I could see the tears welling up in her eyes as I scolded her:
“How many times have I told you not to do that?? We go through this every day! Over and over, I ask you not to do this, yet the behavior continues, and you get in trouble, every time! When are you going to learn??”
The higher-pitched my voice got, the puffier her eyes got, until the tears spilled over into quiet little sobs. And my heart immediately broke. Really, the offense was not huge – it was small, actually. The issue was that it was repeated, and I was frustrated, and exhausted on top of it all. I rarely scold my daughter like that – she rarely deserves it; and I knew I had pushed it too far.
I got up, walked out of the room, composed myself, and came back in. She had buried her face in her pillow, and when she looked up at me, her face was wet. I bent over, wiped away her tears and whispered, “I’m sorry, Sara. Mommy loves you. No matter how many times you mess up, I will always love you. And I will always, always forgive you. But you are hurting yourself by not being obedient. And you are making Mommy tired. Very tired.” I lay down next to her, and as we talked, and her tears continued, I realized how much I had hurt her. And even though I did my best to make it right, I walked out of her room that night feeling defeated, knowing that I had bruised her little heart. She is tender, and it rarely takes more than a mention for her to mend her ways. But with each repeated offense, my patience had worn until I had exploded on her. Granted, it was a small moment in the larger scheme of life, and her sunny disposition has recovered quite nicely, but it left a lingering ache in me… an ache that she had already been sorry for what she had done, and yet I had wounded her further.
The next night, after I had tucked her in and was walking out, I heard the Holy Spirit say, “Why don’t you read the Bible to her at night anymore?”
“Lord, I’m really tired, and she reads it herself now.”
“Read it to her tonight.”
I hesitated for a moment, and realizing I wasn’t going to win that argument, I picked up her Bible and sat back down on her bed. As I flipped through, I happened on Isaiah and began to read…
… and my heart leapt, because I knew He had asked me to pause for a moment – not just for my daughter – but so that He could speak to my own heart. And not to make me feel bad about what had occurred the night before, but to remind me of a truth He has impressed on me over and over.
A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick, He will not extinguish. Isaiah 42:3
This Scripture is the sweetest reminder that our God is not impatient like we are, and He never gives up. Never. We, in our imperfect love, have a limited tolerance for repeat offenses; but He, in His perfect love, does not. And the more broken a person is, the more patience and compassion He has. I had exploded on my daughter, because I am human. But explosions do damage. They can break an already bruised heart. And in some cases, an explosion can cause an already-repentant heart to decide they aren’t sorry anymore, snuffing out that barely-burning desire they have to do better.
Perhaps you are not dealing with a tender, repentant child who tries to do better next time. Maybe you’re dealing with someone who has hurt you over and over and just won’t stop.
But hear me out: He will give you that perfect love for the difficult people in your life if you just ask. If you are willing. If you are willing to stop being angry, stop taking offense; if you will allow Him to heal the hurts others inflict on you instead of expecting them to (because guess what – they can’t); if you will ask Him to let you see them with His eyes, with His all-knowing, patient, compassionate, perfect eyes, then you will be able to love the way you have always wished you could.
Believe it or not, no matter how many times someone hurts you, you really can let it wash over you and immediately forgive, and continue to love. It is possible. But you have to be willing to let go of your “rights,” accept that you don’t belong to yourself – you were bought with a Price – and completely surrender yourself to His hand as a vessel of healing and restoration and forgiveness and peace.
And maybe hearing that makes you angry. Maybe you think, “Really? I’m always the one who gives in. I’m always the one who gives another chance. I’m always on the short end of the stick. And the offense just continues, on, and on… and I am so tired of feeling forgotten. So tired of being the one who makes the right choice, while others around me hurt me over and over.”
I understand. Yes, yes, and amen. But this is what I have had to do when I feel like that.
I have had to ask the Lord to examine my heart. I may not be outwardly expressing anger, but am I harboring it? I may not be retaliating, but do I think about what I would say to that person if I wasn’t so “nice”? Scripture says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”
Often, I am not as forgiving as I think I am. Oh, I can be tolerant, but there’s a big difference. If I am harboring anger and frustration over repeat offenses, and feel as if I have the “right” to feel that way, then eventually, I blow up. I either explode on those around me, or I implode, and my body starts to rebel, and my health suffers. Maybe you’re already there.
Listen, I’m not claiming that forgiveness is easy. It can be extremely difficult, especially when the offense continues. And you can try to “will” yourself to forgive, and think you have forgiven – until you realize you really haven’t and you are right back at square one.
Here’s what I’ve learned: Forgiveness does not lie in the will. It lies in the surrendering of my will. It becomes doable when I once and for all realize and accept whole-heartedly that I am not our own.
So here’s the kicker: WE HAVE NO RIGHTS. Now go ahead and get mad. Really. It’s ok. But then hear me out:
Once again – we were bought with a price. Either we are surrendered wholly and completely to the fact that everything in us now belongs to Another, or we are not. And if that is the case – if we really and truly do belong to God – then we have no choice except to be obedient to what He has asked us to do. And that includes surrendering our perceived rights. And I use the word “perceived” because so many of us believe that we have a right to certain kinds of treatment – and the bottom line is that we don’t. Nowhere in Scripture do I see our rights spelled out – only what is required of us as children of God.
When I have brought my complaints before the Lord, one after the other, begged Him for help, pleaded with Him to do something, change something, change the other person, because what they are doing to me is clearly wrong on every level, I have never once had him reply with, “You have a right to be mad about that.” Not once. Instead, I have heard,
“My grace is sufficient for you.” II Corinthians 12:9
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6
“Be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” James 1:19-20
“The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalms 34:18
“Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” Matt 5:44
“Love is patient, love is kind… it keeps no record of wrongs…bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…” I Corinthians 13:4-6
Time after time He has given me Words to bear me up, to shore me up, to strengthen, to heal, to encourage, to direct, to reprove, to change my own heart in the midst of my circumstances. And in all of them, what I hear is direction, compassion, and healing. And patience – not with the other person, but with me.
He has had immeasurable patience with my own stubborn clinging to my rights for years and years. My constant cry has been, “My rights are being violated! My rights are being violated! Fix this! Deliver me!”
But do you know what years of hardship and hurt and brokenness have produced in me? I have softened.
I feared for so long that I would become hardened; and indeed, at times, I have been. I have been hard, and angry, and stubbornly insistent upon other people changing their own behavior. And in those times, do you know what I have received? Love, patience, instruction, even rebuke, and yes, forgiveness from the Lord for my own hard-headedness, for my own refusal to listen when He says, “This person is mine. I am working. You are not. Your job is to be patient, to love, and continue to forgive.”
Continue to forgive…
James tells us to count it all joy when we suffer trials and hardships, because those things produce patience in us and make us perfect and complete.
That’s right: it is the pain and the hurt we endure that make us perfect and complete. I won’t even pretend to understand why it works that way, other than to say this: I have learned more about God and myself and others around me during times of difficulty than I have ever learned during the “easy” times. And some of the things I have learned?
I have learned that God is not Who I thought He was.
I have learned that His ways do not in any way conform to worldly (or even churchly) wisdom.
I have seen darkness in my own heart that I never knew was there.
I have learned that He has more patience with a sinner who loves Him but just can’t seem to pull it together, than with a “righteous” person who thinks they have all the answers.
I have learned that church rules are not necessarily God’s rules, that there is oftentimes a huge difference, and that I cannot expect others to live up to my own religious standards.
I have learned that I cannot expect an unbeliever to behave like a believer – and that I must love them unconditionally if I ever hope to win their hearts to Jesus.
I have learned that things I valued before – approval of friends and family, social standing, attention, financial ease – that those things are no longer important to me… not nearly as important and treasured as God’s unconditional approval, my place in His forever kingdom, the attention He lavishes on me, and His very obvious and constant provision.
I have learned that having things the way I perceive they should be is not nearly as important to me as healthy relationships, unconditional love and support, spiritual well-being, and the heart-health of those nearest and dearest to me, my inner-circle, those God has placed in my life to influence and be influenced by.
I have learned that I would rather be “on the bottom,” as it were, with those I love and treasure, who may need a little extra love and support, than “on the top,” with the “righteous” people, looking down and watching my loved ones struggle alone.
I have learned that those who have a sense of spiritual superiority do eventually fall; and when they do, they tend to fall hard. But here’s the thing: they don’t need others standing around in condemnation, gloating over their humanity. No, they need love and forgiveness and understanding, because everything they have always thought was true has been shattered, and they now have to learn to embrace a new reality – that they are imperfect.
[Don’t laugh or sneer as you imagine people who would fit this bill – this is a terrible, frightening, painful place to be and may need even more solid support than someone who knew they were a sinner to begin with. They need someone to step in with a word of kindness and begin to help restore them in their brokenness, not someone pointing out what they now know – that they were wrong all along. Maybe I emphasize this so much because I have witnessed it. Don’t do additional damage to a heart that is already broken.]
This brings me back to the Scripture that started today’s whole train of thought:
A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick, He will not extinguish. Isaiah 42:3
Our God is not in the business of finishing us off. He doesn’t take a bruised and battered heart, suffering under the weight of their own sin, and bury them under an even heavier weight of condemnation. He doesn’t walk by a soul that is barely burning, whose light has dimmed… and snuff it out.
No. Instead, like the good Samaritan, He applies healing balm, binds their wounds, hands them over to us, and commissions us to care for them until He returns… at which time, He will repay us what is owed.
Did anyone else get that? He will repay. He will repay us for offering the love and care, forgiveness and patience, and endurance needed to heal His precious, broken children. We can trust Him to make it right. We don’t have to do it, and we don’t have to extract payment from those who have hurt us. HE WILL REPAY.
I think of how long I have held onto unforgiveness in my life, the many times I begged and pleaded with God to fix a situation and He wouldn’t; the inner struggle, and the fighting and striving I have gone through trying to make things go right, desperate in my own attempts to make life what I thought it should be; trying my darndest to get the people I love to stop holding onto their sin and love God instead, using my own methods to try to accomplish a work that only God can do, while all the time God was offering rest if I would just trust and obey and leave the outcome to Him.
And I see Jesus standing on a hill, looking out over Israel, and I hear Him say,
“… how often I have wanted to gather you up, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you would not…” Luke 13:34
And although I know He spoke those words to Israel, who had rejected Him time after time, it is such a sweet picture of what He wants to do for us, and how often we refuse to let him.
Again, in Isaiah, He says,
“… in quietness and trust is your strength, but you were not willing.” 30:15
Did you see that? He offers us the strength to go on… to go on forgiving, to go on enduring, but often we refuse the rest He offers.
All He wants is for us to trust Him.
Trust Him that when we are wronged, He will make it right.
Trust Him that when we are wounded, He will heal us.
Trust Him that when we are tired and weary from enduring for so long, He will gather us up in His arms and give us rest.
He is calling you. He is calling to you to forgive, to trust, and to rest. He knows the struggle. He is aware of every heartache. He has collected all of your tears in a bottle. He has seen how long you have endured. And He who called you is faithful. He will complete the work He started in both you and those you love.
It is indeed possible for your soul to find rest in the midst of chaos and trouble… in quietness and trust is your strength…
Again, I would say to you: give yourself completely to Him as an instrument of grace and mercy and healing to others, trusting that He will return to you what you have lost, and even more.
May your soul find rest and renewed strength as you quietly trust in Him.
“…and He will wipe every tear from their eyes…” Revelations 21:4