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In addition to the “100% So Far / Always Asked at Every Q&A” question (“What about when the other person is NOT a Christian?”), whenever one of my events does a Q&A time, I am usually asked the question:
“What if the other person REFUSES to forgive me?”
It’s a great question, of course, and one that Ken Sande addresses thoroughly in chapter 6 of The Peacemaker. Here is just an excerpt:
“If you follow the six steps described above, many people will readily say they forgive you. If the person to whom you have confessed does not express forgiveness, however, you may ask, ‘Will you please forgive me?’ This question is a signal that you have done all that you can by way of confession and that the responsibility for the next move has shifted to the other person. This will often help the offended person to make and express the decision to forgive you. (The details of forgiveness will be discussed in chapter 10.)
Be careful, however, not to use this question as a means to pressure someone into forgiving you. Some people can forgive quickly, while others need some time to work through their feelings. My wife is like this. Sometimes, when I have deeply hurt her and later confessed, she needs a while to think and pray. If I press her to say ‘I forgive you’ too quickly, I add to her burdens by introducing feelings of guilt, which can give rise to resentment and bitterness. On the other hand, if I respect her need for some time, she usually comes back to me fairly soon and willingly expresses her forgiveness.
If you sense that the person to whom you confessed is simply not ready to forgive you, it may be helpful to say something like this:
‘I know I have deeply hurt you, and I can understand why you would have a hard time forgiving me. I hope that you will soon be able to forgive me, because I want very much to be reconciled. In the meantime, I will pray for you. In the meantime, I will do my best to repair the damage I caused as quickly as possible and, with God’s help, I will work to overcome my temper. If there is anything else I can do, please let me know.’
Time alone will not always bring forgiveness. Sometimes forgiveness is inhibited because a confession was inadequate. Therefore, when forgiveness is delayed, you may need to go back to the person you wronged and cover some of the elements of confession more thoroughly. For example, you may not have explained adequately how you intend to repair the damage you have done. Or you may have failed to understand and express regret for the way you hurt the other person. If you probe sensitively, you can often discover what is blocking forgiveness and then take care of it.
If forgiveness is still delayed, you have a few options. If the person is a Christian who apparently doesn’t understand what forgiveness means, you may offer a pamphlet or book dealing with forgiveness (see chapter 10). Another possibility would be to encourage the person to talk over the problem with a pastor or a mature Christian friend. If none of these efforts work after a reasonable period of time, you may need to enlist the pastor to help bring about reconciliation. If these avenues are unavailable or ineffective, prayer and the steps outlined in chapter 12 will be your last resort.”
Great advice and a timely reminder to me that I really need to go back and re-read Ken’s book. Again. For like the 100th time. There is just so much to learn and remember when it comes to peacemaking.
But for this post, I now want to switch into the mode of considering three confessions that I made and three responses that I received. The first may be a little hard to hear. I know it still leaves me in that slightly head-shakingly-creepy-and-sad-”Oh my STARS! I can’t believe that just happened!” sort of way. Here is what happened …
Did you know that, every spring, for a certain number of days, Yellowstone National Park is open only to bicyclists? If you can get past the fact that it’s just you and the (hungry!) bears and wolves and bison, it’s quite beautiful and it’s been a fun part of our family’s life-in-Montana-traditions.
One year, when Ella was just a weeee little baby, she and I dropped Fred & Sophie off at the end of the road in Yellowstone (where only bicycles are allowed), and Ella and I headed out of the park to wait for their return. But just before the guard shack, I realized that I had left our National Parks Pass in Fred’s wallet! Not wanting to pay the $25 entrance fee just to go and pick them up in a few hours, I thought I would stop at the guard shack and ask for mercy (“Could you please write down our license plate number? Or would you possibly remember us and our little purple Honda?” etc. etc.)
The thing is, the EXIT side of the guard shack had the window closed. So I waited awhile and when the guard didn’t come, I thought, “Oh. He must not be able to tell them I’m out here.” So I gave our horn the teeniest, tiniest little “beep” as kind of a, “Hi! We’re here. Do you have a moment?” signal.
So after waiting a little longer (not beeping the horn again; I only did it the one time), I drove up and around and re-entered the park to try to talk to the ranger that way. And then I met the ANGRIEST PERSON I have ever met. (Which, when you come from a challenging family of origin like I do; when you’ve spent a lot of time around addicts; when you intervene in conflicted churches and mediate between really, REALLY mad Christians for a living, that is really saying something.)
Our exchange went something like this:
“Do NOT honk your HORN at ME!!!”
(As meek and truly apologetic as I have ever, ever been. I really was sorry to have offended him.) “I am so very, very sorry.”
“DON’T DO IT!!!”
(Truly meek. Didn’t let adrenaline rule. Genuinely sorry.) “I am so very sorry. I apologize. I should never have done that. I did not mean to offend you. It was wrong. Please forgive me. I am SO sorry.”
(And here is the first of two really bad ways to receive someone’s confession …) “I KNOW.”
(Me again …) “Really. I’m SO sorry.”
“I truly apologize.”
Wow. Where do you go with “I KNOW” as a response to an apology? No idea. My brain completely froze. I could think of absolutely no response that would help the situation. So that was pretty much the end of our exchange.
Driving away, of course, THEN the adrenaline started to flow. First anger—because fear turns into anger a LOT for me; but then mostly fear (this was a very angry man yelling at me and no matter what the situation, that is just a frightening thing). Then I was pondering the whole “Was there anything else I could’ve done to help the situation” question.
All of THAT bouncing around my head made me think of another really awkward, mean reception to an apology that happened years earlier …
I had offended a person and I was wrong. Granted, in my “defense”—no defense at all, but just to set the stage—this person had been slandering me, gossiping about me, and being truly horrible to me and about me for YEARS. She was completely unrepentant and has never showed the least bit of regret for her actions and words.
But that didn’t matter one whit. Truly. Once I realized what I had done, I knew there was no “out” for me other than to apologize. Jesus doesn’t say, “Compare your wrongs and her wrongs and if they’re about equal or if yours are worse than hers, THEN get the log out of your own eye …” OR … “If she apologizes too, THEN you have to get the log out of your own eye.” Nope. No loopholes in Matthew 7:5. Jesus said I had to go and confess so I had to go and confess. Publicly. (“Publicly” in that I had to apologize to her in front of some of my family members—none of whom were Christians—because my offense had actually happened at the ol’ Thanksgiving Dinner Table. Rats!)
So there we sat. Extended family gathered. Awkwardly staring at me as I began to admit what I had said and ask her forgiveness. In response to my heart-felt confession, she said something to the effect of:
“Well, GOOD. I’m glad you finally see what a real b**** you are.”
And that was that.
Nothing to be gained by continuing on to help her with her “specks.” I had zero “passport” into her life and even if I did, I would never start a redemptive confrontation conversation in front of a room full of people. So, you know, we all just sort of slowly dispersed and went on with our lives. Not much had changed, well, except one thing—one eternally-important thing: I had the blessings that come from obedience. Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And by keeping his instruction to make that confession, I was demonstrating that I love Jesus. And I only love Jesus because he first loved me (1 John)! So those blessings of obedience were enough—even though there were no temporal “rewards” in this life.
I’ll close with one more story about confession. This one is from yesterday …
As we were scurrying around, trying to get out the door on time to school, I said something to one of my daughters that was 100% inappropriate. It was graceless. It was mean. It was crude. On the scale of motherly Big Fails, this probably tied my other really-really-bad-thing for its horribleness. Even as the words were coming out of my mouth, I could feel the adrenaline ZINGING up my back and out my arms and neck rightfully condemning me with the clear knowledge that It. Was. Bad. I almost didn’t have the final word out before I started to beg her forgiveness in the most 5A’s Confession you have EVER heard.
My daughter was hurt, but even she could see the sincerity of my regret, godly sorrow, and genuine repentance. Plus, she is the kind of kid who really does remember the great debt she is forgiven every day (Matthew 18 Parable of the Unmerciful Servant), so she is usually quick to forgive. Our dialogue sounded like this (citations added by me so that you could look them up if you wanted to):
“Oh! Oh no!” through my tears, “I am SO sorry I said those horrible words to you. I am without excuse. It was SO wrong! Will you please forgive me?!“
“Yes. Yes. Of course, Mom. I forgive you.”
“But I’m REALLY sorry. I can’t believe I said that! It was so utterly, completely sin on my part. I’m so sorry! I pray that God will help you to forgive me.”
“Mom. I know you are sorry. Really. Listen: Because God forgives me, I forgive you.”
(An hour or so later, driving errands around town …)
“I know I’ve said I was sorry, but I want you to know how I am still burdened by about what I said! I cringe every time I think about it! I will regret what I said every day for the rest of my life!”
“Mom. Please listen to me. First of all, I don’t even know what you are talking about! (wink! wink!)
But even if I did, I would tell you that you are not being very Christianly in this moment by continuing to beat yourself up over what you did and said. The Bible says that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins (1 John 1:9)—remember? You teach us all the time about God’s justice and how it would be unjust for God to both condemn Jesus on the Cross and condemn you for this sin.
And so. Yes, what you said this morning was bad. But now, as far as the East is from the West, so far is that specific sin removed from you (Psalm 103:12). You were red as scarlet but Jesus has made you white as snow (Isaiah 1:18).
Just like our Heavenly Father treats my sins, I have chosen to remember no more this transgression (Isaiah 43).
So PLEASE, let’s stop talking about it and let’s just move on with our day with a fresh start!”
From the mouths of babes. The kind of love that covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8) = pure grace.
Today, I hope that your confessions are received with grace if you have to apologize. Ooooh! Or even better! Maybe we can all make it through the entire day speaking only in edifying ways (Eph. 4:29), rightly worshiping God and loving our neighbor?! So we don’t even HAVE TO apologize. Mmmmmmmmm. Wouldn’t that be so amazingly sweet?
With love from a gratefully forgiven momma,
Number one rule of bicycling in Yellowstone? Always bring bear spray.
Number two rule? Buffalo always have the right of way. YIELD TO THE BUFFALO! :)
Congratulations, Angela! After crediting everyone for their extra entries and then randomizing the list, RandomNumberGenerator chose YOU for the $100 in free biblical (and practical!) resources:
Please email me your shipping address ASAP! (If I hear from you in the next hour or so, I can even get them in the mail to you today.)
Thanks everyone for your VERY encouraging words!
Your sister in Christ,
The call to forgive is found throughout the Old and New Testament. Consider just a few examples:
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31-32
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:12-13
“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 times seven.’” Matthew 18:21-22
I could go on and on. But knowing what we OUGHT to do (“Forgive!”) doesn’t ever enable us to actually DO IT, does it?
When that person hurts us. Again.
Lets us down. Again.
Fails us. Again.
Who wants to love? Who wants to forgive? “Not I,” said the little red hen.
Me neither. Nope. No way. No thanks. I’m outta here—at least emotionally if not physically too.
But then …
But then …
Let us return to the Creator of everything that ever was and is and will be.
Eternal. Infinite. Unchangeable. Only He.
Perfectly wise, powerful, holy, just, good, and true in His being.
(Can you tell we’ve moved on to the Shorter Catechism with Soph? )
Needing nothing, He chooses to initiate and maintain a relationship with us—while we were yet sinner.
His enemies. Hating Him. (Or indifferent to Him entirely. Indifference: the real indicator of true hatred.)
He forgives us—not once. Twice. Three times. But seven times seventy times seventy bazillion.
Over and over and over again.
(There were two men who owed a debt they could never pay …)
It’s all just interesting theology until you take it out of the book
off the shelf
and have to live it out with that family member who gives you nothing but grief; the one whose absence from your life would actually make your life EASIER and more PLEASANT …
But who God is calling you to love (when she is unlovable—just like you!)
bless (“bless and never curse”);
Submitting yourself under God’s mighty hand
And “not being overcome by evil, but overcoming evil with good” (Romans 12).
Impossible? You bet.
(In and of our own strength.)
(If we focus on ourselves and the injustice of the situation.)
But possible? To forgive? Absolutely.
Because we all were like sheep, gone astray. Each to our own way.
But God, who is rich in mercy, sought us out. Softened our stony hearts.
Did not leave us in our predicament (as we deserved).
He made us alive with Himself in Christ.
He brought us over from darkness into light.
He seated us in the heavens and adopted us as sons.
We, his enemies once.
Now his children who often live like angry, bitter, ungrateful orphans.
But He remains the same. He doesn’t change. He maintains the covenant on our behalf.
He forgives and forgives and forgives.
Because it is His nature to forgive AND because the penalty has already been paid.
In response to so great a mystery?
Just as the Lord has forgiven us.
Challies.com linked to a powerful example of one woman striving to live out this call to forgive when her husband was killed in the line of duty as a police officer:
“God has freely offered us forgiveness,” she said at the packed sports arena where her husband coached their three sons in hockey. “To the best of my human ability, with God’s help, I will offer it as well. My hope and my prayer is that all of you will do the same. I know it’s what Vu would have wanted.”
And totally impossible!
Unless the Lord makes a way …
I pray that today, we will walk each moment as forgiven people who forgive.
Blessings to you!
If you are struggling with bitterness, Nancy Leigh DeMoss’s book, Choosing Forgiveness, may be a help to you. It deeply helped me during a season of my life when I was very hurt and tempted to give in to bitterness and even indifference (the “real indicator of true hatred” as Ed Welch says—when bitterness goes ’round the corner and we just don’t care any more).
It’s been awhile since our family has done a WIN FREE STUFF giveaway—and I just remembered that I never told you all about the new Peacemaker Ministries bookstore on ChristianBookDistributors.com. So how about we combine this announcement with a chance to win a complete set (one free copy of EACH) of my biblical peacemaking resources:
- The Peacemaking Church Women’s Study – Living the Gospel in Relationships (video series)
- Redeeming Church Conflicts (book)
- Peacemaking Women (book)
As always, there is never a risk of SPAM. (I will never share your contact information with ANYONE. This is really just from our little family to you!) It’s super easy to enter to win—and if this giveaway is like my other giveaways, my thousands of lurkers will probably not de-lurk to enter, so the likelihood of your winning is extremely high. (Sometimes, my giveaways only have 25 or 30 people entered.)
So here are the specs for how you can WIN FREE (Biblical & Practical!) STUFF:
- For one entry, simply leave a comment on this post by midnight (Mountain time) next Sunday (March 22, 2015). Monday morning, I will let RandomNumberGenerator select one winner so be sure I have your contact information if your name is chosen.
- For one additional entry, please just visit the new Peacemaker Ministries/CBD Bookstore. I know that your click through would bless both the Peacemaker Ministries & CBD staff members.
- For TEN additional entries (YES TEN!), pretty oh pretty please leave a review of one or more of my resources on the CBD site. I know that most of you have already been through all of my resources so you’re probably just entering this contest in order to give the resources to your church, or a missions team, or para-church ministry (or a “friend” who “really needs to hear this!!” ! ) … well. Online reviews matter. A LOT. And I’m not allowed to post the feedback that you guys have sent me over the years—only YOU can do that. Won’t you pretty please consider sharing just a line or two with the millions of CBD customers so that they can evaluate whether these resources are biblical, Christ-centered, practical/helpful for real life? I would be SO grateful (especially for feedback on my video series because it currently doesn’t have ANY reviews on the CBD site).
Thanks in advance for even considering helping me out and leaving a review—especially of my video series! I am grateful. And I hope you win these resources. You probably will. More than likely, there will only be like ten people entered by next Sunday.
Love ya, guys! Hope your Sabbath has been a blessed one.
Here are some of the encouraging words I have received from YOU ALL over the years. Oh, how I wish I could post these on the CBD site …
- “I would recommend this series to every church, every parachurch organization, and every woman! This series will not simply encourage women in deeper study of God’s word, but will create an environment of building godly relationships.”
- “I am so excited about this study. On a weekly basis women would tell me how much they loved the material, and their reasons always had to do with the practicality of the teaching on relationships, and their growing awareness of personal spiritual growth. Women were excited and said “This is the most timely material in my life!”, as well as how desperately any church needs this teaching. I am so grateful for your transparency and humor, Tara! Our women loved you and benefited from what you brought to us.”
- “I think one of your greatest strengths (apart from a good handling of solid, Biblical truths) is your tone. Why the message is passed along SO WELL … why it’s easy for us ladies to sit in the room and open up about our difficulties in living the gospel … is because your tone is so inclusive and gentle.”
- “I’m an associate pastor at an Evangelical Free Church. Our ladies are very appreciative of your teaching both in terms of the biblical content and your transparency. I have viewed a number of the sessions and see why they are so enthused. I am a proponent of biblical counseling, very much shaped by the work of David Powlison and other CCEF faculty members. In fact, our church has hosted Paul Tripp, Ed Welch, and Elyse Fitzpatrick for conferences. With the proliferation of thin curricula produced for Christian women, it is so refreshing to find theologically sound and practical material like yours. Thank you for your ministry.”
- “Our study group is continuing to savor each of the sessions from your DVD series, Tara. We are five women in completely different life stages (young grandma, empty-nester, mother with young children, married-with-no-children, and single) and we ALL are benefiting immensely from your ministry. “
And oh yeah, the “official” endorsements too:
- “I wish I had to wonder why a book like Redeeming Church Conflicts is even needed. But anyone who has spent much time in a church populated by imperfect humans knows that it is. This book delivers exactly what is needed in church conflict: a wealth of biblical wisdom and professional expertise as well as an unflinching challenge toward self-examination and away from angry entrenchment and graceless condemnation. But best of all it offers a huge dose of hope that what is so hurtful and seems only destructive will be used by God to conform his church to his image for his glory.” —Nancy Guthrie
- “In my roles as a biblical counselor, pastor, seminary professor, and church consultant, Tara and David’s guiding concept in Redeeming Church Conflicts of “responding redemptively” deeply resonates with me. Their understanding that the Bible provides not a formula for redeeming church conflict, but a biblical, relational roadmap, equally resonates. I’m encouraged and equipped, as I believe you will be, by their practical, scriptural wisdom. The gripping way that Tara and David unfold the Scripture-saturated relational principles of perspective, discernment, leadership, and biblical response provides a real-life narrative applicable to any church conflict.”—Bob Kellemen
- “Tara Barthel speaks lovingly and candidly to women about what it means to live out the gospel day by day in their relationships. Looking at Scripture, she points out how many women look to the law without fully grasping what Christ has done for them in the cross, and is doing in them by the Spirit. Tara shows how the Christian walk is one of growing repentance, confession, and faith as we learn to identify and close the gap between what we believe and how we live. Keeping the cross front and center in our walk keeps us from pride and legalism or from presuming on God’s grace. Tara demonstrates how the gospel speaks into our everyday lives, enabling us to live victoriously because of who we are in Christ. I recommend this series enthusiastically.”—Colin Smith
- “This video series is a one-stop guide for relationships. It is filled with Scripture. It will point you to Jesus at every opportunity. It is very practical …” —Ed Welch
- “I love women’s material that doesn’t shy away from sound theological categories … I’m thankful for material I can recommend to women, material that does not shy away from good biblical truth.” —Thabiti Anyabwile
- “Peacemaking Women is not just for women and is not just about peacemaking. This powerfully honest book is about the peace the Gospel brings every heart that applies the truths of the Gospel to past wounds and present brokenness. And this book is about how personally embracing this Gospel of peace makes each of us a loving instrument of God’s grace to others.”—Bryan Chapell
- “Peacemaking Women isn’t just another book on communication or conflict resolution. It will open your eyes to the role our idolatrous hearts play in our conflicts and then point you back to the Peacemaker who took peacemaking so seriously He was willing to die for it. I strongly recommend it!”—Elyse Fitzpatrick
- “This bold and compelling book by two wise Christian mediators and peacemakers is a tour de force in offering a pathway for rebuilding broken relationships. Judy and Tara live and breathe what they write and know personally and professionally the glory of fighting for peace. Their labor of love will draw you back to the one who gave his life for our peace. Take it and read with hope and courage.”—Dan Allender
Thanks for even considering taking a few minutes to help our family out by sharing a review. We are SO grateful! Love—tkb
Sophie had us roaring over breakfast because she kept asking Fred and me to tell her our MOST embarrassing moments in life. (Kids LOVE to hear about their parents messing up, don’t they?)
Anyway … Fred still finds one of my embarrassing moments so charming and sweet. But I must admit—I still cringe a little bit when I think about it, even now, almost twenty years later. Here’s what happened …
Fred and I were married the summer before my third year of law school. I was SO excited to be married! Fred was wonderful. I loved feeling safe and wanted at home. (Feelings I hadn’t experienced a lot in my childhood.) Even studying Nonprofit Law and Elder Law and doing Moot Court, etc. was all fine—because I had this other, new, exciting world opening up to me at the same time … homemaking, Proverbs 31 noble wifery, (hopefully! one day!) shepherding a child’s heart, etc. etc.
‘Course, I still had to sit the Bar exam. And I was hoping to get a job in a law firm so that I could knock off my law school debts as quickly as possible.
(The scary music should start here …)
At one of my 3L interviews, I had made it through the initial screening and was lunching with the partners when one of them asked me the standard interview question:
“Where do you see yourself in five years?”
Oh, yeah. Not my finest (or wisest!) moment. Apparently, I lost track of the goal of the meeting (getting a job!!) and I just defaulted to the truth:
“I’d really like to have one or two children by that time and be established in a home, a church, and community, blah blah blah mommyhood, blah blah all excited about domestic stuff …”
It was right then that one of the partners asked the follow up question that still makes me blush to this day:
“Anything about the PRACTICE OF LAW?!?”
Ummmm. Oh, yeah. That too. Whoops a daisy! Didn’t mean to waste so many firm hours when I clearly didn’t have my head in the “get the law firm job” game.
I failed to get the job. Can you believe it? Big surprise, eh?
I think it took me two years (right after we had all of my $73,000 in grad school debts paid off) before I FINALLY confessed this little story to Fred. I was too embarrassed. But he said:
“It only makes me love you more, Tara. You were honest. And that’s where your heart was.”
Nice guy that Fred.
But still. WORST INTERVIEW EVER.
(I urge you to NOT follow my lead if you are ever in a similar situation. Of course we always need to be honest at all times! But there are certain things that are appropriate for a job interview and certain things that are not. I still shake my head at this memory! Oh, Tara. But there is grace for the day! And it kinda makes me chuckle now too.)
Hope this gives you a little laugh on your Saturday afternoon—
From our silly home to yours,
Talking with someone about an apparent sin or temptation has to be one of the most difficult things to do in all of life.
It’s one thing to do so in a conciliation case when you’re serving as a mediator. It can still be difficult, of course, but the people have invited you into their lives to serve you in this way (either by opening a case or being bound by a conciliation clause in a contract), so it’s a little more doable.
But what about when it has to do with a parenting concern? (Scrreeeeeech! Scccrreeeeech! Cue the horror movie music!) Who am I to speak with this person about how they discipline (or don’t discipline) their child? Listen to my excuses:
- “It’s a wisdom issue. A gray issue. I’m not the Holy Spirit.”
- “I know they’re reading THAT BOOK. I (love / hate) THAT BOOK. So there’s really nothing more I need to say.”
- “Umm. Have you looked at my own kids? Seriously. Who am I to think I should ever talk about THIS topic with anyone?”
You can change the facts from parenting to any other personal (important!) issue … food/overeating, marriage, money, s*x, recreation/time management.
Who am I?
Who am I?
I was thinking about all of this when I read HeadHeartHand’s blog post:
(I’m really enjoying this blog, by the way. Hits some sweet spots with me—business, church/polity, real life.)
Mostly, I was thinking about all of the hard conversations I’ve had in my life when people loved me enough to confront me (about money, relationships, sinful bitterness, overindulgences, lack of submission to authority/pride … I could go on an on). And about the people who did not confront me, but instead stood silently by (or even gave me the apparently loving but actually hateful) “kind words” and placated me when I was heading down a path of destruction.
(I was also thinking about all of this because I recently tried to—gently! I hope!—talk with a “good acquaintance but I wouldn’t call us close friend”-level person in my life about a sensitive subject and MAN. I was shocked by how hard it was for me. Fear of Man? Not wanting her to reject me? Think I’m a jerk? Yes, I should add that to the list above … “But I want you to LIKE me and think I’m a NICE PERSON!” Blech. It’s too early in the day to see my heart like it really is. Time to stop blogging and get into the Word …)
Last thought: I did talk to my friend. I was shaking in my Keds. But I did pray. And my overarching theme was that I truly want to encourage and draw CLOSER to her and her family and be a blessing because they are a blessing to me/us. And we have so much to learn from them! Our lives are better for getting to be their friends. I’m right there with her in the battle.
But it was still really hard.
May God give us the courage to love, really love, one another. That means sometimes we will overlook. Let it go. Carry no record of wrongs. And sometimes? We will gently engage. Gently confront. Gently Restore.
Blessings to you this day! May we all have the humility to humbly and honestly listen when we are confronted (and to grow wise!). And the courage to speak up (gently and humbly) when love compels us.
Yesterday, my five year-old brought some excellent questions about why Galatians 6:1 “rescue” and Matthew 7 “helping someone with the speck in their eye” are not the same thing as being the “proud, super-holy, Pharisee people” (in Luke 7) who judged the woman who was wiping Jesus’ feet with her tears and her hair:
“Aren’t we JUDGING and thinking we are BETTER when we talk with people about this hard stuff?” she asked me, so sincerely.
What a good question! And what a loooooooong conversation we had to unpack the distinctions in those biblical passages. I found myself time and time again (internally) referring to Judy Dabler’s wisdom in our book, “Peacemaking Women” as I talked with her:
As difficult as it is, sometimes we are called to go humbly to the people who have wronged us in order to help them to understand better how they have contributed to our conflicts. Of course, when appropriate, we should be quick to overlook (Prov. 19:11) and we must always first confess our own sins (Matt. 7:5). But if we cannot overlook, after we have confessed our own sins, we are called to help the person who has offended us by gently restoring her (Gal. 6:1) and helping her remove the speck from her eye (Matt. 7:5).
Apart from the gospel, such humble and loving confrontations would be unthinkable. Sinners simply do not have the right to point out someone else’s sin, do they? Yes, they do. Genuine biblical love requires that sometimes we confront others. Jesus explicitly taught us: ‘If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over’ (Matt. 18:15). The fact that we too are sinners does not remove the responsibility to lovingly confront. Nowhere in Scripture does our own sinfulness remove from us the requirement to help others see their faults and deal with them. It is the grace of God that enables us to minister truth, mercy, hope, and love to our brothers and sisters in Christ through biblical confrontation. We confront because we are compelled by love. As John Stott has often said, ‘Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.’5 One way we care for and rescue one another is to gently confront.
Galatians 6:1–2 says, ‘Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.’ The term ‘restore’ in this passage means to mend in the same way we might mend holes in a net or set a broken bone. The term ‘caught,’ however, includes an element of surprise. In the same way that a fisherman might cast his net over the side of his boat only to realize, too late, that his leg is caught in the net, we can be caught off guard by our own sin. The weight of the net pulls the fisherman over the side and he begins to sink. He can barely hold on with one hand to the side of the boat, but if he lets go of the boat to try to free his leg, he will drown. He is not strong enough to pull himself back into the boat. He is caught.
Sadly, metaphorically speaking, if this fisherman was a Christian caught in sin, many of us would mock him: ‘Hey! Jerry! I thought you were a fisherman? No fisherman would ever let himself get stuck like that. Hey, you guys, come look at Jerry, he claims to be a fisherman. Can you believe what he did?’ A woman is caught in the sin of gossip or gluttony and we cluck behind our church bulletins, ‘She claims to be a Christian.’ A man leaves his wife and children, or is incarcerated for embezzling, and we say, ‘No Christian would ever get caught in a mess like that.’ Instead of such a proud and condemning response, we ought to run to the side of the boat and help our brother or sister. ‘Jump in! Hold his neck up so he can breathe! Get a knife and cut the net! Go and get help. He’s in trouble and he needs us!’ This should be the response of the church.
Instead of such rescue, when someone offends us, our natural inclination is often to go angrily to confront her or embarrass her. But anytime we want to confront, a red flag is raised and it is probably best to wait. When we are eager to confront, we are often acting out of selfish motivations. If it grieves us to confront another person, and we do so prayerfully and lovingly, it is probably the right thing to do. Our purpose in going to the other person must never be to make ourselves ‘feel better.’ Godly confrontation seeks to restore by glorifying God, serving the other person, and helping to promote unity within the church.
One final point under ‘Gently Restore’: even if a proper and loving confrontation hurts, it will not ultimately cause harm. God would never command us to do something without also intending a morally good result. I (Judy) remember a time in my twenties when my supervisor assessed me for a promotion and rejected me. His candid words were deeply wounding, yet they provided me with opportunity for reflection and growth. As painful as his words were, they never ultimately harmed me. They were used by God to help me change. Paul writes of this godly sorrow in 2 Corinthians: ‘Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret . . .’ (2 Cor. 7:8–10a).”
A few years ago, one of our church’s women’s studies read Paul Miller’s book, A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World. This is one of those rare books in my life that I re-read on multiple occasions. Chapter 9 of A Praying Life is amazingly profitable for revealing my heart and helping me to understand some of my recurring temptations in life.
(Don’t you just love it when an author, preacher, or teacher–or friend–does that? Shine that flashlight onto my SOUL! Give me terminology to help me to see things more clearly. I can’t repent of something I can’t name. I don’t know how to get help if I can’t even define my problem.)
The two helpful terms in Mr. Miller’s chapter 9 are cynical and defeated weariness. His words are the best for describing and defining them, so I commend the entire book to you and hope that you’ll read exactly what he wrote. But my notes on the chapter go something like this:
- Cynical is the opposite of childlike. Oh! How I long to be childlike—NOT childish, but childlike. Specifically? Like the little child Jesus took to Himself in Matthew 18. Dependent on Jesus. Looking to Jesus. Safe because of Jesus. Happy because of Jesus. The rest of the world growing strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.
- Cynicism in prayer can look like this:
– If what I prayed for happens? “It would’ve happened anyway.”
– If what I prayed for doesn’t happen? “See! Prayer is stupid. It doesn’t work.”
- Walking down the path of life TOWARD cynicism? Just BEFORE you get all the way to cynical, you come across defeated weariness. Ahhhh, yes. I know this place quite well. Even as I read those words last night? This is exactly what I felt—my spirit was beginning to deaden. I felt fearful, frustrated. But somewhere, deep down inside the true reaches of my soul, there was still a glimmer of hope.
- Defeated weariness and cynicism question the active goodness of God on our behalf. (Yes, yes, they do.)
I’ll never forget the summer we read and discussed those words as a group. There’s something so good and real about “having to” process such intimate, hard things with real-live-human beings. It forces us to take our theology off of the bookshelf and out of the journal (and off of the strange world of email/fb/blog-land!) into real life. And don’t we all need to do that?
The longer I live, the more clearly I see why Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are to love God and love neighbor. Oh, oh, oh! Pesky ol’ relationships! Too hard! Too painful. Too disappointing and scary and frustrating. It’s so much easier to love God when it’s “just between me and God.” I can be such a loving, gracious, and patient woman in the hypothetical. I’m all about mercy and forgiveness and all of that! Right up until the point someone really, really hurts me. Judges me. Criticizes me. Watches my every move and reads my every word and says, “You’re not doing it right! You need to be better! I can do it better than you.”
Oh, trust me dear one, I’m sure you can. I’m absolutely, 100% sure you can. So maybe I’ll just pull back, hide out, and stay away—physically (not engage with anyone after church, skip small group, never join that women’s study, quietly drop out of that mothers’ group), emotionally (OK. I’ll show up. But I’ll be guarded, oh so guarded, that you’ll never see the real me. You won’t have the opportunity to hurt me again. I’ll try to measure up and be good enough to avoid your scorn. But deep down inside, I’ll know that I’ll never be acceptable enough to you. So, “Hi. How are you? How’s your cat? Yes, great service. Isn’t God wonderful?” But no risk. No intimacy. No love.)
Herein squats the proverbial toad. Again.
Because all of Scripture is clear, but particularly so in 1 John. (Remember the old video, “Peacemaker Junkie“? Oh, I’m laughing inside just thinking about it! “If you don’t want to end up like me, then stay away from 1 John! That’s the real stuff.”)
“We proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us … so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ …
If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin …
Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling …
Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another …
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love …
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us …
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
Oh, that all sounds so great! Unless you’re feeling defeated. Weary. Numb. Careening down the path to cynicism.
So what do we do? Where do we turn?
Well … read Paul Miller’s book. It’s great. Truly great. I think it’ll help you re: prayer and I’m not going to try to summarize a 270 page book in this (already too long) post.
Instead, I’m quoting the brilliant Judy Dabler (my first coauthor) to myself again (and my pastor, my friend Trudy, so many people in so many varied situations who have counseled me over the years) by saying this:
“Where do you turn, Tara? When you feel this sad? When you don’t see any way out? Any hope? You turn anew to the same place you’ve turned a thousand times. Ten thousand times. Away from yourself. Your circumstance. The other person. And TO the resources that ARE YOURS in Christ.”
“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord,who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1
People will love you imperfectly. Sometimes relationships are safe havens of deep joy. Sometimes we get hurt. Love anyway.
How can we do this? By remembering God alone will love perfectly. He is always, at every moment, in every circumstance, working for His glory and our good. Always. 100%. He is perfect and He is good. We can trust Him. We can love Him without fear of being judged and condemned. (Because He already judged and condemned His Son on our behalf.) Now? We get to have the riches of God in Christ! His inheritance—ours. His reward—ours. The disgust and rejection we deserve has been put on Christ.
So what can Man do to us? Who can hurt us—truly hurt us? When Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Christ has deprived the world of its power to ultimately harm us. And so we persevere!
No cynicism today. Maybe grief. OK. No problem. Loneliness? Sure. But remember that you have a High Priest who can sympathize with grief and loneliness at a level you will never know. (Betrayed by his closest friend. Rejected by His Father, with Whom He had never experienced an IOTA of distance before.) And He has ascended into Heaven to prepare a place for you in His Father’s mansion! Many rooms. Many rooms. And He’s coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
Maranatha! Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Be near me, Lord Jesus—I ask You to stay close by me forever and love me I pray. (He does. He does.)
In Christ our Hope,
There was a time in my life when I was in a dark, dark place.
You can call it depression. Despair. The Black Dog. A valley. A dark night of the soul. Choose your term. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it hurt to live. My chest was crushed. I could not cease from crying. Day after day. I would lie there. Not moving. Incapable of distraction. My thoughts spiraling down and down.
Thankfully, I have real friendships in my life and a few people knew me well enough to rally and intervene. To care.
They asked hard questions and made hard statements like:
- What aspects of this are spiritual?
- Do we need to get you to medical assistance?
- I am going to call you this afternoon and you MUST pick up. You must. If you do not, I will leave work and come to your home. You do not have the option of not picking up.
As I reflect on that time, I remember telling one friend who asked me a specific, wise, question that I didn’t really think my depression (or whatever you choose to call it) was chemical. I am undoubtedly genetically predisposed to chemical imbalances in the brain—I have relatives up both sides of the family tree who have been greatly helped by medicines related to mental illnesses. But my body did not respond well to psychiatric medicines when I tried them. And I could clearly point to a situational cause: hurt. Hurt tied to a relational breach. Temptation to bitterness. An internal screaming of anger and rage in response to betrayal. Shock. Fear. Frustration. Not seeing a way out. Not seeing any light at the end of the tunnel—or if there is a light, it’s a train coming down the tracks to run over you again.
Initially, when I thought about all of this darkness and despair, I was tempted to self-condemnation. (“What kind of Christian are YOU that you get SO hurt and SO upset and go to SUCH a dark place?!?”) But as I have reflected more on my response (and with the blessed gift of time to grieve and think and pray and mourn—and submit and trust, by the way) … I am not kicking myself as much. OK. Sure. I still have a LOT of growing up to do in the Lord. And yes. Absolutely. I think it would be really cool to be one of those emotionally-stable, prone to readily overlook and cover over with grace, super-duper loving and godly people.
But I am being a little more gentle and gracious with myself because I also think that my response revealed something good. Right. Appropriate. And it is this: forgiveness is a death. Bearing with is hard. Choosing to risk and love (which are one in the same) means that sometimes, we will be hurt. Friends will love us, but they will love us imperfectly. And then we have to choose:
- Pull back from all relationships? Stop loving? Stop risking? Keep an emotional barricade around our hearts so we are never hurt again?
- Give in to judgment and bitterness. Stand above the people around us and rejoice that “we are not like them!” Act all godly on the outside, but inside, consider ourselves to be gods. Living in our little kingdoms. Attempting to ascend to the throne of God, while all the while, descending into the bowels of Hell itself.
- Or forgive.
Those are all the choices I see. That’s the realm of our response. And in view of God’s mercy (Romans 12:1)? It seems to me that actually, our only choice is choice #3. This death to self, remembering of God, right view of others and this blink-of-an-eye we call “life”: forgiveness.
Is it easy? Absolutely not. Pleasant? No way. Necessary? Undoubtedly, 100%, with all my heart YES. We cannot claim to love God and hate our brother (1 John 4:20). It is dishonoring to God and destroys our testimony to stand back and say, “OK. Sure. I don’t have a problem with her … I mean, if she has a problem with me, then she can come and talk to me. But from my perspective? We’re good. I’ve done everything I need to do. Yeah. Right. It’s all good.” While everyone who knows the real us knows that we are not truly, deeply, actually reconciled in the “unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4).
And so, we forgive. To quote Andree Seu: “Forgiving is the hardest thing you will ever do.” And to paraphrase her brilliant essay that I urge you to read: If we think it’s easy to forgive; if we can piously claim to have forgiven while knowing our hearts are cold and distant and judgmental to the person (or persons) who hurt us? Then we have absolutely NO idea what we are talking about. And there is no way that we have ever forgiven anyone anything.
Today, I pray that we will forgive one another. And if we are stuck and can’t forgive? If we are caught in bitterness? If our anger towards others has turned inward in depression and we’ve gone past the point of caring anymore? That especially then, we will get help.
Know that you are not alone in the battle! The Lord is with you. And if you’re struggling with some big ol’ sin, then I can probably relate too (as can many people in your real, non-virtual, life).
With love from the trenches,
Two of the books that have helped me the most related to this topic:
If you prefer visual teachings, you can see my Peacemaker Ministries keynote on Romans 12 and how I actually began to move towards my mother with grace and forgiveness (after the abuses of my childhood), by clicking here.
Hot tears streamed down my face for three connecting flights as I traveled from Montana to Florida last week to serve at a women’s retreat.
I didn’t make any sounds. No sobs. No words. But I must admit, I did feel badly for the elite flyers / business travelers seated around me. They were polite and didn’t acknowledge my soaking neck or my occasional brushes to my cheek with a tissue. But I knew full well that my actions and my emotional state were far beyond the bell curve of the normal million-miler frequent flyer pattern of Bose earphones, laptops, no eye contact, no chatting, and seriously! No crying!
Oh well. There was nothing to be done. I am in deep, exhausting, near-constant emotional pain these days and that’s just the way life sometimes goes. Sometimes, we cry. It’s not fun. It’s not pleasant. But Jesus wept. So it must be OK.
Many things have helped me during this time—real-life contact from real-life friends; prayer; a patient husband who gives me space and time to be confused and to grieve; wise counsel; the advocacy of an excellent attorney; being fed the Word and the Lord’s Supper by pastors who care. And also? Reviewing one of my all-time favorite David Powlison articles: I’ll Never Get Over It: Help for the Aggrieved.
So much truth! So much hope. Because so much Christ.
I’ll try to tempt you with these excerpts to click through and read the entire article and also consider subscribing to the CCEF Journal of Biblical Counseling (a true treasure!) and becoming a supporter of CCEF (like our family is honored to be!). And as I do, I will once again thank Dr Powlison and the entire CCEF team for the ministry of wisdom, grace, and love.
Through many tears,
Excerpts from David Powlison’s Article
I’ll Never Get Over It: Help for the Aggrieved
- How can you help people come to terms with things that are long and hard and don’t go away? How can you yourself come to terms with such afflictions?
- You won’t get over it, but you do not need to be forever defined by what happened. Hear me rightly. I don’t mean that the poison and darkness of the experience will always haunt you … You won’t forget what happened, but there is a way out of the raptor’s claws.
- Deep hurt so easily gets infected—by mistrust, or fear, or rage, or callousness, or avoidance, or addiction, or … Hurt even gets infected by just trying to keep yourself busy and distracted. It turns inward. It turns self-destructive. But hurt and loss can become transmuted into a deeper good—still fierce, still sorrowing, but now clean. Not only clean, but hopeful. Not only hopeful, but fruitful. Not only fruitful, but wise. Not only wise, but even loving.
- You won’t forget. But you do not need to endlessly revisit what happened. You do not need to be imprisoned in the complexities and dead ends of your instinctive reactions.
- Our reactions to grievous wrongs are muddy, not tidy. Reactions rarely appear like primary colors, sharply separated from each other. They come in hues, shades, mixtures, and combinations. Sometimes you might get a “pure” color—for a moment. But most often, you will live out some mishmash of “all of the above.” It is extremely significant that the Bible, and Jesus, and the mercies of God directly engage all of the above. The lovingkindnesses of God are exactly keyed to what is grievously wrong.
- Does anyone who was raped, molested, beaten, mocked, or bereaved ever just get over it? Never. You do get over the misery of a bad head cold, or flunking a pop quiz in geometry, or a teenage infatuation with a movie star. (At least you ought to get over these things!) But you don’t get over something important. Your sufferings count. The goal is to find a way to go through it that comes out in a good place.
- The same dynamics that operate in petty bickering operate when vile evils are present. Because Msimangu knew the inworking power of God’s mercy, he could be frank with Kumalo’s anger and fear. Will you who are wronged, go wrong? Will you find yourself turned to hating, or will you find the strong mercy that turns you to loving?
- In the midst of irremediable suffering, when tempted to fruitless remembering, in the midst of his powerlessness to make better all that is so wrong, a man asks God for mercies. On his mountain, Kumalo seizes hold of the one hope deeper than the deepest wreckage of hopes. He brings his cares to the One who cares for him. He lives out the rhythms of Christian faith: self-knowing before God, frank confession, honest gratitude, pointed intercession… going forth to live in the way of obedience.
- This is a life and death matter. When something is so wrong that you will never get over it, your reaction will either make you wise or will poison you. Great suffering puts a fork in the road. You will choose. You will of necessity choose. It is no accident that kyrie eleison—“Lord, have mercy”—is the essential prayer of the man or woman who faces facts honestly. It is no accident that “Blessed are the poor in spirit” is the first and foundational beatitude (Matt 5:3). A deep inner sense of need for help from outside yourself is the essential step of sanity. It is this faith—“I am poor and needy. Help me.”—that Jesus commends so often.
- I’ll leave you with a few words from … Psalm 23: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” When it says “house,” don’t take that to mean a building. It means the place where God is at home, where he is leading you. It means his family that gathers around him. It means a place where you are safe forever, a community where you belong.
I am currently stuck in New York City, trying hard to make my way home to Montana from Florida. (Yes. Yes. I know that’s not a geographically-efficient routing, but that’s air travel! What can you do?)
Last night, a giant snow and ice storm paralyzed all of the New York airports and as I watched the activity at my gate, it struck me that most of the people I was observing had no idea what to do. One little old lady even came up to me, shaking with anger and fear (fearful people often present as angry people), and asked if I was on the Cincinnati flight—a flight that had been canceled over two hours ago (!). Our conversation made me so sad for her!
I said, “No, M’am. I wasn’t supposed to be on that flight—but m’am? That flight was canceled hours ago. I’m sure they’ve already re-booked you on a flight for tomorrow.”
“Yes, yes,” she said, shaking and with tears,”But it’s not until 2PM! How can that be?! What will I do?! I’m trying to rally enough people who were on that flight and force the airline to FIX IT.”
I was super, super gentle in saying, “M’am? I’m so sorry that your flight was canceled, but (gesturing to the completely white-with-snow, ice-covered runways outside of the window), this is caused by weather. No one at the airline is trying to hurt you. And there is nothing that can be done. The only question now is whether you will be sleeping at a hotel or here in an airport chair/on the floor. If you act immediately, you may be able to get a hotel room—let me give you the number for the Hilton that I am booked at just in case my flight is canceled too—when I spoke to them five minutes ago, they still had TWO ROOMS available.”
She looked at me dazed, tears streaming down her face, and said in the most confused and scared voice, “Really? This is what I’m supposed to do? I don’t know what to do.”
I said: “Call this number. Get a hotel room. Come back in the morning. Everything is going to be OK.”
And so she did.
But I can’t stop thinking about her and the other thousands of people who were affected by flight cancellations who didn’t know what to do. Every million-miler frequent-flyer, I am sure, did exactly what I did and it was inconvenient, but not scary.
Here is what to do when your flight is canceled:
BEFORE YOUR FLIGHT IS CANCELED
- If you are flying through snow-prone states in the winter, buy travel insurance. It is cheap and it takes SO much of the stress off of travel delays. (I primarily fly Delta, so I use Allianz. I have never had a problem getting reimbursed by them.)
- When you check-in online at the 24-hour mark prior to your flight, also check the weather for all of your connecting airports and your final destination. If there is any chance of flight-disturbing weather, stay on top of it proactively. (For me, this meant sticking JAX, LGA, MSP, and BIL into my WeatherUnderground App. I saw that there was a high chance of a problem with snow and I planned accordingly.)
- Watch the official FAA website for airport delays and closures. Track your exact flights in FlightAware. Knowledge is power. The more you know, the wiser your response can be.
- The moment you are wheels-down in the airport that is going to have the problem, book a hotel. Don’t wait until you are at the gate. Don’t wait until you know for sure what is going to happen. Weather is tricky—and you can’t control it. So make a reservation that can be canceled if it’s not needed, but get a room BEFORE the flights start dropping like flies (metaphorically). Ideally, your airport will have a hotel right there onsite (TPA, DTW, PHL are some of my favorites. I never mind misconneecting there!) Because if you can avoid riding in a hotel shuttle in white-out snow/ice conditions, do it! But those rooms go fast, so you have to move quickly. And if the storm is really bad and thousands of flights are canceled? There will be NO rooms anywhere near the airport if you wait.
- The very next call you should make is to your airline. Again, don’t wait until you are at the gate. Don’t get in one of those ridiculously long lines that only have two gate agents available. Get on the phone and get in the queue for the hundreds of agents they bring in to staff the phone lines during weather-related flight disruptions. (Last night? Even the elite line for Delta had a one hour+ wait time–I have never experienced that before! But I still called and put myself into the phone queue. It is worth it when 1,000+ flights are disrupted.) If you have internet access, you can also start searching for new routing options yourself—but try to get through to a live person if you can.
- If the airline has issued a weather bulletin, either you should be able to rebook yourself online or the agents should be able to help you right away. In this situation, there will be a LOT of leeway for rebooking you, right then and there, for no additional cost. But you need to be flexible. Look at different routings/different connecting cities. Be sure to keep in mind the TIME needed for de-icing. (I was able to sweet talk my way into new seats last night hours before I technically had a legal misconnect simply because I noted that the 30 minute connection time was just not reasonable given the fact that we would have to de-ice. The agent said, “You’re absolutely right.” And rebooked me right then and there. I was grateful!) Think through the size of the airplane when you are thinking about creative new itineraries. Sometimes, the larger, heavier planes can get out in weather that is just too hard for the smaller regional jets. (If you don’t fly enough to know your airplanes, SeatGuru can be a big help here.)
- Also? Be nice. If you tend to get angry when you are scared, overcome your propensity and be kind. No one likes to be yelled at our mistreated–and it is not the gate agent or airline agent on the phone’s fault that a blizzard has stopped air traffic. They have a lot of discretion and they can make things happen—but if you are rude? Don’t be surprised if they are less creative in helping you.
- Sometimes the airline will protect seats for you on the next flights that work for you—if so, great. But even if they won’t, write down the options. Keep the times and flight numbers handy because once your flight is killed off? You need to move IMMEDIATELY to rebook in order to get the first seats out.
ONCE YOUR FLIGHT IS OFFICIALLY CANCELED
- OK. Your flight is officially off the board. Don’t follow the lead of our sweet little old lady who just kept circling the gate area, trying to rally people to “force the airline to fix it.” No. No fixing is going to happen. But that’s OK! Because a) you have a hotel (yay!) & b) you know your options for alternate flights. So now it’s time to officially get rebooked.
- Do not leave the airport until you are officially rebooked. I know it’s a hassle, but it’s just a part of the dance of flight cancellations. You can do this online if you have internet access or over the phone or in-person at the airport. (Note: you do not have to stay at your exact gate. The gate agents at “your” gate have no magical secret powers. They can’t do anything more than any other airline rep can do.) Just figure out the fastest way to an agent—sometimes I’ll stay in the phone queue while I wait in a physical line and then just go with whichever one is faster. Be polite but efficient. Let them know immediately if seats have been held for you on another flight OR let them know the routing options you’ve already figured out. The faster they can type that information into their trusty ol’ computers and grab those seats for you, the higher the likelihood that you will get home with one one overnight in an airport hotel rather than two. (And if you leave the airport pre-emptively—i.e., without officially being released and rebooked—and your flight goes out? Even seven or eight hours later or whenever? You are in BIG trouble financially. You will be personally responsible for getting yourself home and it’ll be EXTREMELY expensive. Don’t risk it. Stay at the airport until you are rebooked.)
- Do not try to get your checked luggage back. It’s never going to happen. Hopefully, if you were watching the weather at the 24-hour mark, you kept every necessity with you so you’ll be OK for the night. But either way, your checked bags are gone. They will route to your destination as quickly as possible—maybe on your actual flights, but probably not. More than likely, when you will arrive at your destination (whenever that is), you will need to go to “luggage services” to retrieve your bag. (I also felt SO sorry last night for the people who were in looooong lines at baggage services with pleading stories of how much they NEEDED their checked luggage. Seriously, people. The little warnings the airlines give when you check bags about your necessary medicines, keys, etc. needing to NOT be in your checked luggage are FOR REAL. Do not check anything you can’t risk being without.)
- DO go to luggage services for an AMENITIES kit. Every airline will give you some sort of little package with probably a t-shirt to sleep in, a toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, shaving cream/razor, etc. Or you can get most of those things from your hotel if you are in a standard corporate-level or higher hotel. (But not the t-shirt.) BTW—did you know that you can get DIAPERS from luggage services too? Thankfully, that season of my life is over—but we did have a terrible misconnect overnight when my firstborn was a little baby—and I was AMAZED to see all of the sizes and brands available to help us. So don’t be afraid to ask for baby care items if you really need them in a pinch.
- Do not look for compensation or financial help with your meals or lodging, etc. etc. That is just another thing that is never going to happen. Airlines may give you vouchers for mechanical delays / crew delays / or if you take a voluntary bump. But they do not give out money for weather delays. It’s not their fault. You’re on your own $$$-wise. (But hopefully you followed point #1 above and you have travel insurance so it’s not going to be a big financial hit for you.)
- Get out of the airport! Check into your room. Order some nice room service and climb into your comfy Airline T-shirt and have a little rest. (Well, unless you have young children like I do—if that’s the case, then FIRST figure out your CHILDCARE PLAN for the next day and THEN have a rest.) You’ve earned it. You survived a weather-related air-travel cancellation hassle. Good job!
Oh. And one last thing you may want to consider …
Try to keep this all in perspective. I know air travel can be scary if you don’t do it very much and delays and cancellations can be stressful. But if you have clean water and a warm room to sleep in? Well. Life could be a whole lot worse, couldn’t it?
Sorry your flight was canceled. I hope you get home soon.