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Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

Jo 17I love it when someone tells me about an event in their lives that they can now honestly laugh about, even though this event may have caused them pain and difficulty at the time. It is as if they have chosen to step through a doorway into a place of much greater freedom and joy and light, rather than remain stuck in some dark cell, enmeshed in anger and bitterness and confusion.

Recently I was privileged to hear one such story from a lovely friend of mine from Korea, Sung Sook. How special it was to laugh with her as she shared something that happened to her during a trip home to Korea at Christmas to see her aging father and other family members. But it was even more special to sense the freedom she now feels about it all and to share in her joy that she was able to respond with such godly wisdom and strength.

While in Korea, Sung Sook and her extended family discovered something about her aging father that caused a great difference of opinion among them, because it had to do with honouring the memory of her mother, who passed away some time ago. Now my friend has six aunties in Korea—surely a formidable force to contend with anywhere—who were all very angry with her father. So what was she to do? She loved her mother, despite being unable to get home to see her often—but she also loves her eighty-six-year-old father and wants his latter years to be as pleasant as possible. How could she honour and respect her father’s wishes but also honour and listen to her aunties?

In the end, she took her father’s side and talked firmly to her aunties, one by one, urging them to leave him alone and not be angry with him. As his daughter, she reminded them she is his closest relative—so they needed to abide by her decision, as well as his. She handled it bravely and well, I believe. But she went even further.

You see, when Sung Sook arrived back here in Australia, she bought a large tin of honey for each aunty and posted it to them as a gift. Now honey is expensive enough in itself—but the postage cost even more! Yes, there is honey in Korea, but it is apparently not as thick as ours, so this was a precious gift to send them. As a result, they were all delighted—and their difference of opinion was swept under the carpet and forgotten!

‘So … honey fixes everything!’ Sung Sook told me, laughing. ‘It is “supernatural food”!’

It is indeed, don’t you think? To me, it symbolises a sweet response that went far beyond our natural inclination to argue and defend and hold a grudge, speaking instead of the supernatural response of forbearance, of forgiveness in God’s strength and of peace-making. This is in fact how we are all called to live:

Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. Psalm 34:14

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:13

Perhaps all of us could consider sharing that ‘supernatural food’ around a little more. Then we might see that such honey truly does fix everything!

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Jo 23It was only a small difference of opinion—at first. I was sure I had mentioned some simple thing I had done, but it soon became obvious the other person present had not heard all I had said. Or perhaps it was that I thought I had added my initial explanatory sentence, but it had remained just that in my head—a thought and no more. Who knows? I was tired and cross, however—and I did not want to entertain that quite reasonable possibility. So, casting caution to the wind, I stuck to my guns and maintained I had in fact explained everything. I argued my case with vehemence. With great fervour, I maintained I was right. In my anger and frustration at being accused unjustly, I might even have raised my voice significantly! And all in order to defend myself over something that did not matter too much in the bigger scheme of things.

Later that day, shame at my response kicked in, but my anger at being wrongfully accused still hung on too. Why did I have to apologise when I knew I had been right? Better just to let it all die down—it would probably be forgotten by tomorrow anyway. Yet something nagged at my conscience. And some verses that I knew from past experience make complete sense kept coming to mind:

 … Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Ephesians 4:26-27

So at last I apologised—and my apology was accepted with grace. We talked a little more about how much better it is to let differences of opinion over trivial issues go rather than try to justify ourselves, then left it at that.

But I soon discovered God wasn’t finished with me. Still feeling a little disgruntled, I sat down at my desk and picked up a book of devotionals someone had given me a few days earlier. I turned to the relevant page for the day—and almost laughed out loud, despite my negative feelings. Right at the top, standing out in bold, red letters, was James 1:19-20:

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

I don’t know about you, but these words have always been a strong challenge to me. Somehow, that order of ‘quick … slow … slow’ can so easily be reversed—often, I am much more likely to be slow to listen, quick to speak and quick to become angry, as I rush to defend myself and my actions! In fact, I may not even hear exactly what the other person is trying to tell me before I crank up the volume and start talking—sometimes over the top of them.

Hopefully, I am slowly learning not to do this, to hold back more, take a deep breath and give the other person a chance to say what is troubling them. And hopefully one day, I will improve, as I model myself more closely on how God has treated me and still does on a daily basis:

But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Psalm 88:15

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Jo 23I wonder if, like me, you have discovered that there are some people who are easy to get on with and others who … well, perhaps I should leave it at that! Of course, you and I both know we belong to the former category rather than the latter. After all, how could anyone ever have trouble getting on with us? Ridiculous! If they do, then it must be their problem, not ours!

As I woke up one morning recently, I realised with a jolt that I was about to spend part of my day with someone who I have to say irks me more than a little. This prospect did not fill me with glee and, not being a great morning person anyway, I grabbed some coffee and headed to my study in even grumpier mode than normal, feeling hard done by. Why me? I had more than enough other things to do than waste time with this particular person.

Still grouchy, I reached for my Bible and the study guide we had been given to help keep us connected with the current sermon series at our church. As I did, I was reminded of the title of the message I had heard only a few days earlier: ‘Learning to live peacefully’. Snippets of what had been said that day floated into my mind, but I quickly pushed them away. I did not care to remember them at this point. Instead, I wanted to wallow in my grouchiness for just a little while longer.

Yet somehow that did not seem to be God’s ideal plan for me right then. I glanced at the reading set down for the day—Galatians 5:22-26. And, despite myself, verse 22 caught my eye:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such there is no law.

Hmm. I noticed verse 25 too:

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Hmm again. I had been all set to ignore the Spirit’s voice that day, for sure.

In the end, our guest came and went—and no one had made too many waves. But I am an expert at post mortems, so I was still grumbling more than a little by the next morning, ready to criticise and condemn our visitor for this and that. Then I turned to my Bible reading for that day and my heart sank, because I knew I would find some verses there that I did not want to see.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:30-32

Oops! Sometimes those gentle rebukes from God are more like sledgehammers landing on one’s head, don’t you think? Yes, our guest may have been one of those ‘extra grace required’ kind of people. Yet surely, if I say I know and love God, I should be able to take a deep breath, listen to God’s Spirit and allow that love and grace of God to flow out to others, whoever they are?

I hope there aren’t too many more ‘oops’ moments like that in my life—but I suspect there might be!

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I wonder if you have ever experienced one of God’s gentle but firm ‘ambushes’. There you are, getting on with your life, when you read some words of Scripture or someone shares a deep thought with you and—kapow! In an instant, you know God is reaching out to you, longing for you to pay attention.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with someone about an issue she was facing.

‘Lately, I’ve sensed God is asking me, “Do you trust me? Do you really trust me?”’ she said, almost as a throw-away line.

Even as I continued listening, I felt a definite nudge in my spirit and knew God was challenging me with this same question. But inwardly, I blustered a little. Of course I trust you, God! I don’t need this reminder. This person is talking with me to glean wisdom for her own life—not vice versa!

Then we put our house on the market. Hmm … did I really trust God to find that one person who would pay a good price for it? If I did, why did I have so many ‘what if’ questions in my mind? Why did I occupy my time inventing those worst case scenarios where everyone would think the house was too small or too old and where we might not have the money to make our own next purchase?

Then came Easter—and this year, I decided to read the account of the crucifixion and resurrection from John’s Gospel. Of course, John was writing in an entirely different context about an entirely different situation, but as I read, I realised God was speaking into my own life as well.

On the evening of the first Resurrection Sunday, we are told in John 20:19, as the disciples huddle in a room with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus joins them.

Peace be with you!’ he says, as he shows them his hands and side.

In an instant, I sensed those words were for me too.

‘Yes, Lord,’ I admitted at last, ‘My situation is nothing like what the disciples had just experienced, but I know I need that same peace right now too.’

I read on and came to the account of another meeting Jesus had with his disciples a week later, when Thomas was also present.

Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you! Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”  John 20: 26-27

Hmm—‘StopIMG_20170421_145112767 doubting and believe.’ Those words speared straight into my spirit. There was no way around it. I had certainly doubted God was able to look after us in the whole process of selling our house. I felt rebuked—and rightly so. But I also felt deeply comforted. Yes, God knew our situation. Yes, God could indeed be trusted, even in the face of my unbelief. And yes, God was forgiving too!

Then last Friday, even before going to auction, our little house sold for a very good price indeed—and only twelve days after being put on the market. Thank you, Lord, for your unending faithfulness to us in so many ways!

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Jo 23We have had an interesting time in our house recently. Our bedroom and bathroom needed painting, as well as various spots in the kitchen. So each morning, bright and early, our friendly painter turned up, cheeky and chirpy as ever.

Some parts of our house needed much painstaking work. We have lived here for thirty-two years, after all, and the house was in existence long before that. But other parts, especially our kitchen area, needed only a little touch-up on the ceiling—or so we thought. However, when asked his opinion, what was our erstwhile painter’s response?

‘Look, I don’t need any more work … but have you noticed at how dirty these walls are? It’d be just as easy to paint’em than to scrub them all. I could clean’em down a bit with metho and water, then give’em a quick couple of coats. That way, it’ll all look spic and span!’

I was doubtful—until he showed me the area high up he had wiped clean. In that spot, the wall was a nice, light cream colour, while elsewhere … Well, let’s just say it was noticeably a few shades darker. Hmm. Now I could see where all that kitchen grease had gone!

In the end, we decided to paint those kitchen walls. It made sense, after all—and that way, other imperfections would be covered up as well.

As I watched the whole process unfold, I began to think how much easier it is to repair our material surroundings than to repair ourselves. If we try to clean ourselves up in our own strength and make ourselves appear more presentable, we might look and feel okay for a while, but nothing has really changed. Soon we fall into those same old traps—judging others, losing our temper, being a little dishonest here and there, or whatever seems to come naturally to us and has been our weakness for so long. As Jesus himself said:

No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” Matthew 9:16-17

What we truly need in our lives is not just a ‘touch-up job’—or even a good makeover. We need those new wineskins. We need a complete demolishing of the old, a brand new start, a deep change that begins on the inside and flows out into our words and actions.

And that is exactly what God has given us in Jesus.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17

Yes, we will still make wrong choices in our lives. But we are still God’s beloved children, part of God’s family, changed forever at the core of our being. God’s own Spirit lives in us. And God is always there for us, welcoming us home, reaching out in forgiveness. In Jesus, God has given us much more than a couple of coats of paint to cover those blemishes. And I’m so glad of that.

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There are certain little members of our family who are adept at delaying tactics. At a family birthday celebration this past week, I watched as our grandson kept refusing to eat his dinner, despite the threat of no special dessert or lollies until he ate some of it at least. Eventually, he gave in and wolfed it all down in no time—we are still mystified as to what the fuss was all about.

IMG_20150702_144848558Then recently, his little sister discovered a very useful little phrase. She has started saying, ‘Not yet!’ in a definite voice to her mother when faced with having to do something she doesn’t want to do. Can you imagine a sweet little eighteen-month-old sizing you up with her big, brown eyes, then uttering those two powerful, little words?

Now how did our Zain and Maxine come to be so determined? Did they inherit this from their father, who readily admits to being very strong-willed as a child and getting into lots of trouble? Perhaps our daughter was responsible—or maybe even their Nanna! I well remember my mother saying to me as a child more than once when I would not listen to her or do what she asked: ‘I might as well speak to a post!’

Sometimes this childish wanting our own way carries on into our adult years as well. And, sadly, that was the case with me as a young mum when it came to my attitude to God—that is, until one Sunday morning over forty years ago now. I was standing in the crèche at the back of the church we attended, holding our baby son who was unwell. I had come because I wanted to hear the visiting speaker. Instead, God spoke to me so clearly through the Bible reading that preceded the sermon—the parable of the unmerciful servant from Matthew 18:21-35—that that was all I remembered afterwards.

You see, I was very involved in church activities at the time, but I knew I was neglecting my own personal relationship with God. So there I was, listening to the story of the servant who owed the king a great deal of money and couldn’t pay. And then came verse 26:

The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘And I will pay back everything.’

I did not hear the rest of the story that day—how the king forgave the servant that huge debt and how this servant did not show similar compassion to others. All I heard was God saying clearly to me, ‘This is how you’ve been treating me, Jo’. In an instant, I realised I been saying to the King of Kings: ‘Yes, I know I need to spend more time with you, but I’m too busy right now. Just wait—just be patient and I’ll get back to you when I’m good and ready!’

It was as if a knife had been plunged into my heart as I realised the enormity of saying ‘Not yet!’ to God. That day I repented—and my journey with God changed forever. Yes, our God is gracious and longsuffering and so patient with us. But let’s think twice before we turn and say ‘Not yet!’ to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

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Jo 17It’s so easy to judge others, isn’t it? As I watch the news each evening, I often do just that when I hear of someone who has reportedly committed a crime or some ‘celebrity’ who has gone off the rails. Admittedly, their track record might speak for itself—but we don’t really know all the facts. So often, we make up our minds about people on a very small amount of information, don’t you think? And that information might well be quite biased anyway.

I remember some girls I taught at an exclusive school when I was all of twenty-one years old. In my naivety, I assumed there was no excuse for any of them to do poorly or behave badly. After all, most came from such privileged backgrounds. Yet I recall one boarder who had trouble passing any exam and would rarely speak in class. When she did, she was quite aggressive. What internal battles was she facing? Homesickness? Loneliness? Lack of self-esteem? I did not enquire and ignored her, failing her in a particular exam by one mark when, in grace, I could easily have encouraged her and no doubt found that mark somewhere.

Twenty years later, I returned to teaching, ending up at a school where students were graded. I taught Introductory Language to all ten Year Seven classes there. Can you imagine how keen that poor tenth class was to learn a foreign language? I worked hard to make my lessons interesting and accessible for them. I cajoled. I threatened. I yelled—a lot. And, in my heart, I judged them as hopeless. Only occasionally did I ever wonder what difficulties they might be facing in their home and family life. Instead, I ranted and raved when homework was not done or the relevant workbook was missing.

Recently, I read some words attributed to the Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria:

Be kind to all, because everyone is fighting a great battle.

Yes, those students in my classes were no doubt fighting lots of battles. And, as I think of many around me today, I am aware how real those battles are for them too, in some shape or form. But that’s only those I know about. What are the stories behind the faces of those in our street, at the shopping centre, on the train or bus, at work—at church?

Appearances can be deceptive. Someone might seem to have it all together, yet inside they may well be fighting ongoing emotional battles or wrestling with huge spiritual issues. Some might agonise over things we feel are relatively trivial—yet they are real to them. Some might gain a quick victory in a particular battle, while others may struggle a lifetime. But who am I to judge? Instead, my task is to be kind to all and sensitive to their struggles—as well as very mindful of some wise words Jesus once said:

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Luke 6:37-38

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Jo 23I knew I had an excuse to feel a little exasperated. After all, the person I had just spoken to on the phone had changed the date for a particular speaking engagement twice already. Now here she was, asking yet again for some information I had already given her several times. I sighed, then later complained loudly about her to two members of my family.

‘I don’t know what’s wrong with this lady! She seems so confused and disorganised. Let’s hope this speaking engagement goes okay.’

I duly turned up on the day and yes, everything worked out. The group of people I spoke to were very attentive and responded well. I was also welcomed warmly by the lady I had hitherto only spoken to by phone or emailed—and found her charming and interesting. Before I was introduced to speak, she gave me a personal thank you gift—her way of apologising for the inconvenience she had caused by changing the dates twice. I felt embarrassed but she insisted.

Later, she wanted to purchase one of my novels.

‘Which one should I buy?’ she asked me in her beautiful, European accent.

After discovering she was Hungarian and had travelled to Australia as a migrant via Czechoslovakia, I suggested one of my novels featuring a Czech migrant. Yet, even as I did, my embarrassment deepened. Did she really want to read it—or did she feel obliged to support me after messing up our arrangements? As we chatted further, she told me this was the first year she had volunteered to be the speaker coordinator for this particular group and how hard she had found it. My heart went out to her and I assured her truthfully I would rather speak myself any day than coordinate a whole year of other speakers.

At that point, I began to sense God was teaching me a lesson I would not forget in a hurry about perhaps being just that little bit less judgemental of others. But worse was to come. When I arrived home and unwrapped her special gift to me, I found an unusual and quite lovely card attached. Then I read what this lady had written inside in her beautiful, copperplate handwriting:

To dear Jo-Anne

Thank you for your unconditional generosity towards me. Wishing you a Blessed Christmas and a safe and happy New Year. Love …

Now I felt completely humbled and rebuked. Unconditional generosity—when, in reality, I had felt so exasperated with her and had maligned her to others! If that was unconditional generosity, I’d hate to see meanspiritedness.

What a lesson from God for my life from such an unexpected source. And what an insight into God’s unconditional generosity to me—that same unconditional generosity I needed to have in my heart for this lady rather than condemnation. How gracious God is, not only in the big scheme of things but also in those gentle messages we receive along life’s path that call us to live and respond in a better way and to show that same love and acceptance to others we have been shown!

I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. Isaiah 43:25

Love each other as I have loved you. John 15:12b

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Recently, I had reason to think more about the great power one particular little word in our English language can wield. Yet this word seems to stick in our throats so often or is too much even to think about saying because the stakes may be too high for us.

Yes, it’s that one little word ‘sorry’.

IMG_20140614_152459Now it appears this is a hard word even for two-year-olds like—well, like our beautiful, little grandson Zain to say. Recently, while visiting us, he did something naughty and, as a result, his dad took him on his knee and decided Zain needed to say sorry. But no—that was not an option for our Zain. Not at all. Time after time, he sat there, shaking his head and refusing to say that one little word that would resolve the situation. Yet how could he, a two-year-old, know how to be so stubborn? What might cause him to decide he was not prepared to stoop so low as to apologise?

Now at that point, his conflict-avoidance grandmother decided to resort to bribery and offered him a lollipop if he would say sorry. But even that did not change his mind. When his dad began to eat that lollipop instead, there were great cries of anguish—but still no sorry. That lollipop began getting smaller and smaller until it had almost disappeared. Yet that little word was never said.

A few days later, out of the blue, Zain apparently said to his mum:

‘Lollipops at Nanna’s house. But I didn’t get one. I didn’t say sorry.’

Even at two, he understood what the issue was and how high the stakes were. After all, a lollipop is a big deal to a two-year-old.

But what about us when it comes to saying that little word? How mature are we about this?  In particular, what happens when we know we need to tell God we’re sorry? There’s much more than a lollipop at stake, in this case. Yet I for one, just like my grandson, so often seem to have too much pride and stubbornness to admit my faults, even to such a loving, forgiving God. On top of that, I seem to have an endless, inbuilt supply of excuses ready as to why I don’t want or need to admit to those ways I have fallen so far short of how God would want me to behave.

It doesn’t matter.

God will forgive me anyway.

It wasn’t so bad, after all.

Others have done much worse than I have.

I’m too ashamed—I don’t even want to think about.

I hope, like Zain, I will grow up one day.  I hope I wake up to myself soon and remember how important it is to keep short accounts with God. I hope I never forget the freedom God’s amazing forgiveness brings when we come before our loving Father with contrite hearts just as that prodigal son did.

How about you? Is sorry a hard word for you to say too—especially to God?

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 Jn 1:9

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Jo 23There are down sides, I’ve discovered, to having a more reflective personality. For starters, I can wallow in introspection. I can sit for far too long, thinking about things I have done in the past and how differently I would do it all now. In short, I can be the queen of post mortems!

Depending on how tired I am when these take place, I can lose all sense of perspective and end up seeing only the negatives in whatever input I have given or writing I have done. I can even find myself overcome with feelings of embarrassment and self-pity at times. And if I do not come to my senses, these can all too easily paralyse me.

Yet there is an upside to these post mortems as well. With God’s help, I can learn from past mistakes and grow just that little bit more. I don’t want to keep committing the same old errors and be unable to communicate God’s love in the best possible way. So after I speak somewhere, I go through my input, reflecting on what worked and didn’t work, what felt laboured and what seemed to flow well. I make a mental note not to use this or that illustration again, if it seemed to puzzle or not connect with my audience. Then, when I have finished, I file that input away and try to let it fade from my mind.

This issue of post mortems is very pertinent right now as I seek to write my second non-fiction work—another memoir, with a few lines of teaching in each chapter, as well as some reflection questions. As I go to write about some of the more draining periods of my life, I find I have to safeguard my spirit and try to follow David’s example of focussing on God:

My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare. Ps 25:15

Otherwise, I could spend hours staring at my computer screen, feeling the pressure of that past season of my life, and become exhausted all over again. Instead, I try to look back with more objectivity, relying on God to give me a better perspective on it all and show me what to pass onto others. That’s the mindset Paul seems to have had when he wrote the following:

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Phil 3:13-14

It’s not that Paul never mentions his past. Even in this same chapter, he remembers how he was once a Pharisee and a persecutor of the church. By God’s grace, however, he became a changed person—a new creation, free to love and serve Christ (2 Cor 5:17-19).

That’s what I am too, I remind myself with joy, as I square my shoulders and set to work on my book again. I may well have made that unwise decision or spoken those hurtful words in the past, but, as Jer 31:34 reminds us, God has chosen not to remember them—and so should I. I can let go of it all and move on, knowing I am forgiven and am totally loved and accepted because of Jesus.

And that is such a wonderful, healing thing to be able to do, don’t you think?

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