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TOMMY
A STORY OF LOVE AND A SEARCH FOR GOD
 
 
John Powell, a professor at Loyola University in Chicago writes
about a student in his Theology of Faith class named Tommy:
Some twelve years ago, I stood watching my university students
file into the classroom for our first session in the Theology of
Faith. That was the day I first saw Tommy. My eyes and my mind
both blinked. He was combing his long flaxen hair, which hung
six inches below his shoulders. It was the first time I had ever
seen a boy with hair that long. I guess it was just coming into
fashion then. I know in my mind that it isn't what's on your
head but what's in it that counts; but on that day I was
unprepared and my emotions flipped. I immediately filed Tommy
under "S" for strange. . .very strange. Tommy turned out to be
the "atheist in residence" in my Theology of Faith course. He
constantly objected to, smirked at, or whined about the
possibility of an unconditionally loving Father/God. We lived
with each other in relative peace for one semester, although I
admit he was for me at times a serious pain in the back pew.
When he came up at the end of the course to turn in his final
exam, he asked in a slightly cynical tone, "Do you think I'll ever 
find God?"
I decided instantly on a little shock therapy. "No!" I said very emphatically.
"Oh," he responded, "I thought that was the product you were pushing."
I let him get five steps from the classroom door and then called
out, "Tommy! I don't think you'll ever find Him, but I am
absolutely certain that He will find you!"
He shrugged a little and left my class and my life. I felt
slightly disappointed at the thought that he had missed my
clever line --- He will find you! At least I thought it was clever. 
Later I heard that Tommy had graduated and I was duly grateful.
Then a sad report came. I heard that Tommy had terminal cancer.
Before I could search him out, he came to see me. When he walked
into my office, his body was very badly wasted and the long hair
had all fallen out as a result of chemotherapy. But his eyes
were bright and his voice was firm, for the first time, I believe.
"Tommy, I've thought about you so often. I hear you are sick," I blurted out.
"Oh, yes, very sick. I have cancer in both lungs. It's a matter of weeks."
"Can you talk about it, Tom?" I asked.
"Sure, what would you like to know?" he replied.
"What's it like to be only twenty-four and dying?"
"Well, it could be worse."
"Like what?"
"Well, like being fifty and having no values or ideals, like
being fifty and thinking that booze, seducing women, and making
money are the real 'biggies' in life."
I began to look through my mental file cabinet under 'S' where I
had filed Tommy as strange. (It seems as though everybody I try
to reject by classification, God sends back into my life to educate me.)
"But what I really came to see you about," Tom said, "is
something you said to me on the last day of class." (He
remembered!) He continued, "I asked you if you thought I would
ever find God and you said, 'No!' which surprised me. Then you
said, 'But He will find you.' I thought about that a lot, even
though my search for God was hardly intense at that time. (My
clever line. He thought about that a lot!)
"But when the doctors removed a lump from my groin and told me
that it was malignant, that's when I got serious about locating
God. And when the malignancy spread into my vital organs, I
really began banging bloody fists against the bronze doors of
heaven. But God did not come out. In fact, nothing happened.
Did you ever try anything for a long time with great effort and
with no success? You get psychologically glutted, fed up with
trying. And then you quit. Well, one day I woke up, and
instead of throwing a few more futile appeals over that high
brick wall to a God who may be or may not be there, I just quit.
I decided that I didn't really care about God, about an after
life, or anything like that. I decided to spend what time I had
left doing something more profitable. I thought about you and
your class and I remembered something else you had said: 'The
essential sadness is to go through life without loving. But it
would be almost equally sad to go through life and leave this
world without ever telling those you loved that you had loved them.'"
"So, I began with the hardest one, my Dad. He was reading the
newspaper when I approached him."
"Dad."
"Yes, what?" he asked without lowering the newspaper.
"Dad, I would like to talk with you."
"Well, talk."
"I mean . . . It's really important."
The newspaper came down three slow inches. "What is it?"
"Dad, I love you. I just wanted you to know that."
Tom smiled at me and said it with obvious satisfaction, as though
he felt a warm and secret joy flowing inside of him.
"The newspaper fluttered to the floor. Then my father did two
things I could never remember him ever doing before. He cried
and he hugged me. We talked all night, even though he had to go
to work the next morning. It felt so good to be close to my
father, to see his tears, to feel his hug, to hear him say that he loved me. "
"It was easier with my mother and little brother. They cried
with me, too, and we hugged each other, and started saying real
nice things to each other. We shared the things we had been
keeping secret for so many years. I was only sorry about one
thing --- that I had waited so long. Here I was, just beginning
to open up to all the people I had actually been close to."
"Then, one day I turned around and God was there. He didn't come
to me when I pleaded with Him. I guess I was like an animal
trainer holding out a hoop, 'C'mon, jump through. C'mon, I'll
give You three days, three weeks.' Apparently God does things in
His own way and at His own hour. But the important thing is that
He was there. He found me. You were right. He found me even
after I stopped looking for Him."
"Tommy," I practically gasped, "I think you are saying something
very important and much more universal than you realize. To me,
at least, you are saying that the surest way to find God is not
to make Him a private possession, a problem solver, or an instant
consolation in time of need, but rather by opening to love. You
know, the Apostle John said that. He said: 'God is love, and
anyone who lives in love is living with God and God is living in
him.' Tom, could I ask you a favor? You know, when I had you in
class you were a real pain. But (laughingly) you can make it all
up to me now. Would you come into my present Theology of Faith
course and tell them what you have just told me? If I told them
the same thing it wouldn't be half as effective as if you were to tell them."
"Ooh ..... I was ready for you, but I don't know if I'm ready for your class."
"Tom, think about it. If and when you are ready, give me a call."
In a few days Tom called, said he was ready for the class, that
he wanted to do that for God and for me. So we scheduled a
date. However, he never made it. He had another appointment,
far more important than the one with me and my class. Of course,
his life was not really ended by his death, only changed. He
made the great step from faith into vision. He found a life far
more beautiful than the eye of man has ever seen or the ear of
man has ever heard or the mind of man has ever imagined.
Before he died, we talked one last time. 
"I'm not going to make it to your class," he said.
"I know, Tom."
"Will you tell them for me? Will you . . . tell the whole world for me?"
"I will, Tom. I'll tell them. I'll do my best."
So, to all of you who have been kind enough to hear this simple
statement about love, thank you for listening. And to you, Tommy,
somewhere in the sunlit, verdant hills of heaven --- I told them,
Tommy, as best I could.
If this story means anything to you, please pass it on to a
friend or two. It is a true story and is not enhanced for
publicity purposes. 
With thanks,
John Powell,
Professor
Loyola University in Chicago 
 

 


"Neither doctrinal purity nor diligent labor will ever be a substitute for passionate devotion to God."

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