Saturday, January 4, 2020

Persistent Forgiveness for Persistent Hurt

Forgiveness works beautifully when the offender repents, and the one offended can set aside hurt. This process is the critical ingredient for growth in faith, growth in character, and growth in a relationship. 

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. II Chronicles 7: 14

Through no merit of our own, God brings healing and growth out of the process of forgiveness. This truth is His promise, found in the comfort and glory of His mercy. 

But, as dedicated sinners, we continually find ways to throw a wrench into the works. It is not unusual for us to find ourselves in a situation of persistent hurt, a situation where the change of behavior found in repentance is not likely to happen. We have people in our lives we know will hurt us again and again. We feel there is no hope to stop the pain and turmoil.

Forgiving becomes a particular challenge when the person hurting does not repent. We know the pain will come again. In such cases, the advice of the world is to withhold forgiveness.

Consider a wayward child obsessed with his own needs and struggles. He may refrain from repentance and continue in the actions that bring harm and hurt to himself and his family. Should he be forgiven when there is no evidence of repentance?

What about that person at work who, for reasons not known, continually stabs people in the back, making them look bad in front of others. Should she be forgiven in light of her motives?

What about the spouse that is once again, unfaithful, and assumes that the appearance of repentance is enough to earn forgiveness? Should this person be forgiven when his promise to change is not sincere?

We know the answers should be "yes," but our heart is reluctant. Instead, we sit in our pain, nurse it, and soon we harden our hearts. Our hearts reject hope, and then they reject the offender. 

The world tells us this is a good thing to do. Social media memes tell us that rejecting the repeat offender is healthy for the one who is hurt and offers the opportunity to heal. Cultural wisdom says we deserve better and that if we don't assert ourselves, we will hurt ourselves. The world says to stand up to those who hurt you to fight back, or at least walk away from that pain. The world says to have faith in you, in your value, in your strength.

The world is wrong. God is not happy to see His children cause each other pain, but His plan for dealing with persistent hurt does not just involve the one being hurt. He wants better for His children than brokenness. His love for us sees past our hurt toward a plan for a better life.

Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. Matthew 18:21-22

When we sit in our anger and pain, or when we cast it off by walking away, we hurt ourselves in ways we cannot imagine. Anger and hurt are two emotions that stop us from feeling empathy.  When the offender continues to hurt, we continue to feel anger. Gradually we lose the ability to empathize with the person causing the pain.

In most situations of sin, we want to forgive, but also find a way to disciple, or teach, the offender how to not repeat the offense. In cases of persistent hurt, sin that is tied to emotional brokenness, and sometimes mental illness, there is rarely hope for changing the behavior of the offender. If we lose empathy, we do not so much walk away from pain as we walk away from the opportunity to repair the brokenness. 

We need to take control of emotion to stop it from hurting us or damaging relationships. When we work with someone who repeatedly hurts us, it is one of the most challenging times to take control of our emotions. This control is hard won; found only in repetitive action.

So what is God's answer to chronic hurt? It is persistent forgiveness.

I am not advocating for simply allowing someone to continue to hurt you. It is healthy to protect yourself from abuse. However, forgiveness allows us to protect ourselves without losing empathy for the one who causes pain. If we do not understand their brokenness, we will not understand ours.

Forgive the person who hurts you. Pray for them. Look for ways to serve them. Do not serve to create guilt, but serve because God asks you to. In these actions, your ability to feel empathy for this person will grow. This empathy will give insight into their struggle as well as your own. The message your brain receives is that forgiveness is more important than anger or hurt. That sounds like healing to me.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6: 1-2

The world says to fight back and to protect yourself. God says to restore and bear burdens. Here we find very different techniques with very different outcomes. The world champions one; the other is a strenuous walk of trust and faith.

Fall into God's path to healing. 

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Christmas Blessings

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). Matthew 1:22-23

Husband Paul remembers this particular piece of artwork as having a long history at his house. It hangs on our wall and is a favorite of mine. It’s more than a tiny ceramic baby on a piece of driftwood; it hints at the bigger story of Christmas. The swaddled baby has its arms outstretched, and is strategically placed to allow a mark on the wood to give the appearance of a halo, perhaps even a crown of thorns.

When the light is right, the baby’s arms cast a shadow envisaging the crucifixion. This piece expresses tenderness, agony and victory, leaving our emotional sense a bit overwhelmed. How can the helpless cry of an infant grow into the intense unwavering desire to take on the sin of the world? These tiny arms welcome us into the family of God in a startling message of truth and power.

Babies remind us of new life and hope for a better future. Every parent gazes at a newborn and imagines the possibilities of accomplishment, kindness, bravery, and joy. Mary and Joseph must have gazed on Baby Jesus in the same way, but now we know the bigger story.

The cross reminds us that hope is useless unless grounded in the saving work of Jesus. The stories of our lives on earth, while filled with all manner of events and emotions, are not sources of hope. Our hope springs from the tiny babe with outstretched arms who will one day carry the burden of our sin to a different piece of wood. This is the source of our Christmas joy. This is the story of our hope, our faith, and our Salvation.

May the smaller parts of your life story continually point you toward the bigger story of Christmas, And may the events of each day find a way to remind you of God’s perfect love.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Grace Never Forgets

I broke three different bones in my foot. This is apparently becoming an annual event as last year, I broke a bone in my ankle. This time instead of tripping on a rock I dropped a table on my foot.

I usually get a quizzical look when I tell people that, so I will explain it a bit better. I was doing volunteer work at church and needed a different table than the one set up for me. I flipped the table on its side to knock down the legs and dropped the table on my foot.

I used to teach at the school connected with this church, so I am quite familiar with this table and have, over the years, flipped it on its side many times without incident. However, I am old now, and I forgot about the weak grip in my right hand from a different injury. I could have asked for help. I should have gotten help from the church’s administrative assistant, but I was arrogant enough to think I could do it on my own.

Now they won’t let me move tables at church anymore.

I am reminded of a sweet exchange with my Mother-in-law several years ago. Here is the story in an excerpt from my book on caregiving called Weary Joy:

Sometime after her dementia diagnosis, Dorris’ sense of balance became compromised, and her health-care professional wanted her to use a walker. Dorris was able to walk reasonably well but she occasionally lost her balance. When she stood up to walk, she did not feel like she needed her walker, so trying to teach her to use it was a challenge for everyone in her care community.

While Dorris was not successful at remembering to use her walker, she did remember the struggle. One day, with determination in her voice she announced, “I want my bicycle back. If I can get back to riding my bike, maybe I can convince them I don’t need my walker.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” I replied (p. 83)

Dementia is a strange thing. It steals away your ability to make new memories, but it doesn't necessarily impact your determination. I think our sin creates a kind of behavior dementia. We so easily forget our weaknesses, but we retain our determination to fix things on our own.
We forget that we have sinned in the past and that we will do it again.

We forget that our efforts to stop sinning have been in vain.

We forget that it is not possible for us to create a life that is good enough to get us into heaven.

We forget, over and over again, that we need Jesus.

It seems reasonable to our puny human brains that we can take charge of our faith life and be kind enough, well-meaning enough,  study scriptures enough, attend church and partake in the Lord's supper enough to slip into heaven in spite of our sins. We really, really want salvation to be about us.

When salvation is about us, we have a sense of control.

When salvation is about us, we can afford to judge others.

When salvation is about us, we can check it off of our "to do" list.

When salvation is about us, we can feel good about ourselves.

But salvation is not about us. Our only participation is our desperate, constant need for a Savior. 

Salvation is about Jesus. It is about a love so strong, He came to earth as a helpless infant to meet us in our frantic need. It is about a perfectly lived life and perfectly endured death performed in our place. Salvation is about Jesus' resurrection and His act of love taking the place of our sin, weaknesses, and failure. Salvation is about love.

I do not like growing old and finding more things that I cannot do as well as when I was younger. I don't like having to ask for help. I don't like thinking of what is around the corner for this old lady with osteoporosis and questionable eating and exercise habits. I don't like any of this.

However, when it comes to my salvation, I must tell myself that it is good to be dependent on a God who loves me and sent His Son to die for me. It is the only solution, and it is the best feeling ever.

Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    I have no good apart from you.”

As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
    in whom is all my delight.

The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
    their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
    or take their names on my lips.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
    you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
    in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me;
    because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
    my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
    or let your holy one see corruption.

You make known to me the path of life;
    in your presence there is fullness of joy;
    at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16

Weary Joy: The Caregiver's Journey  
by Kim Marxhausen

and Amazon