Forgiveness?

“My frau is a Jezebel. She fornicated with Samuel Beachy before we got hitched, then killed their unborn boppli…” He scowled.

“I see.” Jonathan scratched his beard, “So she has not asked for forgiveness?”

“She has.”

“Yet you choose not to forgive?”

“How can a person forgive something like that, Jonathan?” Christian’s voice rose. “If it were your frau, would you forgive her?”

“It would be difficult but, ja, I would. We must follow Christ’s example. Do you think it was easy for Him to forgive those who nailed Him to the cross?”

“Nay, but I am not Christ. He was perfect.”

“Perfect, ja, but a man, like us. It wasn’t any easier for Him.”

~ from An Unforgivable Secret by J.E.B. Spredemann

 

Forgiveness, where the debtor is truly sorry, is not optional. It’s different when the debtor is defiantly in denial of what they have done (or when they pretend to be sorry but do the same destructive things over and over), but even then, by choosing to hang onto anger and bitterness and resentment – all aspects of unforgiveness – in the end I hurt myself more. I choose to let go, by grace, because I don’t want to live that way (doesn’t mean I accept those who abused me with open arms, just that it no longer eats away at me). 7650ebd7154a4c7aa67bc7fc201bf1cb

Recently I have been thinking of the time when, as a 12-year-old, I decided to no longer eat meat. I was at the time a victim of ongoing sexual, physical and emotional abuse that remained hidden from everyone else. The abuser said that if I told anyone he would kill my parents. He also made sure I believed that other people saw me as a liar. I wasn’t so sure about that last one, and became scrupulous about telling the absolute truth. But the threat to my parents was what held me. That and the inability to put into words the Unspeakable.

I looked at the chunk of beef in the burger I was eating one sunny afternoon as my best friend and I walked round the local summer fête, two little girls in matching dresses. I thought of the cow that had once been, before it became my lunch. I thought of the care shown to the creature as it was born and raised, and I thought of the ultimate betrayal that occurred in the act of slaughter. I empathised with the cow. Its life was a lie. I couldn’t eat meat after that.

A decade later I was in an abusive marriage, slowly becoming cut off from my friends and family and pregnant with my first child. I had almost let go of the hope that life could be anything other than awful, and I began eating meat again. Saving the lives of cows and pigs didn’t seem worth the effort. It made no difference what I did in any aspect of my life. Over the next decade I gradually came to the conclusion that my needs did not matter. My hopes, my dreams were carefully locked away. It was a lot less painful not to have any. Besides, I did not matter. But I still knew that my children mattered.

I am not sure why these things seem intrinsically linked in my head, but I do know that unforgiveness eats away at you from the inside. Forgiving is not the same as forgetting. It’s not a reason to lay oneself open to more abuse. Forgiveness occurs when I align my will with that of God, letting go of the things that come between us. Jesus taught me that life with Him turns everything upside down and inside out – and that includes suffering. How I love following this radical Saviour! I am so thankful for the chance to belong to the God of Great Love.

I pray that if you, dear reader, are struggling with forgiveness, or struggling to let go of bitterness, you are able to put your hand in His, and learn to walk Jesus’ way. There’s no other life worth living. He will always carry your burdens. He will never let you go.

Thanks for reading. If you would like to ask for specific prayer, please do comment below. Even if you don’t need some prayer, I love to read what people have to say and I am so thankful when folk take the time to comment.

 

 

 

Shame; Church

It’s ironic, but the strongest resistance to the process of healing from shame is shame itself. We’re ashamed to admit that we need healing, that we have been damaged in ways that cause us shame, but to be healed we must acknowledge all of our wounds. The journey from shame to freedom, and a full life in Christ, must be a blatantly honest, nothing hidden voyage…

When you’re suffering from shame the last thing you want to do is make yourself vulnerable. Your vulnerability is one of the reasons you’re suffering from shame in the first place, so why would you want to open yourself up for more?

~ from Unashamed by Christine Caine

 

Yes, indeed the Church should be the very place for this to happen. Church should be the safest place, where everyone is vulnerable, in their different ways. Sadly, so often it’s not. Often church is somewhere we either hide our true selves (or deny they exist) or we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and lost, yet still people don’t help, don’t reach out in love, instead extending only judgement. Churches are filled with the ubiquitous Christian smile (peace be with you!.. so long as I don’t have to talk to you in any other context) glossing over doubts or failings. After all,  we can’t be a ‘good’ Christian if we show anything other than our middle-class Sunday Best. I imagine this applies to English congregations in particular. How sad. If only we would let Jesus in.

The King will answer and say to them, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, to the extent that you did it [showed kindness] for one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it for Me.

Matthew 25:40 (AMP)

Unashamed: Christine Caine

Shame… prompts us to toss away the good gifts we are given…

Hiding my feelings had already become a way of life for me [as a child]. Shame does that. It teaches us to hide ourselves… Shame… pushes you down and prevents you from becoming all you could be…

When you are abused, at first you are ashamed of what is happening to you. Over time, though, you begin to think it is because of you that it is happening…

…I thought, there must be something very wrong with me. I must be at fault. I must be a bad person. I am not worth protecting. God must not love me. I guess I’m not worth His attention. Shame does that: it whispers lies to your soul…

I had no concept of the difference between the shame of what was being done to me and the shame of my own actions… I worked hard to be sure that all those frightening feelings were locked away and invisible… 

I was a child damaged by shame, shackled to it, and I dragged it with me from childhood into adolescence and then into adulthood. Most likely, you have done the same…

~ from Unashamed by Christine Caine

This is a rather large set of quotes to put in a single blog post, but I do hope Christine Caine will forgive me(!). I bought this audiobook last week. I sensed that I needed to read it. In just one chapter I have recognised so much of the broken parts of myself that I am in awe. Christine does not share the exact same past as me. Our stories are different, yet everything that I’ve quoted above was so descriptive of my situation that I felt I could have written it. Much of it consists of things I never knew how to put into words. Even now, with all the hard work I’ve done as part of my recovery, I also realise that some of these things – well, I thought it was just me who thought like that. Shame does that: makes you think you’re the only one because you’re somehow responsible, even when you know that, logically, you’re not. Which shows I still have a way to go, because I thought I had changed these negative beliefs.

This is what I think God is trying to tell me (and who knows – maybe He’s needing you to know it, too): humility is good. Humility looks like Jesus. Humility is not the same as feeling worthless or useless. That’s not humility; that’s shame. Shame has no place on the shoulders of one who belongs to the King of Kings.

God be praised for His perfect timing.  I can’t wait to hear more!

This Life

The difference between the things you do without any need to push yourself, or make any kind of effort of will, and the things you wish you could get round to but somehow never manage, is just the way you represent them in your mind.

~ Julie-Ann Amos, ‘Install Self Discipline’

Self discipline is an important part of a healthy adult life. When you have been abused you can grow up with problems with self discipline. The negative beliefs about yourself can overflow into every aspect of your life. Self discipline is a means of self control, and if you have had your boundaries removed by years of abuse, it can be extremely difficult to recognise that you can do things on your own, that you are competent and able to make decisions.

When I was first a single mother, although it was hugely cathartic to be ‘set free’, all the responsibility seemed overwhelming. I was slowly drowning. God reached into the miry pit and rescued me. He brought me to Celebrate Recovery and to church. He brought my dear husband to me, and me to him. Through the six years of our marriage, He has continued this (necessarily slow) healing with gentleness and compassion. All I have had to do is be willing. This is the working of grace.

Now He is preparing me for the next part, whatever that may be, by helping me see my flaws with clarity, and the ways in which I need to change. Change continues, by grace, and I grow more and more in love  with my Saviour. I could not even stand without Him. I marvel at what He has done! This life is a miracle.

How is God working in your life? Do let me know in the comments.

When Starbucks Meets Jesus

“We’re not in the coffee business serving people, we’re in the people business serving coffee.”

~ Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks,

as quoted in The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

It struck me, on hearing these words, that that’s exactly the kind of thing Jesus would say. Not the coffee bit. They didn’t have hot beverages in 1st century Palestine, to my knowledge. Mind you, the Romans were big on street food, weren’t they? Anyway… You may recall the words in the gospel of Mark, chapter two:

“…Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you will know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he said to the paralytic – “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.”

Mark 2:9-11 (NRSVA)

and later:

“The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath…”

Mark 2:27

Jesus must have really got up the noses of the (self) righteous o_O This utterly delights me, perhaps more than it should. I like to imagine that an altered version of Mr. Starbucks’ phrase, coming from the mouth of Jesus, would be something like this:

“We’re not in the business of serving God, we’re in the God business, serving people.”

There is nothing that you or I can do to ‘serve’ God. There is no way we can build the bridge between us and God. It’s impossible. Instead we love because He loves us, and when we share this unconditional love – also known as grace – then we are in the God business.

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Hurrah! Be blessed, friends. Receive what is freely given.

Image from idpinthat.com

Humility

Why are our churches so full of pride? Why do we find so many people within the body of Christ whose goal is to be ‘right’ or ‘the best’ or in power? Why are there so many who would exclude and look down on others for certain things, but they neither offer a hand in love nor cease their own wrongdoings? Why is pride so often overlooked? Why do we let this incredibly destructive sin course through the very veins of the Church? Why is this so rarely preached about? I can recall a single sermon on humility. That’s it. In decades.

Reading the following scripture this morning made me think of our church’s new pastor. One of his foremost qualities that I really appreciate is his humility. He’s ready and willing to be a ‘true disciple’. How very sad that this is so rare.

[Jesus said,] ‘The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers… I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

Luke 18:9-14, NRSVA

Humility is not optional in the Kingdom.

 

The Ultimate Upcycler

‘When you’re first abused, you’re filled with shame about what is happening to you. When it happens over a long period of time, you then begin to think it’s happening because of who you are…

When you’re abused, you shut down and think you’re used goods. You think God could never really do anything with your life. You can hear a thousand sermons on destiny and purpose and God having a plan for your life – plans for good and not for evil – but if you come at that with a shame-based nature, then deep down you can never believe God could use you. It has certainly been the fight of my life to get to the place of trusting God to redeem the broken pieces of my past for his glory.’

~ Christine Caine

This thing about it being ‘who you are’ is what gets missed. It’s what other people least seem to understand. Christine has put into words (and very succinctly) that which I have struggled with for much of my life. I’m not sure if I don’t still believe it, at least partially; I’ve come a long way on this journey! Do you know what the biggest miracle has been, as I see it? My dear husband. How did he see past the layers of shame and self-loathing to not only who I was, but also to who I could be? Every day he sees the best in me. How is this possible? God surely knew what He was doing when He gave us to one another. I am so very thankful.

On a slightly different note, I am very much into recycling, renewables, etc., having studied the Environment and climate change as part of my degree (currently on hold). I love the idea of upcycling. Upcycling is repurposing a previously used item so that it can be used again instead of undergoing recycling (which does add to greenhouse gases) or being thrown away. Upcycling is creative and fun. It’s thrifty and it benefits the environment. Upcycling is the ability to see potential in junk and turn it into something new and useful. Recently I have been turning cardboard boxes into storage boxes by carefully covering them with colourful duct tape (this makes them both more attractive and more durable). I now use these in the kitchen and in my wardrobe. Very useful.

What’s the connection between the quote from Christine Caine and the rest of it? It’s this: I do struggle still with the idea of being useless, unwanted and ‘used goods’. But maybe God’s good at upcycling. Maybe, in fact, He is the original Master Upcycler. I think that might just be so. Upcycling can take some time and effort. For a while the thing still looks a lot like junk, but eventually, eventually… there is the practical equivalent of a metamorphosis. A redemption, if you will.

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The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me
    because God anointed me.
He sent me to… care for the needs of all who mourn… 
    [to] give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes,
Messages of joy instead of news of doom,
    a praising heart instead of a languid spirit.

extract from Isaiah 61:1-3 (The Message)

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Post script: please pray for our dear Prince. He’s still in a lot of pain and the doctors don’t know what’s wrong. He has a procedure under general anaesthetic booked for next week. Please pray this goes smoothly and we get some answers. Please also pray that Prince understands what is happening and is able to control his anxiety. It’s hard enough having autism without all this in addition.

Legitimate Suffering, Legitimate Grace

The most common substitute for the legitimate suffering of the self is the illegitimate suffering of others.

…human beings who try to avoid changing themselves… always set out on a destructive course to change the world, others, or even God.

~ Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent by Richard Rohr

Some of us respond to pain by taking every bad thing on board, believing ourselves worthless. Some of us respond to pain by exacting it on others. Some of us do both at the same time. Some switch from one to the other. They’re both human responses to pain – possibly even to the human condition. Jesus did not. He turned the world on its head when He willingly, consciously, conscientiously took the pain of all the world and bore it into the grave. In doing so He made it possible for us to say I don’t have to be like that any more. This is Grace, freely given.

We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:19 (The Life with God Bible NRSV)

Already Dead

‘In late 1944 conditions in Lunghua [internment camp] continued to worsen, not through deliberate neglect by the Japanese authorities, but because they had lost all interest in us… The huge Japanese armies in China were ready to defend the Emperor and the home islands to the last man.

Nowhere had Japanese soldiers surrendered in large numbers. Fatalism, fierce discipline and a profound patriotism shaped their warrior spirit. In some way, I think, the Japanese soldier assumed unconsciously that he had already died in battle, and the apparent life left to him was on a very short lease. This explained their vicious cruelty.’

from ‘Miracles of Life, Shanghai to Shepperton, An Autobiography’ by J.G. Ballard

I wonder if this is a similar situation to that of today’s suicide bombers, or members of Islamic State? We’ve all seen the shocking news reports of beheadings, violence and rape of young girls. Do they believe there is no other choice and sooner or later they’ll be dead anyway? Is this nothing more than a bleak reflection of a life without hope? Here, perhaps, is how we learn to pray for our enemies.

So I am praying for my persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ in war torn areas. May they be granted the grace and courage to truly be light in all that darkness.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matt. 5:14)

What a great commission. If you would like to know more about how to help our suffering family, please visit Open Doors .

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Faster than Grace?

‘The enclosed is an answer to that which I received from ____. Please deliver it to her. She is full of good will but she would go faster than grace! One does not become holy all at once.’

~ extract from the 9th letter to a friend, Brother Lawrence, as found in ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’

Wise words! I wonder how many of us (especially mothers?) try to ‘hurry’ grace? We’re so used to being competent, to looking after those around us (we’re so used to wondering how on earth they’d cope without us) that we lack patience when it comes to godly matters. But we can’t rush God.

Two extracts from the New Testament come to mind, from The Message. The first is from Romans, chapter 12 verses 1-2:

‘So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life… and place it before God as an offering… fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.’

Secondly, the words of our dear Saviour Himself in Matthew, chapter 11 verses 28-29:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”