It is tempting…highly tempting, when someone has “written you off” or done the unimaginable insult to you, to respond in kind. It feels…right…justified even.
At one of these moments where I am reminded yet again of being painfully written off by a loved one, that though we do this to our God once, a dozen times or a dozen, dozen times, He does not respond in kind. When Christ had his very creation hurling insults at him on the cross—as he made the way for our reconciliation and healing, he bore the weight for all of us, those who stood by him weeping, the ones who fled, the ones who stood by saying nothing, and those who screamed for his death—he did not reject, he did not respond in kind.
If I am to be like Jesus, I must not write off those who have mistreated, who have failed in love, failed in fellowship. And where I have written off, cut off, erased my hurt by erasing the bonds of friendship, severing the lines of communication to keep myself from pain? In those places, in those relationships, I must once again write back those bonds, that they may be cashed in. I must restring the lines and be willing to take that call, answer that email, to listen, to hear, with my heart open and willing to have relationship again. Not requiring it, but willing. Not forcing, but welcoming.
It sounds lovely (and perhaps a bit foolish) in the abstract. In reality it is a painfully difficult thing, to open one’s self to relationships with those who have wounded, who can and probably will still wound—to be ready to forgive and to cover over an offense. It sounds…almost Biblical. Oh dear, that’s because all that forgiveness and mercy and grace and covering over of offenses is the very Christ-likeness we are called to have.
My conscience is pricked. I long to be able to speak from the long experience of one who has done well, but I find myself speaking from the place of the fallen. I must wipe my dirty knees and crawl to my feet to arise to a new way of living, no matter how many times I fail, no matter how many times I fall. How often will I come to the place where I realize that what I thought was right was…just…wrong? Protecting my heart from more pain sounds good, and for a while, perhaps it is okay to withdraw from the battle to heal, but at some point, and that point is this one, for me, I must re-enter the battle. Not to fight, but to bind up the wounded, even when they have wounded me. I must love, even where there is hatred. I must bleed and pray for those who cut me, knowing that in doing so, I am following Christ.
Today—this very day—I was reading a verse, about God’s unfailing love, and a friend, one who has distanced herself and cut the bonds of friendship, came to mind. I knew in that moment, that though I had been developing bitterness toward her over this wounding, that I was to repent and to reach out in love once again. Not requiring anything in return, but to reach out and remind her of the love of the Father for her. No pressure, no guilt, no recriminations, and as I was doing so, the bitterness began to be replaced by the feelings of friendship that had run so strong we had said that nothing would damage them. And then I thought of another with whom I have had strained relations. If God loved them with unfailing love, how could I continue to harbor bitterness toward them? How could I leave the bridges of friendship falling down?
I was brought to shame recognizing my pettiness, and the very way in which I have acted, in my heart, so very unlike Christ. Christ who was on the cross, who was buried and who rose again, “trampling down death by death, and to those in the tomb restoring life!”
Ah, but the beauty is that he restores me as well, in his unfailing love, not wishing me to remain in my bitterness, in my selfish, self-protection mode…he restores me. Through his word, through the Spirit, speaking to my conscience, reminding me of love and bonds and forgiveness. Unfailing love allows for all kinds of restoration.
Isaiah 54:10, “‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” (NIV)