For the first time in many years, I am sitting here up late on a Saturday night realizing I don’t have to get up extra early tomorrow. I have no responsibility in the morning except walking into church in time for my son to get to Sunday School. I might even sit in on Sunday School myself. It is a night of reflection, because in the course of conversations this week, I have discovered something amazing that has only really settled into my head and heart the last day or two. I am not who I once was.
That may not seem like much of a realization. Intellectually, I think we all know we change a little every day. If we are self-aware and self-reflective, we mostly even know if those changes are for good or ill and can do something to direct those changes. This change is something different though, something I could never have accomplished myself, no matter how hard I tried. The recognition came to me tonight as I was reflecting on the various things I have written the last few months while I moved the Revelations series over to here from Facebook. It came as I contemplated some of the things I will need to write about in the coming weeks as I endeavor, with God’s grace and assistance, to get back to regularly writing here. It came in the form of a question I used to have deep in the recesses of my heart that I think has been answered.
Several months ago, when I was reading of ISIS atrocities in the Middle East and we were studying Revelation, the question arose of what we would do if we had the option of dying or making a deal with the devil. At the time, even when it came to how would we deal with it if it wasn’t us but our loved ones that we risked, I spoke of the commitment to and trust in Christ that is required of us as Christians. I often speak of such things, the need to stand on the promises of God for deliverance, and the understanding that deliverance might come in the form of dying not just to our sins, but actually in the flesh. It is a difficult concept for most of us here in the US I think. It is abstract enough for us that it behooves us to really look at our response. After all, it is easy from the comfort of a table in a church here to state that we would not waver. Most of us are even honest enough to state that we are not sure how we would respond if we were really faced with that choice. But, in our minds, we do usually seek to see in ourselves the best possible, so we believe we would do as we are commanded by our Lord even if we are tested.
For myself, the question goes a little deeper than just could I do what God commands in any situation. It actually becomes could I do it without fear, could I do it with a right heart? Could I face not just this obvious kind of threat, but adversity in general with a soul at peace and filled with joy? Because I know in truth that alone I can’t. I might be able to go through the motions. I might be able to wrap myself in my principles and belief, but I could not have really said if I could step into the midst of conflict in faith that it was all part of God’s plan with a heart willing to accept whatever His will might be. To accept it without rancor, without having to convince myself that it was okay, without malice or anger or fear clouding my connection to God.
This last few weeks has seen many new challenges for me. Corey’s grandmother passed away, and I attended my first funeral. I was not close to Donna because we have always lived far away. But, Corey and Jordan were close to her. Corey’s mom and dad, who I love dearly were close to her. I knew when I was making plans for how to get there that I was walking into a situation of deep pain for people I love dearly, and that I experience those kinds of emotions differently these days. I struggle with grieving. I don’t struggle because I want to stop other people from grieving, I don’t. It’s natural and necessary to grieve the loss of someone we love. But, I have come to know the truth of God’s promises so deeply and profoundly these last years that I cannot help but move conversations toward the beauty of knowing someone you love is no longer here, bound in pain and suffering, but is instead standing in the very presence of God. It’s hard to know how that perspective on my part will come across to those I love who are hurting. Because it is not meant to diminish the importance of their grief, only offer them comfort as they adjust to it.
Oddly, I found the time there restful in a lot of ways. I was surrounded by a lot of people I don’t really know, in circumstances that were very difficult for them. Many years ago, that would have been profoundly difficult for me. Crowds were hard, especially when I didn’t know people well. Emotion was hard, especially deep emotion that I had never really experienced personally. But, instead of difficulty, I found opportunities to allow these beautiful and wonderful people that are a part of my family share their memories, with all their joy and sorrow. I was granted the gift of being able to do simple things to help with the details so my mother-in-law and her sister weren’t quite so overloaded and could get some rest. I was welcomed and had delightful conversations that let me get to know so many of these folks better. I even got to meet a few that I have talked with on Facebook over the years, but had not yet met in person. And in the midst, I found that God also provided the timing and the words that let me share that comfort with people who needed to hear it.
While I was gone however, I could feel a tension building at home without knowing what it was. Something was off, and I could feel a conflict approaching, though I could not have said why exactly, or what the cause was. I knew by the time I returned that the waters ahead were about to get choppy. I was not precisely anxious, I don’t seem to be able to get anxious anymore. I was just feeling so highly tuned that at times I felt like I was vibrating. I discovered I haven’t changed so much that impatience no longer jumps up in the waiting times just before a storm comes. At the same time, I was fairly calm overall, and rather than drive me toward worry, it drove me toward prayer.
In our lives, whether it is family, co-workers, friends, church families or some other group of people, there will be moments when our rough edges rub up against other people’s rough edges and sparks will fly. That image laughingly brought to mind the verse about iron sharpening iron so many of my friends like to quote. It may be more apt than I thought at first, because one possible outcome of any such encounter is that people will be wounded deeply. The wounds may run so deep that it destroys relationships. But, the other outcome, if we are content to let God move as He sees fit, is that our rough edges will indeed rub against each other and we will be smoothed and sharpened for God’s work in the process. It stings a little, but the end result is one of growth in grace. Still, this particular encounter had some of the people who love me a little worried for my heart. That truth still surprises and delights me, not that they were upset, but that there are people in this world who love me so much that they care more than I can about my feelings. They are so fierce and beautiful in their love for me, and I know that I have nothing to deserve such deep care, but I am eternally grateful for it.
But, as I moved through many conversations this week, I discovered this other change not from me. I have quite often told those who love me, and most other people, it is hard to hurt me, impossible to offend me, and very difficult to even anger me on my own behalf. That they worry tells me that though they have seen that to be true, some part of them still wonders if I will run into something somewhere along the way that will change that. The truth is, until recently, I have wondered myself. I have led a very blessed life these last few years. There has been very little conflict or disagreement in it. Not so very long ago, while it was true that hurt and anger would not change the things I did or who I did them with, some of that was force of will. It was a matter of subjecting those emotions to reason, actively seeking to forgive and when needed be forgiven. It was a matter of controlling my behavior until eventually my emotions would come into line with the grace we are called to demonstrate in times of conflict. That process took time, sometimes a lot of time. The anger or hurt would sometimes have time to fester and cause ripples in my peace and joy.
Somewhere along the line these last few years, as I have sought God and sought to let Him make me what He wants to me, He has given me the most amazing gift. As I bumped against rocks, and rode the rapids of the last few weeks, I found that anything that would hurt me or anger me got bumped right to the surface quickly. As soon as I stopped long enough to acknowledge it, it would begin to pass and fade. As soon as I would even start to glimpse it, God would show me His hand in the mix, and I would be flooded with the quiet assurance that He was in control and every moment was simply a part of His beautiful plans. There was no struggle to find both grace and truth. There was no struggle to forgive, there was barely even a sense that anything really needed to be forgiven. There was joy, even in the very brief moments of tears. I am not who I once was. I am blessed, and I pray deeply that all those I know will find this same blessing in the days and months ahead.
Conflicts, small in the grand scheme when compared to things like being beheaded for our faith, are not quite as dire as what so many of our brothers and sisters face around the globe. Other people’s loss, even when they are people we love dearly, is not the same as our own loss. But, they do serve to help us see where we are in our faith, whether the words we speak and the things we say we believe have come to a place of being written on our hearts. God is still disciplining me, and I pray He will always do so until I come home. But, it is a joy and a comfort to know that at least in these lesser difficulties, He has brought me to a place where my first reaction is to seek Him, and to walk into whatever He puts in front of me with the confidence that His love, peace and joy abide in my soul. Those darker days may come to us here at some point, and the next time I wonder about how I would respond, I may not be able to say that right now I can stand in the face of that with peace and without fear. But, I can say that I am confident that when those days comes, God will make me able to stand.
Be blessed and be a blessing.