Remain: A Lesson from the Life of Van Gogh’s Postman Friend
contributed by Adam R. Nettesheim
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! ~ Psalm 133:1
“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”
Recently, our family welcomed a beautiful new baby. We’ve been doting over this beautiful new one and delighting in his little fingers and toes and… diaper fillings. Then, I got strep throat, and one by one the rest of the family (except for the baby) all came down with one thing and the other. We tried to avoid infecting each other with our various bugs but when you live together and love each other, sometimes that is going to happen. It’s a strange thing to love someone so much that you have to keep your distance. But placing a mask over your mouth and nose isn’t a way to hide yourself, it’s a way to keep your germs from endangering loved ones while still allowing yourself to be with them, while you undergo a physician’s care.
Motivated by a similar desire to protect others, Van Gogh drove him to the asylum of Saint-Rémy in the south of France. After a time, he recovered enough to move back to town where he could always count on his faithful friend, the postman Roulin.
Van Gogh painted several portraits of his friend and many now hang in galleries around the world and are valued in the millions. As impressive as the price tags might be, you can see from these portraits that their friendship, must have been priceless to Van Gogh.
Roulin was not a doctor nor a priest and there were many things that Van Gogh needed that he could not provide, but he did know how to provide faithful friendship. Thinking on this, I realize that sometimes we feel that if we cannot meet the most pressing needs of a person, that they would be better off without us. This is not true! nor was it true for Van Gogh!!
I am impressed with what I see in the character of Roulin because even though there were limits to what he could do, he did what he could by just showing up.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. ~ Galatians 6:2
A post man delivers relationship incarnated via paper and ink. A parchment declaring someone is loved or “In our thoughts.” There can be all kinds of decrees of association and human connection bound in a single envelope.
But life can attack
sadness surrounds us
hearts can break…fellowship falters….
This is why, it can be a tremendous gift to have someone weather the storms of our lives. And what a gift when we can do the same. The strengthening and remaining in relationships is a noble and challenging call, often asking of us to weather the “snow and rain and heat and gloom of night” of the human soul.
Just Imagine for one moment being a close friend of the troubled Van Gogh.
Sometimes remaining in friendship, requires recognizing or making boundaries. At first glance it can seem like boundaries are a way to slowly leave someone. A way to divide. But in truth, when done in love and from love, recognizing or making a boundary can be a way to REMAIN with someone.
Like with an illness, taking 3 steps back but remaining in relationship with someone is like saying: “There is something unhealthy going on, but I still want to be with you.” We can work towards health and restoration, but in the meantime, I will remain with you, in peace. It is okay to recognize our limitations rather than force something. This can allow love to flourish within the places given to it. Boundaries are a way to strengthen relationship when done right. It’s a desire to continue relationship in as healthy a way as possible rather than end it physically or spiritually. This is not meant to be permission to remove yourself from the lives of the people we disagree with or we find annoying, or from necessary but difficult conversations. And it is not a way to shirk responsibilities God has given us.
This said, there are relationships that will require us to draw some lines. But when those lines are drawn from love, love for yourself AND the other person, when your desire is not to avoid but to be WITH them in as healthy a way as possible, when we desire to make the places we are called to serve beautiful, these lines can AID relationship, not hurt it.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. ~1 John 4:7
One day we will be known and be fully known by the Almighty God who has taken all of our illnesses of body and soul onto himself and embraces us anyways. And the glory of being “One in Christ” is shown where so many people of so many different temperaments and abilities and priorities and personalities and struggles can all be counted as “One Body” is a miraculous mystery that will never be fully unfolded until the end of time. We are imperfect representatives of that but we shine a little more brightly when we work to remain with each other.
What can you do to strengthen your place and your people today? How can you live well and draw appropriate boundaries meant to KEEP connection, not end it? How can you thrive in your calling within the lives of those around you? How can you deliver messages of love and hope to a weary broken world longing to know they are loved?
Carry forth connection. Deliver relationship. As a postman is faithful to his duty, may we be faithful friends.
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. ~Ecclesiastes 4:12