Tag Archives: perspective

Psalm 23 Through the Lens of Trauma

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Psalm 23 Through the Lens of Trauma

When I was little, I ran to Psalm 23 because in it, God promised to provide for me – The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

When I became a young mother, I ran to Psalm 23 because God promised to give me rest – He makes me lie down in green pastures.

In turbulent times and sleepless nights (whether from toddlers or teenagers), I ran to it because God promised still waters and a restored soul and assured me that I had no need to fear any evil even though I had to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

But last year, I saw something that I hadn’t seen before.  Last year I revisited Psalm 23 and looked at it through the lens of trauma.  I made a profound discovery and realized that all the things promised – the provision, the care, the stillness and the restoration, the feast set before me and the defense against evil – all of it happens in the valley of the shadow of death – the very place where trauma resides.

I’d always read “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” as if it said, “even when I walk…” as if the peace of the still waters and green pastures were in one place but the valley of the shadow of death was someplace else.  A place, in fact, to be gotten through as quickly as possible to get back to the green pastures and still waters.  But it doesn’t say that.  It says “though” – it could read, “even though I am walking through the valley of the shadow of death” – which can place the whole psalm in the valley.  The first three verses make sense this way, too – pastures are greenest and most abundant – most nutritious and life-sustaining –  not at the wind-blown mountain tops, but in the valleys.  

Still waters are not found on tops of mountains or even the sides of hills – but at the bottoms, in the valley.  Sheep can’t drink from turbulent waters, but they will drink their fill on still waters.  Without water they quickly die, and without enough of it, they have many ailments.  Water is essential for their survival, but plenty of water is essential for a sheep’s health and vitality.  Plenty can only be had in still waters.  The still waters are mainly in the valley.  

And a path is needed because the rocks and trees and debris from all the washing down from the high places settle in the valleys.  The valleys can be treacherous, and they can provide lots of places for snakes and coyotes and leg-breaking-crevices to lurk.  The shepherd must lead the way through the valley.  The deepest shadows, toughest obstacles, and craftiest adversaries are there Open pastures that are smooth or rolling don’t have paths – they aren’t necessary.  It’s easy to see where you’re going.  The path of righteousness that he leads us on goes through the valley.

It is in the valley that he provides for us, gives us rest, restores our souls.  Think about how profound that really is.  In the darkest times – when the stench of death is overshadowing us – his rod and staff – tools of guidance and correction – comfort us.  But again – where would a rod of defense be more needed than in the valley?  And where else would we be more prone to go the wrong way and need to be brought back to the safety of the path that is for our good, but in the difficult terrain of the valley?

 The place to hide from enemies is up in the hills – in the nooks and crannies of rocks and outcroppings.  But he is spreading a feast out for us in a breathtakingly shocking way by doing it in the presence of our enemies!  Right out in the open – in the vulnerable place of the valley where we’re easy targets! – he sets up a grand feast.  Who could relax enough to eat a meal in the presence of someone trying to destroy you except that you’re utterly confident of being perfectly protected?  It’s as if he’s showing us off to the whole army of enemies saying, “See these sheep – they’re mine, and you can’t have them.”  Even in presence of enemies in the valley, we can rest in his care.

This Good Shepherd lavishes on soothing, cleansing oil – he knows how hard the valley is for us – and welcomes us as guests he is pleased to have with him at this feast.  He provides more than we can possibly consume – he is neither stingy nor begrudging.  Those kindnesses are most precious to us when we walk through the valley.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me.  Stubborn grace will hound me, chase after me, pursue me.  All the days of my life – all the days – not only when things appear good and full of mercy, but also in the valley.

And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.  This is what good shepherd’s do – they get their sheep home.  They might feed them and water them and protect and guide them out in the pastures, beside the still waters, and through the paths in the valley, but the goal is to bring them home.  

I think I’ve missed the strength of this Psalm all these years.  This is not a Psalm that talks about the highs of peace and provision and then also the lows of threats and fearsome hardships.  It’s about abundant peace and protection in very the presence of threats and fearsome hardships.

It’s not that God is not in the peaceful times of ease and comfort.  He is.  But it seems to me that the real power expressed here lies in the truth that all these things are true for us in the valley, too.  None of the pleasantness of peace, or abundance of his provision, or his rock solid protection can be diminished by walking through the valley of the shadow of death, for we walk through it with him there beside us.  Through trauma we may realize more fully how treacherous the valley is and the unspeakable evil the enemy uses to try to destroy us.  But when we learn to see who this Good Shepherd really is, and how capable he is to protect and provide for us, we can rest in his mercy and care and follow him – joyfully – all the way home, even though we have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

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Christmas Letter to My Kids

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Christmas Letter To My Kids

This was a hard, but beautiful Christmas in our family.  Heartache causes us to reflect and to look for beauty that will come out of ashes.  My kids amaze me with their grace and their capacity to love through all of it.  I could not possibly be more thankful for each and every one of them.

The following is a letter I read to them Christmas morning.  I know many people have to look for good through the lens of suffering and this time of year intensifies that.  I hope this will encourage others as well.

Two Strange Passages for Christmas

To My Beloved Children:

I want to read you two passages from the Bible which, at first, might not seem appropriate for Christmas, but I think you’ll understand why I chose them by the time I’m done.

The first is from the book of Genesis – from the story of Joseph.  This is near the end of Joseph’s story – after his brothers had been so wicked and envious of him that they plotted to kill him, sold him into slavery instead, lied to their father and told him Joseph had been eaten by a wild animal, and Joseph had suffered years of slavery, loneliness, unjust imprisonment, and through a myriad of sovereignly appointed events, had risen to enormous power in Egypt.  These years had shaped Joseph and had put him into a position to organize the Egyptians to store up vast amounts of grain during years of plenty because he knew that years of famine were coming.  But Joseph’s family didn’t have such stores.  Their father sent all but one of his sons down to Egypt because they heard there was food there.  The story is a little long, so for brevity, I’ll tell you that it had been many years since Joseph had seen his brothers and when he did, he was both relieved and filled with apprehension.  He remembered all they had done to him.  When he saw them after all those years, he recognized them, but they didn’t recognize him.  He decided to test his brothers to see if they had changed.  If you read the whole story, you’ll see that they had changed… some.  Joseph brought his entire family to safety in Egypt where they stayed and flourished, but when their father eventually died, the brothers revealed that they had not ever really reckoned with what they had done.  Here’s what they said:

“It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.”  So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’  …  Joseph wept when they spoke to him.  His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.”  But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”  Genesis 50: 15-20

Nothing Wasted

The point of the story is this:  God used even the evil that Joseph’s brothers had committed for good.  He used it to accomplish his good purposes.  Through all the hard and painful events of Joseph’s life God made him into a humble, powerful leader.  He used it to save the lives of millions of people by giving Joseph the wisdom and strength he needed to rule well.  And he used the wickedness of Joseph’s brothers to save them too.

Nothing is wasted that God ordains.

The second passage I want to read to you is from Matthew 23.  Jesus was talking to a large crowd of people who had gathered to hear his teaching.  The crowd consisted of people who genuinely wanted to follow him, some people who weren’t sure what they thought, and there was also a group of men called Scribes and Pharisees – religious rulers who were supposed to lead the people in all God’s ways.

But there was a huge problem.  The religious leaders – the ones who had full access to the scriptures and knew all the things God had told his people, were using their positions to fleece the people.  The  truth was so mixed up with lies that it was impossible for the people to know what God really required.  And they had become harsh and cruel.

Jesus said:  you say one thing, but do another.  You’ve played games with peoples’ souls and they follow you to hell – becoming even worse than you!  You’ve made it appear to those you should have been caring for that you were being faithful, but really you were feeding your own greedy desires at their expense!  You’ve neglected and taken advantage of the ones you were supposed to protect and care for!  You do not examine your own hearts but cast judgement on others!

But after he brought all these charges against them he mournfully cried out, saying,

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!  Matthew 23: 37

Freedom to Grieve

So – why did I choose these two passages?

First, these have been a huge comfort to me and I wanted to share that with you.  This is a hard time in our family and it would be silly to try to act as if it were not so.  But I am convinced that God is working – even through all these hard things, and yes, even through the wicked things that have been done against us – for good.

Second, I want you to know that it’s ok to grieve over the way things should have been.  I’ve often asked, “how does one grieve over something one has never had?”  But then I remembered Jesus’ lament.  The Scribes and Pharisees were terrible leaders.  Their indifference to the suffering they caused was wicked and cruel – they should have shepherded, but didn’t.  That caused Jesus to grieve deeply.  We can grieve, too.

But very shortly after Jesus lamented over this, he was taken away, beaten and tortured and hung on a cross to die for them – for us.  He wept over the way things were, and then laid down his life to change that.  He might have wept bitterly, but he did not become bitter.  He loved.  We can do that, too.

That’s why he came.  That’s why we have Christmas.

I love you guys.

Mom

Fight for joy…

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James Winn (acrylic on paper)

Fight for joy…

I’ve referenced the above painting before by my friend James Winn  – it’s one of my favorite possessions.   While the bleak mid-western Winter imperceptibly creeps slowly, oh so slowly toward Spring, it takes a lot of faith to believe that things will ever look differently than they do in this painting.  Winter is long and hard – brutal at times – on the plains.

Intellectually we know that Spring will come – it always does.  But there are days, cold, dark days, when it is difficult to believe it.

I don’t live on the Plains anymore.  In comparatively balmy Delaware, Winter just isn’t that bad.  But the painting continues to lift my thoughts to higher things.

Some days – weather aside – that long-endured battle to be warm grips my soul.  The grass might be green, the humidity and temperatures high, and flip-flops the norm, but lurking in the corners of my mind are the dark days of endless, frigid, face-numbing cold and the struggle against it.

As I struggle to replace that feeling of dread with truth I am reminded how easy it is to believe a lie.

It’s all too easy to believe my emotions and dread the coming months, believing they will be filled with hardship and struggle – simply because that’s how they have been for so long.

My fear of what might be, based on what has been, wants to rule, which is understandable, but false.

Faith is the same way.  Sometimes what I have lived wants to dictate what I believe.  Experience tells us to look at a certain set of circumstances and presume the outcome:

“This will always be this way…”

“She’ll always do these things…”

“He’ll never change…”

“This is what I can look forward to…”

But faith says,

“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow has enough care for itself.”

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans for a future and a hope…’”

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…”

I’ve been kicking around the phrase “The Joy of the Lord is my strength” and have been wondering, “What does that mean – really?”   What does the Joy of the Lord look like?  Is it the happy “season’s greetings” kind of “joy” that tv, or hallmark, or Hollywood puts forth?  Is it supposed to be that 30- or 60-minute contrived, happy-ending kind of gladness, that is somehow meant to mysteriously last longer… if you just get a few things right?  I don’t know anyone who really lives like that – do you?

As is often the case for me, turning the phrase around a little bit has helped me to think about joy from a different angle.  Rather than a church-y cliché that people sometimes use to mask the struggles they are really having, the Lord’s Joy is something altogether deeper and more meaningful.

The Lord’s Joy is my strength.

Think about that.  The Lord’s joy – not mine, or yours – is given to us.  Far from the “find it inside yourself” kind of joy that we try to manufacture, the joy of the Lord isn’t something we come up with at all!

The perfect, full, rich, abundant, and over-flowing joy that the Lord possesses has been given to us.  How much joy does God possess?  Infinite amounts.  What kind of joy does God have?  The very best of perfectly complete joy – and nothing less.  What is he joyful about?  In a word, Christ.  And, inconceivably, that includes you and me.  We are his and he delights in us.  All of creation has been racing toward one fantastic fulfillment – redemption!  That is you and me living for eternity in sweet, joy-filled fellowship with the Father because of the Son.   That is the great news!  We get to be there.  FOREVER.  If that doesn’t fill you will the Lord’s Joy, what can?

What is meant by joy strengthening us?  If all this joy is ours, why do we need to be strengthened at all?

Because sometimes, often times, My fear of what might be based on what has been wants to rule, which is understandable, but false.

Life can be unimaginably hard.  We have trials.  We have pain.  We have searing disappointments and heartaches.  These things can threaten to undo us.  They can cause us to want to give up.  They can cause us to question the goodness of God and the purpose of his will.  They can gnaw at our confidence in Christ’s work on our behalf and they can attempt to grind our faith into dust.

The Lord’s Joy is our strength.  It’s there.  It’s already been freely given.  But sometimes it is so buried under our circumstances that we have to fight to hold onto it the way Jacob clung to God in the wilderness and would not let him go until God blessed him.

Sometimes we have to fight for the joy that already belongs to us.  The world may look a bit like that painting above – bleak and cold and dark.  But that is not the whole story.  Strength is growing under those furrows.  Perseverance and character and hope are being produced there.  Hope for the things that we know but remain as yet, unseen.

And just as winter always yields to spring and reveals what has been covered under cold and dark layers, the seen will yield to the unseen and we will see what we already know to be true: that every hardship, every tear, every lament has a purpose for good.  Nothing is aimless, nothing is a waste.  It is all making us fit in ways we can’t imagine, so that through them we will be made like the One we love.  Perfect.  Righteous.  Pure.  And most of all, ready.   Jesus is gathering his people to himself and preparing us to live forever with him in beautiful, wonderful, perfect joy.

In the meantime, fight for joy.  It is already yours.

Shepherds gather, wolves scatter.

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The Bible doesn’t have a lot of nice things to say about wolves – or more precisely, people who are described as wolves.

 

Zephaniah and Ezekiel both describe Israel in her stubborn, defiant rebellion as being like wolves who devour and leave nothing behind.

 

Isaiah describes them as inhabiting the desolate places with jackals and hyenas.

 

Jesus told his disciples to be on guard because he was sending his disciples out like lambs among wolves – and we all know what happens to little lambs in the clenching jaws of wolves.

 

The people who are wolves in our lives have voracious appetites to destroy.  They don’t just want to take us out of commission.  Their desire is not to make us simply limp, or waver, or even just to shut us up.  They want to take us out completely.

 

And the first thing that happens with every wolf attack is that he (or she) bounds into and scatters the flock seeking out the target and going for blood.

 

Such a lovely picture, eh?

 

So why would I be thinking about wolves on New Year’s Day?

 

Because they’re everywhere, and if Jesus thought it was important to warn his disciples against them, then it must be important to remind every generation about them, too.

 

Most of us are pretty naturally on the lookout for the wolves “out there.”  We are on guard against the atheist aunty to loves to come to family gatherings and openly mock our faith.  We pray for wisdom and discernment in dealing with the militant co-worker who wants to goad us into a religious argument just to try to make us look like the racist-homophobic-intolerant-judgmental-bigot he’s already declared all believers to be.  We are even on guard against the Hollywood machine that wants to pound your faith into the ground with production after production of buffoonish portrayals of weak-minded “Christians” who are idiotic in their approach to…everything.

 

Those things are real, and we need to guard against them, but I don’t really think they are the wolves in our lives.  Those are the things meant to embarrass, insult, and maybe even injure – but they don’t destroy.  If anything, they (hopefully!) sharpen our defense of the hope that is within us and motivate us to live above the fray in a manner worthy of our callings – worthy of the Name by whic we are called.  “Christians” mean we belong to Jesus the Christ after all.

 

But wolves are much more dangerous than any of these things.  Wolves are malicious, calculating, and cruel.

 

Wolves destroy marriages, friendships, mother-child bonds. Wolves split churches and denominations. Wolves tear down and never build up.  Wolves target godly reputations, fruitful ministries, and long records of good works to twist and distort them by making them appear prideful or weak or wanton.  Wolves target the good and want to rip it to shreds.  

 

We’ve all seen it happen and so we might be duped into thinking that we would quickly recognize when a wolf has crept into our sheepfold, but we don’t.

 

There is another passage that is chilling when you know how brutal wolves can be.

 

Matthew 7:15 states, “Beware the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

 

They’re in the sheep pen folks.  They look like sheep and sound like sheep.  They quote Scripture and tell testimonies and teach your Sunday School classes.  They are not the cartoonish wolf with a sheepskin badly slung over it’s back with wolf claws and jaws sticking out so you can immediately sound the alarm bells and put everyone on high alert.  They’re good at looking like sheep.

 

In fact, they’re so good at it that Jesus then gives us instruction for how to recognize them – he says, “you will recognize them by their fruits.”  Thorn bushes don’t grow grapes and thistles don’t grow figs.  And ultimately, though they might fake it for a good long while, wolves don’t grow love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, or self-control.  Only the Holy Spirit can produce that kind of fruit.  Wolves seek to destroy all that.

 

The remainder of Matthew 7 describes other ways that we will be able to recognize those wolves who pretend to be sheep – they will produce diseased fruit, they will do many things, “in Jesus’ name,” and they will be fools who build on shifting foundations.

 

It is often very, very difficult to recognize a wolf.  It is especially difficult because each and every one of us can have wolf-like fangs of sinfulness that we bear if we feel threatened or claws that take swipes at our fellow sheep.  Knowing the difference between a sheep behaving badly and a true wolf is exceedingly difficult, but Jesus told us to beware of them so it must also be true that he will give us the wise discernment we need to learn to do tell the difference.

 

In recent years I’ve had my spiritual eyes opened a bit to this and have begun to learn what it means to “beware the wolves among you.”  A few patterns have emerged, and in my observations, it has been particularly helpful to note the stark contrast between wolves and shepherds.  Jesus, our ultimate Good Shepherd, is also our ultimate standard.  Of course, no earthly shepherd is as all-Good as Jesus, but in general terms, the shepherds among us demonstrate some characteristics that are in notable opposition to those of wolves.  Comparing the truly good with the truly evil makes the differences easier to see and recognize.

 

So here are ten comparisons that have been particularly helpful to me:

 

  1. Wolves tend to themselves – Shepherds tend to the flock.  
  2. Wolves use people for their own purposes – Shepherds use themselves up for the good of others.
  3. Wolves make much of their willingness to stand against evil – Shepherds make much of God and how He enables them to stand against it, especially through their weakness.
  4. Wolves like to keep things secret and in the dark – Shepherds know that the light of truth clears away the darkness.
  5. Wolves call goodness, truth, and beauty into question – Shepherds praise these things.
  6. Wolves impugn motives without knowing enough – Shepherds are slow to judge motives, knowing that they usually don’t know enough.
  7. Wolves say harsh things to cut down and destroy – Shepherds say hard things in order to build up and restore.
  8. Wolves seek attention, praise, and status even at the cost of others – Shepherds deflect attention, praise, and status especially to bless others.
  9. Wolves skillfully gossip, malign, and covertly discuss the situations of others – Shepherds hold confidences even at great cost to themselves.
  10. Wolves drive people apart – Shepherds draw people together.

 

Again, any one of us can display wolf-like sinfulness.  But these wolf-characteristics cannot be generally true of a sheep.  The two cannot co-exist in one person.  In short, Shepherds gather, wolves scatter.

 

Near the end of Matthew 7 Jesus says that the wise man will be able to withstand the storms and the floods and the wind that seek to destroy because his foundation is Jesus – the rock.  It doesn’t take a theologian to figure out that the wolves he spoke of in the previous verses might be some of the storms and floods and wind.

 

As this new year emerges it presents us with untold billions of things to be talking to God about.  One major theme in all of these is the increased persecution of the church around the world.  Those persecutions could take the form of mass executions, imprisonments, or torture.  Or it could come walking into our fellowships – our sacred families of believers – and sit down among us and eat with us and pray with us and then seek to devour and utterly destroy everything good it can sink its greedy jaws into.
Beware the wolves among us, but don’t fear them.  Because the Good Shepherd continues to care for his sheep and has already laid down his life for them!  Ultimately, we can rest in the knowledge that He will deal justly with the wolves even as He gathers His sheep to Himself.

You can’t make God any happier with you than He already is…

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So stop trying.

I know – that goes against all the things you think you’ve been taught.

Be good.

Be nice.

Be generous.

Be compassionate.

Be better.

And the implied message at the end of all those directives is, “so you make (or keep) God happy with you.”

The trouble is – it’s all wrong.  It’s a big fat lie that we actually seem to like telling ourselves and one another.

One of the most helpful pieces of advice I’ve ever received was this:  “You can’t make God any happier with you than He already is…”

If you are a believer – a follower of Jesus who knows for certain that you’ve been forgiven – lifted out of a filthy ocean of disgusting sin that you not only dug for yourself but filled bucket by bucket and were hopelessly flailing about in with no hope of getting yourself out of much less cleaned up from – then God is already as happy with you as he can possibly be.

If you are a disciple of the Son of God – a sinner who has repented and hates not only the sinful storehouse you built but also the fact that you are prone to building it again – then God is already as happy with you as he can possibly be.

If you are aching to know God better and love Him more because he put the desire into your heart of stone-turned-to-flesh – then God is already as happy with you as he can possibly be.

Did you catch that?  God is already as happy with you as he can possibly be!

The real question each of us must face when considering our mortality is not, “Am I at peace with God?”  Rather, it is this:  “Is God at peace with me?”

And if you’ve seen your hopeless condition and run to Jesus for rescue, because you know that his life and his death and his resurrection have satisfied all the demands God has made on us that we couldn’t satisfy – and that it has been offered to you freely – then God is at peace with you.  He is happy with you and cannot be made happier.

His delight has been made free to you – though it was enormously costly to Him – and He is happy to offer it to you.

And the glorious irony is that God is happy with us precisely because of the offer.  For when he sees you and me – sinners rescued from the miry pits of our own making, saved from destruction and an endless eternity of heartache and despair – he sees his beloved Jesus.  Period.

The exchange was so utterly complete that when Jesus became sin for us, he filled us up with himself – and that is all God sees.  Perfect, complete, clean, pure.

God is already as happy with you as He can be, because when he sees you, if you belong to him, he sees his Son in you perfectly reflected and shining in beautiful glory.

You can’t make God any happier with you than He already is, because when He sees you, He sees His Son.

But there was more to the advice.

“You cannot make God any happier with you than He already is.  And indeed, you must not try.”

I can hear you now (because, truthfully, I’ve said the same things).

What?!?  What about following the 10 Commandments?  What about all the Old Testament Commandments – or the New Testament ones??  What about all the places in the Bible that tell us to do this or not do that?  What about all the RULES?!?

Being good is good, and it can reflect that you’ve had your heart changed – but it will not make God any happier with you than He already is.

Being kind is good, and it can be an indication of Who you belong to – but it will not make God any happier with you than He already is.

Giving generously, being compassionate, showing mercy – all good, and definitely character traits of someone who loves well, but… you got it.  They will not make God any happier with you than He already is.

In fact, if that is your motive, you are believing a false Gospel.  You are, in effect, saying, “Thanks Jesus for the death on the cross and all, but I’ve got it from here.  Really.  I’m good.”

For some ridiculous reason we would rather bear the terrible burden of trying to satisfy God ourselves than trust in the freedom that Christ has provided.  How does that make sense?  And yet, I talk with more people than not who claim to know and follow Jesus who are running around trying to make God happy! 

STOP!

Think about it.  If you’re still having to work hard to earn God’s favor – what exactly did you get freed from?  If you really believe that Jesus saved you, why aren’t you living like you’re saved from the crushing burden of trying to do all that God requires?

I’m asking you the same questions I had to ask myself once.  I realized I wasn’t living like I really believed what I said I believed.  I was running around working hard to make God happy.  But you know what – I knew in my heart nothing I did could ever be good enough.  There was always something I could have – should have – done better.  There was always work left undone.  I got lazy or sloppy in my pursuit of perfection and that really messes with this whole happy God thing!  Unbelievably, I had even convinced myself that I could keep starting over with a clean slate – but that’s not true!

If Jesus’ work wasn’t enough, what hope did I have of making God happy?  If Jesus’ death and resurrection was just a starting point, what could I possibly conjure up that was better than what He had already done?

And that, my friends, is precisely the point.  I can’t.  You can’t.  No one can.  We really were hopelessly lost in our own foolish, stupid, selfish, lazy, mean-spirited, ugly, swiftly-filling, ocean-sized pit of sin.  But the rescue has already been completed, and it is spectacularly sufficient and good.  Trying to add anything to it to somehow gain God’s approval would be like doing your laundry in that cess-pool you created and offering it back to God with the hopes that He will somehow like it better than the radiant robes of righteousness that Jesus has already provided.  Just stop.

You cannot make God any happier with you than He already is.  And indeed, you must not try.  For when He sees you He sees His beloved Son, and His work is beautifully sufficient and good.  Jesus has freed you – now go and live in the joy of knowing you are free indeed!

The Collateral Damage of a Parent’s Sin…

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“The wisest of women builds her house, but a fool tears it down with her own hands.” Proverbs 14:1

I watched a movie once called Collateral Damage.  It told the story of the horrifyingly negative effects on a couple’s life of “intervention” into another country’s affairs.  I don’t remember a lot about the story – something to do with oil companies in South America I think –  but I do remember the callous response of those individuals responsible for the mess that had been made.  “Oh well,” they shrugged.  “One has to expect a little collateral damage.”

What?!

This wasn’t even a war zone.  One might possibly come to some kind of terms in the context of war, but this? This was so… ludicrous!

And so is the nature of the collateral damage that we create with our own hands and mouths.  As we look ahead to Mother’s Day in a few weeks, and then Father’s Day beyond that, do your families a favor and think with me on these things.

Yes – I know.  This isn’t one of those cute and happy kinds of Mother’s Day thoughts… But if we can get this right, it is worth far more than the cards or candies or even expensive items that will be exchanged on those days and the lingering effects will last for many years to come.

Recently my husband and I were challenged to come up with a list of at least fifty consequences that happen when we sin.  The parameters were to think of things that happen in our personal, marital, and family lives – but for this post, I’m focusing on the things that happen to our children when we sin against them or in front of them.

To be honest, it was difficult to start this list.  I kind of felt like it was a big dragon that I was trying to capture by the tail.  Where do I start?  How do I get a concept like this down on paper?

So, as I often do when I have a puzzle to solve or problem that seems too big, I brought it to the table and presented it to my kids so they could help me organize this list a little better.  They’re clever people and all adults now (or very close to it) so I figured it was a good discussion to have around the table.

They, too, had some trouble grappling with the largeness of the category at first, but after a little discussion our collective thoughts came up with a few ideas.  We started grouping sins into categories, which was certainly an organized approach, but didn’t turn out to be very helpful in actually answering the question, “What are the consequences when we sin?”  It was all good food for thought, and they were actively engaged in the process, but we still hadn’t come up with a good list of consequences when they had to start leaving for various reasons.

I was alone again with my thoughts.

I tried again, trying to think through the many things swirling around my head.  Then I started to remember some specific times that I had had to go to them and ask for their forgiveness.  Painfully I remembered too many times I had hurt them with my words or accusations or tone.  Ouch.

The list started to flow more easily when I thought of how they felt, and how hard it was after some of those times to rebuild what I had carelessly wrecked.  I realized that I wasn’t talking about consequences like paying a fine when I’m late with a library book.  I was looking square in the face of damage.  I was the one who sinned, but they had suffered because of it.

The list (below) is still growing as I realize more fully how damaging my sin is to them.  Whether I have sinned directly against them, or have sinned in their presence, I do damage.  I create casualties out of my own flesh and blood!

How many adults do you know who are still heavily burdened because of how their parents treated them?  How many adults do you know who find it exceedingly difficult to say, “I’m so sorry I hurt you,” because it was rarely (if ever) said to them?  (Maybe you count yourself among them!)  What restoration could there be if we think about the lasting, hurtful effects we have on our children’s whole lives and change how we interact with them?  What love could we bestow on our grandchildren if we teach our children to quickly seek forgiveness?

This year, as we think about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, how about if we give the gift of humble repentance to our children?  I can tell you that the fruit is well worth it.  I couldn’t have had this discussion with my kids if I hadn’t first shown them that they could trust me with the brutal truth.  They have long felt the freedom to come to me and lovingly, call me out on my sin.  I usually don’t want to hear what they have to say – not because I don’t want them to tell me, but because I hate that it is true.  But I am so very grateful that they do come.  What a blessing to see them have the courageous love it takes to rebuke a brother – or, in my case, a mother – because they want the relationship restored and whole again.

Their loving rebukes have helped to change me.  It hasn’t always been easy to change some bad habits.  But habits can be changed and rooting out bad habits is worth all the struggle and failure and repentance and trying again and again that it takes.  It’s hard work.  It can be frustrating and wearisome, but the sweetness in the relationships is so very, very worth it!

Part of discipling our kids is modeling being discipled in front of them.  When we show them that we are willing to be humble and go to them when we have wronged them, then our exhortation that they humble themselves before God holds a lot of weight.  If we never do it, they see straight through us as the hypocrites that we are.

Remembering frequently that we are shepherding souls that will live for eternity helps me to keep things like this in the right perspective.   Unfortunately, we don’t take our sin seriously enough in general, and therefore, we don’t consider all that happens when we sin.  Writing a list of the collateral damage of my sin has been very sobering.  But hopefully it will bear much fruit for a long time to come.

You can read my list – but writing your own, and referring to it regularly, will reap the most benefits for you.  Adding to it as you realize the power of your influence in your home will reap rewards for you  – just as it has for me.  Every parent messes up.  Every parent messes up regularly!  The key to preventing it from becoming irrevocable destruction is to quickly go to even the youngest of children and own it.  Get down on their level, look them in the eyes, and say, “I’m so sorry for doing this to you (be specific).  I’ve sinned against you and it was wrong!  I shouldn’t have done it and I wish I had controlled myself so I didn’t hurt you.  I’m really and truly sorry! Can you please forgive me?”

It’s pretty tough for a child to resist the sincerity of a parent as honest as that.

This year, as mothers and fathers, give the gifts to your children.  Give them the gift of adulthood with as little “parental baggage” as possible.  If you have grievances to address – go to them and seek their forgiveness, not expecting anything from them.  Some things are long-standing and messy.  It may take them a long time to trust that you are sincere in your humility.  But do it anyway.  Your gift will be a blessing for generations to come.

 

Collateral Damage of a Parent’s Sin

What happens when we sin against or in front of our children…

  • We are poor role models for how to be godly men or women
  • We teach them to disregard what God says about humbling ourselves and asking for forgiveness because we disregard it
  • We teach them to disregard what we say about the same thing
  • Our home is not a warm, loving place, but a battle ground
  • Our children are afraid, rather than secure
  • They feel alone, rather than protected
  • They feel rejected, rather than loved
  • They are confused because we’ve violated the standards we’ve set before them
  • They are sad
  • They are broken
  • They feel despair
  • We cut down those we love the most rather than build them up
  • We hurt them now and for years to come
  • We communicate that we don’t trust them
  • We communicate that they can’t trust us
  • We communicate clearly that we don’t love them the way Jesus loves us
  • We sow seeds of doubt in their hearts that God is not who he says he is
  • We communicate that we think we are worth more than they are
  • Our selfishness communicates that we value our own desires more than we value them
  • Our indignation communicates that we haven’t given them permission to call us out on our sin
  • We build walls between ourselves rather than relationships
  • We preach a false Gospel to our children – one that worships self rather than God
  • We create an environment of fear and anxiety rather than love and safety
  • We use our position and authority as tools to get what we want rather than as ways to lovingly serve
  • When we put our needs above their needs it teaches them to do the same
  • We teach them to rebel against us rather than submit to loving parents
  • We create dependence on our approval rather than on the approval of God
  • We teach them to doubt that God has their best interests at heart because we don’t
  • We create cripples rather than soldiers fit for spiritual battle
  • We fail to teach them how to humbly and sincerely repent and seek forgiveness
  • Our selfishness begets selfishness – both in ourselves and in our children
  • We teach them that they have to protect themselves because we haven’t
  • We teach them that they have to build walls up to avoid future hurt
  • When we don’t listen well to them, we communicate that we don’t value what they think or feel
  • We create disillusionment in relationships
  • We teach them to doubt everything we’ve ever said about love and forgiveness because we haven’t lived what we’ve preached.

*This is just the beginning of the list… there is more, so much more to be added.  But you can do that with your own children.  Mine are happily helping me add to this one.  Not so they can point out my faults, but because they know they are loved and want to love their own children well.  None of us wants this to be our legacy.  Getting rid of sin together is a joy!

I’m sorry…

Standard

I’m sorry…

Two of the most used, and abused, words in any language.

We’ve all seen it happen:

An offender offers the obligatory “sorry” to their offended – mostly just to get them (or the situation) off their back.

I’ve seen it with children frequently:  We say, “Jenny, tell Johnny you’re sorry for biting him.”  But Jenny is not sorry.  She feels justified because Johnny did (fill in the blank), but we insist.  “It was wrong to bite Johnny.  You owe him an apology.  Now tell him you’re sorry.”  Jenny still isn’t sorry and you have other things to do.  “Jenny!  Tell Johnny you’re sorry for biting him or you will (fill in the blank with some consequence of not saying “sorry”).”  The word “sorry” becomes Jenny’s ticket out of this mess, and getting out of the mess is worth more than maintaining her stance of justification, so she, begrudgingly, complies.  “Sorry for biting you.”

But everyone present knows it’s a sham.

Children are not the only ones who are guilty of this.  And, since I’ve been thinking on this and being more aware of how frequently it happens, we adults don’t seem to grow up and get much better at hiding our contempt or the ruse.

Who hasn’t heard (or been) a couple in the midst of a disagreement (where there really is something to be sorry about) where the guilty party is finally convinced that they need to admit it and do the right thing but end up much like the Jenny and Johnny above?  “OK, I’m sorry,” but we all know that’s a lie.

Or, worse still, there is a shouted, “I’m sorry!” with an expressed or implied, “now can you just drop it!” attached to the communication.

I’m sure we all have stories we could tell where we’ve witnessed it.  But if we’re honest, we must also confess that we’ve been “that” guy (or girl), too.

I ask, dear reader, because I wonder if real forgiveness can ever be offered is there is never real sorrow over our wrongs?

Jenny didn’t simply bite Johnny.  She injured his body, sure, but she also injured his person as well.  She bullied him.  She devalued him.  She placed her wants, her desires, her will above him – which communicates that he is worthless to her.  She violated his right to suffer no undeserved harm.  She abused him.

Can a muttered “sorry for biting you” ever express what really needs to be expressed to him without her realizing that she has done far more to him than leaving teeth marks?  (And yes, parenting a child’s heart is incredibly hard and takes much more time – but it is critically important.)

The same is true in adult situations.  When we offend or hurt someone, can the two words, “I’m sorry” ever really be enough?  Can that phrase convey heartfelt remorse over the wrong and the collateral damage that ensued without some evidence of sorrow?

I think not.

The original meaning of the word “sorry” is overflowing with a very different tone.  Old dictionaries use the following words to define “sorry”:

“distressed, grieved, full of sorrow”

“pained, wretched, worthless, poor”

These words paint a fuller picture of what “I’m sorry” ought to convey.  They get to the heart of the matter, don’t they?  Rather than a “can we get this over with” mentality, or “I’m sorry if you’re upset about this” attitude, “I’m sorry” should convey, “I am grieved and full of sorrow that I hurt you.  I am pained that my wrongdoing has affected you so profoundly.  I wish with all of my heart that I had not done it, because I love you and don’t ever want to see you hurt – least of all by me.”

But we don’t really recognize that our insults are damaging and costly beyond the seconds of time they take to express them.  We don’t acknowledge that our refusal to consider someone else’s needs is hurtful and reckless far beyond inconvenience.  We don’t want to admit that our threats or control or indifference express so, so much more than thoughtlessness or carelessness might excuse.

Instead, we defend our wretched behavior.  Or we justify it by blaming someone or something else.

Why do we do that?

Wouldn’t it be better to say, “No!  I’m not sorry!”?

At least if we did that we wouldn’t be adding deceit to the list of our transgressions.

Shouldn’t we at least be able to acknowledge that until we really are grieved over what we’ve done to the other person – in all its fullness – that what we are really communicating is that we are valuing ourselves – our reasons- our excuses – our justification – our position – our status – as more important and worth more than the other person?

You might ask me why I care about this enough to lay it out here.

I have two reasons:  The first is that more and more I see around me a thousand, maybe ten thousand ways we avoid the “little” conflicts in our lives to our peril.  We ignore the things that we don’t want to deal with for a variety of reasons, but they all boil down to this:  we don’t think the other people in lives are worth rolling up our sleeves and getting messy over.  In this area, we don’t want to spend the time or the energy it takes to try to work things out with someone who has offended us, or whom we’ve offended, so we “let it go.”

But it doesn’t go away – it builds.  It gets added to the next time and the next until we erupt and don’t even know where to begin to try to make things right.  Relationships are destroyed over the building up of a thousand unresolved opportunities to say, “I’m really, truly, honestly sorry for hurting you.”

But the second, and infinitely more important reason is this:

Can forgiveness ever be ours if we do not sorrow over our sins?  Can we possibly expect that an All-Knowing God is fooled by our “sorry if I upset you” words when we all know full well there is no real sorrowful remorse?  Can repentance ever be genuine if there is not also sorrow?

Psalm 51: 16-17 says:

For you will not delight in sacrifice (or an obligatory “sorry”),

or I would give it;

you will not be pleased with a burnt offering (or an, “I’m sorry if this upsets you”).

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;

A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.  (parenthetical statements added)

 

Learn what being sorry means, friends.  Teach your children to understand it as soon as they are able.  And for the sake of the Gospel in your own life and in the lives of those around you, be quick to see the profound and magnificent work that can be wrought through a heart that has learned what it is to be “pained, wretched, distressed, grieved, and full of sorrow.”  All of heaven rejoices over one such as this.