One of the only true friends I have in this world died last night. 45 years old.
The fact that he was a fiercely introverted nonconformist with a cartoonish wit, who had known the darkest throes of trauma and depression at various points in life; who knew what it was like to be misunderstood and ostracized because of his outward appearance…it made us instant friends – and at a time in my life when I had absolutely zero desire to have friends.
We had such a strange and delightful friendship.
Most people get upset if you text them after such and such a time. This guy would happily shoot the breeze with you whether it was 1 in the afternoon or 3 in the morning. We’d talk about anything and everything imaginable – from deep, theological discourse to nuanced 20-minute conversations about Francis from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure; from zany ideas we had for movies or methods that were helping us overcome anxiety and low self-esteem to the latest instance we had fallen under somebody’s grievance for inadvertently breaking some ridiculous unwritten rule of American church convention.
After being misunderstood or replaced by so many “friends” whose judgement never let me be my uniquely real self, it was one of the greatest blessings in this world having a friend who I could be real with and never have to worry about losing him because I wasn’t just like everyone else.
When I ministered at a church in Florida, I put him to use, making him my personal Consigliere. Whenever I had a casual appointment with someone, he would contact them at my behest a day in advance and send them the wackiest emails that made me sound as important and regal as the King of England. We did it as a gag about how I don’t take myself as serious as others might.
We laughed together until we cried. But the majority of our friendship was spent hurting together until we cried.
Can’t tell you how many times we prayed together in the park with tears falling down on the bench. He agonized every single hour of his life in every imaginable way. He was in such relentless bodily and psychological torment, he told me on a weekly basis that he wanted so badly to leave his earthly tent and to go to his true home with Jesus.
I believe with all my heart that one of the main reasons God wanted me in Florida those years was to connect with that dude and to impart the strategies I’ve learned in triumphing over anxiety and depression to him in the December of his life. But as usually the case is in ministry, the people one ministers to almost universally become the very ones who minister even more so to you.
The last time I had a true conversation with him nearly two weeks ago, he said he finally sensed his value and how special he really was in the eyes of God.
He had an 8th grade education. But he was one of the deepest, most potent thinkers and theologians I’ll ever know. So much so that I referred to him in a recent sermon as a prominent theologian. But it wasn’t a joke. His insight into so many of the Scriptures was unspeakably rich and will resonate in me for the rest of my life. Many of my sermons and blog posts were birthed from conversations I had with him.
He often predicted that nobody would shed a single tear for him on the day he would die. But I’ve been crying my heart out all day long.
Ultimately, I’m ecstatic for him, finally having been set free from his suffering and now resting in Jesus.
But as for now, my heart is utterly punctured with sorrow at the passing of such a young man.
Aside from Amanda, this guy was my best friend. And my life is irrevocably better because of it.
Your Inner Circle is not a come-one-come-all for just anyone. This is sacred ground.
Don’t let the people who think they’re above you in. Let the Troy Niedfelt’s in. As rare as they are and though they come once in a lifetime, it’s more than worth the wait.