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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how hard it is to give grace to people, especially Christians, who hurt us. I see this in my own heart and it (rightfully) shames me.
Why is it that I can share the gospel of grace with unbelievers, with family members who hurt and reject me for decades, and with strangers … but when it comes to that sister in Christ, or that pastor—the one who has hurt me and “repented,” but our relationship is still strained … why do I struggle to live grace, acceptance, genuine kindness, mercy, and love to them?
-Is it because I want them to hurt like they’ve hurt me?
-Am I waiting for a “better” confession? A more sincere (in my eyes) evidence of repentance?
-Do I think they “just don’t get it”—and until they do (i.e., until they really understand just how much they’ve hurt me!), I am going to sinfully withhold my love and the ministration of grace to them?
(Why? Because they don’t deserve it? Isn’t that the entire thing with grace? Undeserved by us—but eternally deserved by Christ?! Oh yeah, He deserved grace and took on the wrath that I deserve!)
Oh, this Christian life is difficult. Nay, impossible.
Apart from grace.
Dear Lord, please help us all to be so filled to overflowing with the amazing truth of Your grace towards sinners like us, that we would grant that grace to those who reject, betray, abandon, mistreat, and fail us. For your sake and for your glory, I pray! Amen.
‘At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.’ Titus 3:3-7
When I teach on idolatry (desires–even good desires–elevated to demands such that they become ‘gods’ to us and we give them our time, attention, energy, emotions, thoughts, etc. Cf. James 4:1-3), I always share about my struggle with making an idol out of food.
Since I was a young child, I have habitually turned to food for escape, comfort, pleasure, and general happiness. As I have grown in the Lord, I have continued to struggle with the besetting sin of idolatry of food and gluttony.
Once, at the end of a women’s retreat I was teaching, I off-handedly mentioned how I’d like to write the book Peace with Food one day. More than one woman came up afterwards and said, ‘I would buy it!’ But I had to respond, ‘I can’t write it yet, because I don’t have any!’
Well, not yet, anyway.
But God is so great to give us everything we need for life and godliness through His Son, Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:3).
He is so merciful to deliver us from our sins and change our hearts so that we develop a distaste and even hatred for our sins—things that once were enticing and ‘beautiful’ to us are revealed for their true, disgusting, awful selves. For anything or anyone that would clamor for our worship and adoration other than God is a wickedness that we must pray for the grace and faith to turn away from.
Oh, that we would find our fullness and satisfaction in God alone!
The last two days I have been exhausted physically, emotionally, and relationally. I had two out of state trips last week (the last one culminating in a two-day mediation, the first one entailed taking 16-month-old Sophia on four connections as we flew across the USA—both situations exhausting in their own unique ways). On Sunday, I told Fred that I just wanted to eat, watch old TV shows, and totally veg-out because I was so tired. Do you know what he said?
‘You can do that, of course, Tara. But you know, sleeping is really the only thing that will actually address your exhaustion.’
Of course he was right! The other ‘escapism’ habits might temporarily feel good—but they would not draw me closer to God, deliver me from my besetting sins, or give my body and spirit the rest I needed. (Plus, I just end up gaining more and more weight and thus being a horrible example for Sophia and a terrible steward of the body God has given me to use for his glory.)
Thank God for Fred. And thank God for His mercies that are new every day. It truly is His kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4)!
‘My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only He will release my feet from the snare.’ Psalm 25:15
‘The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say NO to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives …’ Titus 2:11
“I turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he has raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues me from the coming wrath.” 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10
Back in grad school, I once had the privilege of serving a wonderful pastor who was beginning a new ministry. Fred and I respected this man greatly and was thrilled to get to work for him. I remember one day he said to me, “Tara, you don’t get to grade your own report card. Let Freddy and I do that.”
He said this because he observed me being very down on myself. Very self-critical. Always seeing the worst in me, my failings, my weaknesses, my horribleness—never giving myself a break as it were. He wanted to encourage me to think more rightly about myself.
(Not to dismiss our total depravity, of course, and our desperate need of The Savior! But just to have a more accurate view of my heart and life.)
Then I remember a time over breakfast years ago when my dear, dear friend made me read Philippians 4:8 out loud (“what ever is true, lovely, right, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy …”)—and then she asked me, “Tara, when you think about yourself, isn’t it true that you only see what is false, ugly, wrong, worthy of disdain, horrible, worthy of rejection and scorn?” Yes, it was true. She said, “You know, I’d encourage you to beat yourself up constantly if that were biblical, if that were Christian, pleasing to God, edifying to your soul—but it’s not!“
Of course she was right too.
What got me thinking about all of this was a sweet, encouraging, refreshing email I received from a friend this morning. I had apologized to her recently for (yet another) social gaffe I had made, and she responded with gentle acceptance and true love. She counseled me to not be too hard on myself. She gave me grace.
It was so wonderful! I felt like I could wrap myself up in the safety of her friendship.
Love that covers over a multitude of sins is pure grace. How I pray that I will preach and live out the gospel of grace to myself as well as to others each and every day.
‘Although I am less than the worst of all God’s people, this grace was given me …’ Ephesians 3:8
Tonight I head off to bed grateful for many things … the preaching of the Word this morning (thank you Pastor!), the sacrament of communion, the fellowship of the saints, corporate worship, a warm home, clean water, a cuddle-bug of a daughter, tylenol for my ailing husband (the flu is getting us all!), even my silly ol’ Golden Retriever, Choza, whom I really do love …
But I am particularly mindful of the gift God gives me in my friends. Today I spoke with my dear friend just minutes after she delivered her second child — a beautiful boy, 7 lbs. 7 oz. Amazing. And then Sophia and Choza and I wandered over to another friend’s home just to say hello. How sweet it is to just come on in, sit on the floor, visit, share, just be.
You know, I am so relationally inept that the thought of having such sweet friends as these seemed absolutely impossible to me just a few years ago. I so often say the wrong thing and do the wrong thing. People would never know it because I love serving hundreds of people at events — but really I’m quite introverted. I could just hide away most of the time. People laugh at me when I say that because I really (really!) try hard each Sunday to go up to people (especially new people) and introduce myself, learn about them, help them to feel welcome, etc. But really? I could just stay home a lot of the time with my husband, my baby, and my dog and that would be just dandy.
But then there are days like today when the sweetness of friends who forgive me (and forgive me!), pray with and for me, accept me, help me, laugh at me and with me (and help me to learn to laugh at myself), confront me, counsel me, rebuke me … share their lives with me and open their hearts to my life too … well, the sweetness is just so rich. So true. So lovely. So good and admirable and excellent and praiseworthy.
It is a glimpse of Heaven. A true miracle! And I thank God for friends.
I could never merit their grace — such is the reality of grace.
I don’t deserve their love — never could.
Thank You, God, for friends. Please change my selfish, petty heart into a heart that is more like Jesus — that I might be a true and faithful friend to them as well.
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Proverbs 17:17
What a week we have had. Sophia was terribly (terribly!) sick and almost had to be hospitalized to get some fluids in her. My normally happy child has been whiny, clingy, and only slightly consoled if I hold her. All the time. Constantly. Day and night. (Get the point?) So of course on Day 3 of very sick child—so sick that we’ve had to do multiple loads of laundry in the night (see how I’m not being graphic but do you get that point too?)—my back goes out! Of course. So now we have very sick child and momma who can’t even move so poor papa has to take the lion’s share of the domestic duties. Plus I have huge projects I’m supposed to be tackling on some cases. Have I mentioned that I haven’t even put one photo in an album from all of last year? You could paint Picassos in the dust on my desk. And the poor dog just keeps looking at me like, ‘Are we ever going to get out of this house again?!’
Ugh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It just makes me SO crazy. So sad. So discouraged.
Or does it?
Didn’t Jesus say in Matthew 12:34-35: ‘For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.’ ???
So is it the heat of the situation (exhausted physically, tasks needing my attention, poor lovie bear baby needing my love and time) OR the heart? Jesus says it is the overflow of my heart that is shown during these trying days. Sick babies and lack of sleep just remind me of how desperate I am for The Savior. The God Who Hears and Saves!
Excerpts from Psalms 102—A prayer of an afflicted man. When he is faint and pours out his lament before the LORD.
Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry for help come to you. Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly. For my days vanish like smoke; my bones burn like glowing embers. My heart is blighted and withered like grass … My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass …
But you, O LORD, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations. You will arise and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to show favor to her; the appointed time has come … For the LORD will rebuild Zion and appear in his glory. He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea …
In the course of my life he broke my strength; he cut short my days. So I said: ‘Do not take me away, O my God, in the midst of my days; your years go on through all generations. In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end. The children of your servants will live in your presence; their descendants will be established before you.’
My wonderful pastor recently reminded me of something I shared with him months ago …
I was having a stressed-out, exhausting day and to try to “soothe my harried soul”, I began picking up and organizing. (Some of you might find that strange, but for those of you–like me–who find a trip to OfficeMax or the Container Store to be fun fun fun, you know what I mean.)
Anyway, as I was straightening and organizing and working on my “lists of lists”, it hit me that maybe, perhaps, just maybe, I should pray. You know, actually turn to the Lord instead of to organizing to try to regain some calm and peace within. Being a Christian and all, it seemed like perhaps that might be a good idea.
My pastor reminded me of this story because he was realizing that the pressures of life were feeling bit overwhelming to him and he was tempted to work on his Microsoft Outlook tasklist instead of to pray–but then he pictured me scurrying around my home before I came to the conviction to pray. So he chuckled. And then prayed.
You know — we can try lots of things to soothe our savaged and ravaged souls … escaping through television, prescription narcotics, Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls (yum!), shopping, alcohol, sex … but nothing (nothing!) will ultimately satisfy. Except Christ.
Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in Christ. Soli Deo Gloria.
“For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us.” 2 Corinthians 7:5-6
Earlier this week, I was hurt by a friend. My hope and expectation was that she would demonstrate her care for me by asking about my life, giving me a quick call, or just dropping me a note to say hello. Instead, it seemed as though every interaction I had with her was “task related.” That is, she would ask me about something, for something, or just reply to kind of a work-related request of my own.
Of course, it’s nice to have people treat us well by taking an interest in our lives. But when that “good good” becomes an idolatrous demand (“You’d better treat me well or else …”), then we have a problem. When I didn’t get what I wanted — what I felt I “deserved” — I was tempted to become grouchy and stingy towards her in my heart — to withhold my love and care.
Fred encouraged me to focus on God’s lavish grace toward me and as an overflow of God’s love, seek to love this woman well. He also reminded me of how busy and stressful this woman’s life is. And then he asked me, “Tara, what are you supposed to do for someone who mistreats you?” “Pray,” I replied. “Then let’s pray for her and for your relationship with her.” And we did.
It may sound trite, but pretty much immediately, I had the urge to be the one person in this woman’s life who doesn’t demand anything from her. To just love her, encourage her, and not look for her to bless or serve me. (She gives so much to so many!) And then I took the time to drop her a note and give her a call–just to say hello, that I love you, and I am praying for you. What a difference it made in my own heart.
‘Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.’ Romans 12:10
Last night I had a disturbing dream about a certain person with whom I have a relatively strained relationship. I would like to have a better relationship with her, but honestly, I don’t.
In the dream, I was yelling at her and speaking rudely to her in a harsh, critical, and judgmental manner. And then she died. Right then. Right after I was treating her so unlovingly.
I remember in the dream trying to defend myself to the people around me: “She came around and forgave me right before she died!” I self-protectively explained.
(Yeah, right. I just didn’t want people to think less of me–even in my dreams, my pride is an offensive stench.)
I woke up from the dream genuinely grieved. Not over my dream (I don’t want to overstate the importance of dreams or imply in any way that they are something they’re not) — but over my sin. You see, I knew immediately that in real life I had not been honoring the Lord or this person by my words, attitudes, and actions. I did have a harsh and critical spirit towards her. And even if I may not yell at her in real life, I knew that I was not seeking to bless and encourage her as I ought.
God moves in mysterious ways! And I was grateful to immediately begin this morning by calling her and reaching out to her in love. How I pray that I will persevere in doing good to her–for none of us know what tomorrow will bring. We may not have another day or week or month to seek to repair broken relationships, confess sins, ask forgiveness, and be reconciled.
So don’t delay!
“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12
I woke up yesterday with a heavy heart because my dear friend was scheduled for a radical mastectomy that morning. I thought of her all day long and prayed for her. And finally, in the evening, I got to speak with her. Do you know what she said to me?
A single woman, godly, beautiful—found out ten days ago she has breast cancer, now in the midst of surgery and scheduling chemo and radiation—what did she say to me?
‘It was such a good day, Tara.’ And then she proceeded to retell all of God’s blessings throughout the day.
I woke up this morning with greater faith in the Lord—for He had graciously shown me His mercy and glory yet again.
‘Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him …’ Job 13:15
My husband Fred and I don’t have many fights. We just have the same fights over and over and over again. “Oh, yeah, here comes fight number 37, whipping around the bend … we know this script by heart …”
– He tries to say something important but doesn’t quite get the words right.
– I’m ‘the verbal one’ and words are important to me. His words, meant to bless, hurt me.
– He tries to clarify and “fix things.”
– This comes across as backpedaling and feels insincere to me. (I.e., “You must have really meant what you said the first time because otherwise why would you have said it?!”)
Sadly, this little pattern can go on for days and really put a damper on our friendship and intimate love. Of course it takes two to tango — but what I see most is my “thin-skinned-ness” that ought to be quick to overlook, slow to take an offense, and extremely charitable to my beloved husband. But in my sin and immaturity I often make things much worse.
By God’s grace, may I grow in true, abiding love!
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 (emphasis added)