply. They are retired empty nesters whose rich life experiences and perceived proximity to glory may make them more available to being in relationship with me, yes, of course. Technology doesn't rule the day for them for sure, which I appreciate, and they aren't absorbed with every passing cultural, political, or spiritual fancy. Our conversations are robust, simple, honest, and--which I appreciate the most--unashamedly bolstered by our shared denominator, Jesus. I've yet been able to find peers who I can vibe with on that level.

But I get it. I know. Everybody isn't for everybody, I agree. Whatever will be will be. You can only do life with those persuaded to do life with you, so I will continue to be renewed in Christ. Father knows best. This hopefully won't last always. A greater purpose exists in the struggle. I believe that.

But I still struggle.


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