June 7, 2006 at 10:50 pm #1281
This is a little long but is well worth it!
Rev. John Powell, a professor at Loyola University in Chicago
writes about Tommy, a student in his Theology of Faith class.
Some twelve years ago, I stood watching my university students
file into the classroom for our first session in the Theology of
That was the day I first saw Tommy. My eyes and my mind both
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
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
Tommy turned out to be the “atheist in residence” in my Theology
of Faith course. He constantly objected to, smirked at, or whined
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
When he came up at the end of the course to turn in his final
exam, he asked in a cynical tone, “Do you think I’ll ever find God?”
I decided instantly on a little shock therapy.
“No!” I said very emphatically.
“Why not?,” he responded, “I thought that was the product you
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
and my life.
I felt slightly disappointed at the thought that he had missed my
“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?”, I asked.
“Well, it could be worse.”, he replied.
“Like what?”, I asked.
“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.”, he replied.
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 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
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
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
your class and I remembered something else you had said:” “The
sadness is to go through life without loving. But it would be
almost equally sad to go through life and leave this world without
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.
“Yes, what?”, he asked without lowering the newspaper.
“Dad, I would like to talk with you.”
“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
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
three weeks.’ “Apparently God does things in His own way and at His
But the important thing is that He was there. He found me! You were
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 it.”
“Ooh I was ready for you, but I don’t know if I’m ready for your
“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
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 read this simple
story about God’s love, thank you for listening. And to you, Tommy,
somewhere in the sunlit, verdant hills of heaven — I told them,
Tommy as I 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.
Rev. John Powell, Professor Loyola University in ChicagoJune 8, 2006 at 9:55 pm #6463
Wow, that is one powerful story. I felt my eyes begin to water towards the end. Now that I think of it, I have never told my dad, directly to his face that I love him. I once told him at an airport I think and when I was a kid, and through hallmark cards. But that’s it. This story really moved me. More ways than one. Thank you Weather for sharing it. I can’t wait to my dad and my mom. I’m going to tell them both, to thier face that I love them.June 9, 2006 at 12:23 am #6466
“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. [b:1t0n88eb]God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.[/b:1t0n88eb]” (1 John 4:16)
Requiescas in pace, Tommy. ” title=”Wink” />
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