The characters in this story are fictional—but you may find that some of them are familiar.
My name is Matthew, but my friends Peter and Thom usually call me Matt. I guess most people do. The only people who don’t are either people who don’t know me very well or who I have given express permission. My friend Luke calls me Matthew quite often, but he always does it out of a joke. We were watching a Saturday Night Live episode one time and that’s where it came from. I hardly remember the episode, but it fits that Luke calls me Matthew. You see, Luke loves comedy. In high school and college he spent a ton of his free time in improv classes and at his schools’ comedy clubs. By the time I had become friends with him he had quite a knack for it and it kept all of us entertained.
I met Luke at a job I had in college. It was where I met Peter and Thom as well and turned out to be one of the best places for meeting friends I have ever known. We spent so much time together. We were all stuck in a secluded place in the mountains and you didn’t have much chance to get out, so we didn’t. We did everything together out of necessity and it made people who would have never gravitated to one another become quite close. Out of this I made these friendships that grew like a fire. If we became too close, we smothered each other, but too far and we would burn out alone. Anyway, at this job you were lucky to get the same day off. To us that was worth more than any paycheck you ever made. But one time all three of us, Luke, Peter, Thom, myself and even our friend Jude all had the same day off. So we went camping in the mountains that surrounded us because what else would we do?
Camping was a great way to spend our day off. You might think that when you work six days a week, your only night off might be spent catching up on sleep, but we found that spending a night in the woods was much more rejuvenating. So we went out in the woods and set up our hammocks on a hillside around a campfire. The guys started to light their pipes. I smoked a cigarette while I packed mine and let the stress of work begin to float away.
“Damn. This is good you guys.”
There were nods of agreement all around. Peter held a match to his pipe and after a couple puffs looked at Thom. “How was the week man?”
Thom hung his head before he began to speak, as was his way, “It’s been good. It is hard taking over some of the new responsibilities I’ve gotten this month.”
I chuckled. We had all taken on roles of more responsibility. “I can relate, brother.”
Peter looked to Jude, “How’s this past month been for you?”
“Guys, it has been so good. I’ve been learning so much about what God wants to do in my life.” Jude was the newest to our tight group of friends. He had hardly been there a month. “Plus, I have loved getting to meet you guys. It has meant so much to me. Matthew, our first conversation was so great and then working with you, Peter, has been awesome. I’ve just seen so much growth in my life and in you guys. It is just so awesome.”
I loved Jude. “Dude, you have no idea how awesome it’s been getting to know you. I’m so stoked you’re here man.”
Peter looked at Luke, “How was your day?”
I dragged on my cigarette, holding the smoke in my lungs. The cigarette smoldered in the silence. I could see the glow of the fire and the light from their pipes in the faces of the guys around the fire. I let the smoke out of my lungs, hoping the cancer wasn’t already at work. Luke stared at his knees for a little while. “Guys, I am frustrated.” He paused for a long time. I looked at Thom and we nodded at each other. “It was just a really hard day of work. I don’t know.”
Pete hesitated before he spoke, “I’m sorry man. Can we be praying for you?”
“Yes. I don’t know what for. But yes.”
The pipes around the fire glowed for a moment. I flicked my cigarette into the fire and lit my pipe. “This is great Tobacco Peter. What is it again?” I was fighting to keep away the awkward.
“Frog Morton’s Cellar. I got it at Stag,” the local tobacconist, “and it might be my new favorite tobacco.” Thom and I nodded in agreement. Jude fussed with his pipe. He was having trouble keeping it lit and we fell into giving him a hard time about it. What else are friends for after all?
Luke kept quiet. I would glance over and pray for him every once in a while. I wanted to help him, I just didn’t know how I could. I had a feeling that Thomas felt the same way. He was probably the most empathetic of our friends. That guy felt your pain. He would hold it in him and I hoped it wasn’t working to destroy him. I looked to Thom and he was watching Luke and I knew we were both praying for him.
I drifted into the conversation again. I think we were talking about camping gear or something trivial like that when Luke butted in, “Matt, can I have a cigarette?”
“Of course man,” I said as I tossed the pack to him, “Anytime. You doin’ alright?”
“Yeah,” but his hand shook as he lit his smoke. He lay the pack on the ground next to him and there was a tear on his cheek but he was trying to hold back.
We all tried to carry on like it was alright. Jude and I brought up some theology and were off. We could talk about that stuff for hours. But Luke wasn’t alright. I think his cigarette burned out in his fingers, but either way he flicked it into the fire, stood up, and took off running up the mountain. We looked back and forth, dumbfounded. It had happened in a second. But then a boot flew past my face—Thomas had jumped up and was running up the hill after him. Peter looked at Jude and I, “What’s going on?” I shrugged. Jude said he didn’t know.
Peter stood up. “I’m going after them. I’ll give them some space and come back if they need to be alone.”
“Sounds good to me bro.”
Pete stood up and walked after them, but before he was out of the light from the fire he looked back at me and Jude, “We need to be praying for Luke.”
Jude looked at me and nodded. He began to pray and I prayed with him but couldn’t focus. I silently prayed that God would comfort Luke and give Thom the words that Luke needed to hear. I prayed that Thomas would be God for Luke in that moment. Not that he would take God’s place, but that he would be the tool in God’s hand. As was my way I couldn’t help but get upset that I didn’t know how to help. I just wanted to fix whatever was wrong. But Jude kept praying and I listened. I think he prayed about how it wasn’t our job to fix people. I cringed, but I knew he was right.
Eventually Jude and I ran out of words and just sat there and smoked. When Peter came back he said that Thomas and Luke were right behind him and that we would probably hear from Luke what was going on. They came into the light a moment later. Thomas had his arm around Luke and it seemed as if he was carrying him. They sat down and we were all quiet. The sounds of the fire crackling and the pipes sizzling were all that could be heard as we waited for Luke to decide if he was ready to talk.
When Luke finally spoke he told us about what he had been fighting for a while, maybe months or years, but he had struggled with anxiety and we had just seen a panic attack. It was something he was working through, going to counseling for, and trying to fight.
“I don’t need you guys to fix it. You can’t. But I want you guys on my team. He looked at Thom and Thom just looked down at his feet. “I need someone to run after me when I can’t do anything but run away.”
I looked back over at Thomas who was hanging his head. But there was peace there. He had been the help that Luke had needed, just as we had prayed that he might be. I don’t think any of us left that fire pit any more certain about how Luke was doing. I certainly wasn’t any more confident in where any of us were, but I knew one thing—that those guys would chase after me and that I would chase them until we couldn’t run from ourselves any more.