There’s a space between words being spoken by one mouth, and those same words being received by another heart. En-route, those words often get misunderstood. This is where imaginations run wild and minds try very hard to fill in the blanks and understand. And all too often, the wrong conclusions are reached. Hurt results, and hearts protectively pull back.
And this is the devil’s favorite playground.
He loves nothing more than to entertain us here. But he’s stealth, and we rarely recognize his presence.
God’s been teaching me a lot lately about just how destructive it is for me to hang out in this place. I quickly get confused and lose perspective. I filter all that was said or implied through my cloudy lens of past experiences and assumptions. I’m apt to attribute motive without all the facts. I assume the worst, and often draw conclusions that are far from the truth. And all the while, the devil claps his hands, delighted to see me watering these seeds of discord with my mental rehashing of all that was said. He knows that the more sad and discouraged I start to feel, the less likely I’ll be to get out in the spiritual battlefield and focus on what really matters.
What is at stake? A lot. There is a hurting world out there that is just desperate for the women of our generation to band together and do something about it. We often feel defeated as we focus on the culture or pending legislation or the mountain of problems. We see these things as the obstacles that are getting in the way of needed change. But I believe the real problem, the thing that really limits the healing movement of God, is the things within us that we ignore and justify. It’s gossip. Lack of forgiveness. Bitterness. Pride. Anger. These are the things that divide us. They weaken us and cause us to quit. They block the flow of the Holy Spirit within us.
This is a big enough deal that it’s one of the last things that Jesus focused on before He walked to the Garden of Gethsemane to face the cross. He prayed, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through [the disciples’] message, that all of them [He meant us] may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you,” (John 17:20-21). He prayed for our unity. I’m thinking this is because it’s a big deal to Him. He sees what division will cost us, and begs us to “not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27). Not even an inch.
Are you nursing a hurt? Are you rehashing someone’s words that have stabbed your heart? And has it caused you to pull back? Could it be that the devil has you exactly where he wants you because he is afraid of the good you might do if you released the hurt and forgave?
This is how St. Ignatius described the way the devil (the evil spirit) loves to derail people who are pursuing God: “It is proper to the evil spirit to bite, sadden, and place obstacles, disquieting with false reasons, so that the person may not go forward.”
He wants to hold you back. He wants you to be disquieted with false reasons. He bites you in a way that unsettles your heart. He saddens you as you dwell on your hurts. He wants you down for the count and out of his way.
I know this devil talk can seem a little extreme. But the battlefield is real, and the stakes are high. When we pull back and freeze our hearts, a wedge isn’t just driven between two persons. It’s lodged in the middle of the body of Christ. That division repels the very people who most need to see the God of love, the God who restores, the God who heals.
I want to challenge you to make a different choice when the hurt rushes in. Instead of protectively pulling back, draw close. Lean in to the relationship. Take a step towards the one who hurt you. Even though it’s hard, keep communicating and seek to understand. Distance demonizes.
Could it be that you have misunderstood? Is it possible that the other person is wounded, too? Might it be that things look different from his or her perspective? What would it be like if all our inner wounds were displayed on our bodies? Might we deal with one another a little more gently? Could we offer kindness to someone who we thought didn’t deserve it?
There are certainly times when we are wise to pull back. I am certainly not suggesting that anyone remain in an abusive situation. But even when we need physical distance in order to be safe and healthy, we still can forgive.
God asks us to fix our eyes on the cross, and remember how Jesus responded to those who hurt Him. “Father, forgive them,” He said, “for they do not know what they are doing.”
May we lean on God, letting His kindness and mercy infuse our hearts. May we let go of the hurts, and place them in Jesus’ nail-scarred hands. May God give us grace-healed eyes so we can see things from another’s perspective. It isn’t easy to live this way, but His grace will give us all we need to walk in His steps. May we, as sisters in Christ, be knit so close together that there is no room for the enemy to get in and cause God to be dishonored.
This post originally appeared on the WWP blog on Feb. 1, 2014. We are publishing it again for all of our new readers who have joined us over the past six years!
Have you ever had one of those days?
I was two seconds from purposely rear-ending the maddeningly-slow car in front of me. I had so much pent-up irritation, and I could just taste the satisfaction I would feel when our cars would hit and all the anger would exit my body. It would be like that Fried Green Tomatoes moment when Kathy Bates rear-ended the car of the girls who whipped into her parking spot, saying, “Face it lady, we're younger and faster,” and she responded by repeatedly hitting their parked car, saying, “Face it girls, I'm older and I have more insurance.” In my little world, we were saved from an accident because the car mercifully indicated an upcoming left turn when I needed to turn right. Glory hallelujah.
The day had turned south a little while before. Too many hours had been spent on a soccer field in the heat with a constantly-crying baby while we watched our team lose. We whipped home (easier said than done because my rear view mirror is now missing after my permit driver sideswiped a car yesterday) for a quick turn around for soccer fun round #2 with another child's practice. I managed to get dinner on the table in 5 minutes, and might have earned BIG POINTS for serving a Barefoot Contessa recipe in record time, but that possibility went down the toilet when I completely lost my patience over the spilled McDonald's milkshake on the backseat carpet of the car. (Note to self: good mothers do not buy their children McDonald's milkshakes. They cut up fresh fruit and bring it along to the game, and their children DELIGHT in the healthy refreshment. This is the stuff the mean voice in my head says to me when I am ready to lose it.)
So I got back in the car, and cranked the Christian radio station as loud as I could because the noise made me feel better. And I probably traumatized my child in the process and she'll probably never like Christian music and will always associate it with the psycho side of her mama.
A few minutes after I decided it wouldn't be a very wise thing to purposely cause an accident, a song came on that was talking about the grace we get that we don't deserve. Maybe because the music was so darn loud, or maybe because God is so good and worked on me even though I was really crabby, my heart softened a little. I grudgingly acknowledged to God that it was pretty nice of Him to constantly offer me mercy and second chances.
Then a song by For King and Country came on called “The Proof of Your Love.”
Listen to these words…
“If I sing but don't have love
I waste my breath with every song
I bring an empty voice, a hollow noise
If I speak with a silver tongue
Convince a crowd but don't have love
I leave a bitter taste with every word I say
(a little bit convicting…)”
And here's the deal. That song really hit me hard and had the effect that God desired it to. But would I have responded like that if the song about grace hadn't come on first? I doubt it. If “The Proof of Your Love” had come on right when I got in the car, I probably would have turned it off. It likely would have just made me madder.
God gets how I'm wired. He knows that love and mercy melt and soften my heart, and until that happens, I'm not very receptive to constructive criticism. I think most of us react to correction with defensiveness. Could this be because we haven't felt unconditional love first?
So how does God treat us? Does He say that the hurtful things we're doing don't matter? No, He loves us too much to leave us as we are. He can see how incredible we can be, and He recognizes what's holding us back. But instead of screaming at us about our sins, He's patient. He waits and when we turn ever so slightly to him, He runs to us. He's the father who runs to the prodigal son- ready to offer mercy the minute he sees his son return. This crazy, unwarranted mercy is what Jesus gave us. He took the fall for the very people who were at that moment spitting on, mocking and beating Him. He offers mercy FIRST. He leads with grace. With love.
And that really takes my breath away. Love is all about second chances. I'm so thankful that God lets us hit a “do over” button. That we can say I'm sorry, and come back home again for a fresh start.
I really believe that if more of us believed that God leads with grace, that He wants nothing more than to forgive, that there's nothing we can do that is further than the reach of His love, the lines at the confessional would be a whole lot longer. What holds us back? Why don't we rush into His arms of love? Maybe we need a new way of looking at God. Maybe we need to let go of our old ways of defining Him, and let His actions speak for themselves.
“The LORD's acts of mercy are not exhausted, his compassion is not spent; They are renewed each morning- great is your faithfulness!” Lamentations 3:22-23
*This post first appeared on the WWP website in November 2013.