When Church Hurts

I know most of my readers are church folks.  And anyone who’s been a part of a church for very long knows that eventually hurtful things happen in a place that is assumed safe and caring.  Why?  Because everyone in the church is flawed, broken and in need of the same transformation as you and me.

As a pastor’s wife of 40 years I have experienced what one man calls both “the beauty and the brokenness of the church.”  Sometimes the brokenness comes for the unexpected reason that we Christians too often and too quickly think we get things “right.”

You can read more of my story here.

It’s an honest story.  A sad story.  But a story where I hope you’ll see redemption and hope.

Because my story, like yours, includes God.

I would love to hear your feedback on this one.

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I Am Ananias

You know the feeling: you’re sitting in church on Sunday morning trying to stay attentive to the message. You make it through an interesting opening illustration or explanation of today’s topic…and then he starts to pray. You really want to pay attention but you find yourself looking forward to lunch out or realize you forgot something you were supposed to bring for a friend.

Then he says something that kinda jolts you back to the sermon.

That happened to me on Sunday. Our church is doing a series on the Book of Acts and Benny’s passage this past Sunday was the one about Ananias and Sapphira from Acts 5:1-11. My thoughts were wandering….

“You see,” Benny said. “I am Ananias.”

I can’t do it justice but over at the Redeemer Church blog Jesse is talking about what else was said that morning.

Take a minute to go there. The church blogs are always shorter than mine and you can find it here.

Sexual Temptations, Worldliness and Rules

Yesterday I was over at Growing Up Triplets talking about “Not Me! A Mother’s Look at Sexual Temptation and Sin in the Home.” Two of my sons, both in their 20’s, asked to do a follow up post to share their hearts on this topic. Today’s post is by Jake, a second-year law student at the University of Florida (even though he’s a solid Auburn fan) and brand new husband to Sarah. Since my kids’ posts are the most-read ones on this blog, I hope you’ll appreciate hearing from my mid-20’s son who kinda writes like a lawyer. Yep, I had to look up “prophylactic” because I certainly don’t remember that being in our homeschool vocab lists.

Yesterday, Mom made what I think is an important point, i.e. that prophylactic* rules parents set up regarding sexual and worldly temptations can never be entirely successful.  Internet filters, guarding the remote, restricting the viewing of certain TV shows/movies or listening to certain kinds of music, keeping an eye on what friendships they develop and which stores in the mall they are passing will not stop the inevitable contact with sexually explicit messages and images all kids eventually encounter.

She later made an equally important point. Parents should set up internet filters, should restrict the movies their kids watch and the music they listen to, should distract their kids when walking by Victoria Secret and generally should protect their kids in reasonable ways. It was beyond the scope of the blog post to answer, but it begged the question: why? Why should we do those things? Isn’t making rules and standards for our kids “legalistic” as some purport?  Why spend so much time protecting our kids if, ultimately, we can’t be entirely successful? Shouldn’t we focus our time and energy on preparing them for the inevitable worldly and sexual temptations that will arise?

To answer those questions Joey (one of my older brothers), Mom and I are going to write a three-part follow up series to Mom’s post yesterday.  Our contention is that creating rules and standards for our kids insofar as it relates to worldliness and sexual temptations isn’t legalistic and is wise.  I am writing today to address the issue of legalism; Joey will write part two addressing the issue of wisdom (from the perspective of the kid) and Mom will write part three addressing the issue of wisdom from a different perspective than Joey — namely, she’s the one with seven kids and fourteen grandkids.

Before I begin, though, I want to make several points at the outset.

1) Preparing your kids for the inevitable temptations that arise is at least equally (and perhaps more) important than attempting to protect them from such temptations. Nothing we say in this series should be construed as a criticism of any energy and dialogue spent for the purpose of preparing or helping your kids through such temptations.

2)  Although the rules of the game don’t change as kids get older, the strategies do.  In other words, to the extent that anything we say is even true, it applies only where it applies, and probably moreso to pre-teens and early teenage years than to later teenage years.

3)  Actual, real legalism is the worst.

Having said all that, let’s talk about legalism.

WHAT IS AND WHAT ISN’T LEGALISM?

There is a somewhat fascinating way of thinking that’s going around that equates rules and standards with legalism. This is of course absurd, since the lack of rules and standards can be legalistic in exactly the same ways that rules and standards can be legalistic. So, then, what is legalism?

Author and teacher John Piper says the essence of legalism is when faith is not the engine of obedience and that the aim of legalism is trading with God value for value.  In other words, legalism is when we pursue the law (a good thing) fueled by our flesh, rather than the Spirit (a bad thing).  Legalism is when we attempt to trade our good works for God’s favor.  Of course, “good works” in this context can mean abstaining from watching R rated movies or it can mean abstaining from judging others i.e for how they parent.

We can attempt to earn God’s favor by not watching or listening to things that are worldly or sexually tempting, and we can attempt to earn God’s favor by being loving and accepting to everyone and everybody.  Whether we equate one of those as being more socially acceptable or desirable than the other is irrelevant; both can be attempts to earn God’s favor. In fact, people are often “legalistic” about things that, taken alone, are really good things.  For instance, I shouldn’t shoot up heroin (RIP P.S.H.). But if I think that I am trading the good work of not doing heroin for the return of God’s favor and mercy, than I am being legalistic. That doesn’t mean, though, that I should start doing heroin. It means that my motivations for not doing heroin should be fueled by the Spirit rather than my flesh in a response to God’s mercy and not for the purpose of securing it.

That, of course, addresses what legalism isn’t; obedience is not legalism and neither is holiness. In fact, Jesus was pretty clear that if we don’t obey His rules we don’t love Him (John 14:15).  As Kevin DeYoung has said, the word “therefore” is used liberally in the Bible. Grace, therefore do X.  Grace is of course both foundational and preceding, but “do X” is not legalistic in and of itself.

LEGALISM AS APPLIED TO PARENTING

It seems, then, that making rules and standards for kids does not make the parent legalistic. Of course, it can be legalistic, just as anything can be. But I think it raises an important point: your methods of parenting, whatever they are, can always be legalistic. You might be attempting to earn God’s favor through the good work of restricting your kids access to certain Internet sites or TV shows. But you also might be attempting to earn God’s favor through the good work of allowing your kids the freedom to make their own decisions and then talking about it with them later. What makes your decisions legalistic is not your decisions; what makes your decisions legalistic is the reason why you made the decision. I think the notion that making rules and setting standards for kids is legalistic is problematic — not only because I think setting rules and standards is a good thing, but also partly because I think it is a radical misunderstanding of legalism.

Worldliness and the prevalence of sexual images and temptations is a pervasive issue that requires a nuanced and ironclad conviction as parents (something that I want to have when it’s my turn); avoiding cultivating the conviction of certain rules and standards for your kids because to do so would be a sign of legalism and fundamentalism is not a sign that you value grace and the Gospel.  It’s merely a sign that you don’t understand legalism, and it might mean that you’re a legalist.

P.S. I looked it up and it means something that can prevent something negative: i.e removing a mole can prevent skin cancer. 

Jake and Sarah before she made him trim his beard for the wedding.

Jake and Sarah before she made him trim his beard for the wedding.

Not My Kid! A Mother’s Look at Sexual Temptation and Sin in the Home

Today I’m over at Growing Up Triplets talking about something every parent needs to think about sooner than later.

“Mom, what’s sex?” Gulp. I wasn’t read for this question from my 9-year-old. He was my firstborn and I knew the question would come, but I didn’t know when. I mumbled something about that being a great question that would be good to talk over sometime when Daddy was home and could he go and check on his younger siblings?”

Read more by clicking http://growinguptriplets.com/2014/02/11/kid-mothers-look-sexual-temptation-sin-home/.

Blessings,

Sheree

Lessons from a Smart Phone

I was so excited when I found out that I could speak into my phone and have it type for me!      What an amazing convenience!

I quickly learned, though, that my phone isn’t all that “smart.” How in the world could it think I would actually send someone a text that said, “I’m hey you to pick her up so reassure key lock is hopping for me” when I told it to type, “I’m heading out to pick her up so can you make sure Kayla is looking out for me?”

The hilarious thing is that I pushed send before I read the text. When Jaime sent a return “huh???” text I was confused.

Until I read what my silly phone heard me say!

Relationships are kinda like using a smart phone. Sometimes what we clearly communicated was heard quite differently by our listener.

  • We attempt to encourage a friend for growth in an area and she interprets our words as a back door opportunity to communicate, “Wow, you were really weak in this area and thank God you’re making progress!”
  • A marital conflict escalates — neither of us realize until later that it started because one of us completely misunderstood something that was said early in the conversation. (This happened a few days ago with Benny and me!)
  • A young teen reacts angrily because he or she heard Mom or Dad’s “No, you can’t go” as “Stop trying to grow up…and don’t think you’re gonna start running around everywhere like some of your friends do!”
  • Emotion-laced words are shared through email or text that should be communicated in person. Hiding behind a phone or computer is an understandable temptation when the heat rises in a relationship…but a dicey misunderstanding is pretty much a given.

There’s no way to avoid our words being misinterpreted. We live in a fallen world. We’re not perfect communicators and neither is anyone we know. We all hear things with a trail of experiences, struggles, former relational conflicts and “there they go again”‘s behind us. It’s just plain hard to talk to people and not be misunderstood — especially when heart issues are involved.

And when a relationship is already tense or there’s a growing history of hearing things wrongly (on our part or theirs), it makes communication all the more tangled.

I would be surprised if you aren’t experiencing struggles in communication with at least one person right now. Just typing that sentence brought three people I love to mind as those I get anxious about talking to these days. Even if I carefully choose my words, will I still be misunderstood (again)? Is a big part of the problem in our relationship my own inability to listen without bringing past hurts or conflicts into mind? Can we have a meaningful conversation without one or both of us feeling judged, belittled or frustrated (even if we don’t show it)?

Ugh. It’s just easier to keep conversations light and superficial something, isn’t it? And there are times perhaps we should avoid potentially thorny topics with someone because the relationship just can’t handle it right now. But we can’t give up. If we do, we’ll drift into the bitterness, withdrawal and fear that characterizes people who are unwilling to take the risk of being hurt again when what we say isn’t heard the way we meant it.

Off to text Jaime to see when Kayla is coming to do Thursday morning schoolwork with Granma. Hopefully “eta?” will come out right.

Loving the Light

Aside

Last night a group of ladies gathered at my home for a second book study meeting. I love preparing my heart and home for most any reason that involves a crowd — but knowing they were coming made my prep especially enjoyable. Our first meeting was characterized by rich fellowship, even though a few of us were meeting one another for the first time. I was anticipating another sweet time together.

I wasn’t disappointed.

As the room filled my heart warmed at the diversity in the group. There was a college aged cutie; several single adults; married women without kids; a first-time expectant mom about to deliver any day; two moms with little ones in their laps; a middle-aged wife with no children; and a couple of Granma’s like me. In a culture where segregating people by age or season of life is common and often preferred, I’m grateful that having a new little church means everything we do is necessarily…together.

My friend, Ariel, took this pic at our meeting last night. I love these women!

My friend, Ariel, took this pic at our meeting last night. I love these women!

After our first meeting two weeks ago one of the gals contacted me to ask if she could share her testimony at the next meeting. The warmth and safety she experienced at the first meeting as she listened to ladies open up about their struggles, coupled with beginning to read the book we are studying together, was opening her heart to some painful things in her life. The Lord stirred her to write down her thoughts and she felt compelled to share her musings with the group.

I was deeply affected by this desire. Why would a young woman who had met most of those in the room at our meeting for the first time want to open up painful, tender things about her life? God was clearly at work in ways I couldn’t and didn’t need to understand.

I opened the meeting last night with the plan: we would share how we were being affected by the book, pray for one another, and then hear a testimony of one of the ladies in the group. After I finished, my new friend sheepishly said, “Sheree, I’m not sure if I can do this. I just don’t know….I want to. But I don’t know if I can.”

I assured her she didn’t have to share and that just knowing she was willing to was a wonderful demonstration of God’s grace in her life. If she decided not to open up such tender parts of her life, that was completely fine.

However, as the meeting winded down she said, “No. I want to do this. I need to do this.”

The rest of our meeting was filled with holy moments. The vulnerability and humility we all witnessed was compelling. As she read her words through tears, many of us cried along with her. The pain, shame and suffering she described touched areas in our own hearts. All of us could relate to her story in some way. We all know what it’s like to fail and to be hurt by others. She was in the company of fellow broken, weak and flawed women.

And when she was done something wonderful happened. Woman after woman thanked and commended her. The risk she took to share her life with us was met with compassion and care. The gospel was on display and we were all honored to have been entrusted with such a precious gift: the gift of disclosure that wasn’t treated as exposure. (A wonderful distinction I’ve learned from friends at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation.)

Her testimony ended with a recognition that the painful things through which she has walked, even those that were the consequences of sinful choices she made along the way, have all been used by a faithful God for good in her life. She even said that she isn’t afraid of future hardships and suffering because of all God has done through the dark times in her life.

Yes, we were on holy ground.

Do you have someone with whom you can share your story? We are all like my friend who opened her heart last night: people who have sinned, been sinned against (sometimes in vile ways) and who live in a fallen world with the resulting consequences of pain, shame, disappointment and discouragement. When we keep our “secrets” in the dark, they grow and often haunt us. When we, however, find a safe person or people to whom we can disclosure things hidden or tucked away, the light dispels the darkness and we see with new eyes.

Choosing the “right” person or people is really important. At times I have unwisely opened my heart and life to people because it felt like the right thing to do and ended up regretting my decision when their responses made me realize I spoke prematurely. Gratefully, though, God has put a few people in my life to whom I can pour out the good, bad and ugly of my past and present struggles.

The light can be a little blinding at times. We all know the feeling of needing to allow our eyes to adjust when we leave a dark room. But the warmth and clarity that only the light can bring are needed and welcomed when God provides a safe and caring place to be honest.

I’m glad my new friend found that place. And I’m glad I was there on a front row seat watching God’s amazing work in her life.

I love the light.

A Younger Sheree Learned a Few Things….

Over the past couple of days I’ve been talking about being well known in a culture where isolation and independence are celebrated while biblical relationships are too often defined by Sunday morning greetings rather than sharing real life together.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is relationships can become an idol — especially to us girls. (I’m humbled by and grateful for the guys who frequent this blog, and perhaps this post applies to you, too.)

I have six adorable granddaughters. Watching them relate to each other and to other little girls is pure joy. I more often hear “Are you ok?” or “I’m sorry” or “That’s ok, it was an accident” from them than from my grandsons. Many little girls define their best friend as whoever they just sat next to in Sunday School. The little ladies in our church flock to the babies and toddlers to help, hold, play and cuddle while the boys typically chase each other around the room or create guns with pens or pointy fingers.

Years ago as a young wife I remember picking up the phone to call a friend after a conflict with Benny. I wanted counsel…and sympathy. While it was fine for me to reach out to a friend, some months later I noticed this was becoming a pattern. Rather than prayerfully go back to my husband to resolve our conflict biblically, I turned to friends for support and advice. With a partial motive of genuinely wanting the perspective of a godly friend to help me get things right with Benny, over time the Lord revealed a pattern of wanting sympathy more than godliness. .

Wait — am I contradicting myself? In a blog series on being well known why am I warning against being well known?

There was nothing wrong with me reaching out to my friends when I was hurting, confused or needed advice. And honesty doesn’t always equal gossip. (More on that tomorrow.) The problem was I was looking to them for things I needed to work out with the Lord and my husband, and using friendship as an excuse to subtly whine. Talking to my friends was much easier than reaching for God or hashing things out with Benny! They listened; asked questions; expressed empathy; identified with my struggles and temptations; and offered gentle counsel. Girl talk left me feeling heard and understood in a different way than many of my interactions with my husband. It was during those years that I discovered men are from Mars and women are from Venus. While Benny and I have grown considerably in our communication since those early years, I still often find it easier to connect heart to heart with the girls. Gender does make a difference in communication!

God has designed us to love people and to benefit greatly from our social circles. But being well known doesn’t mean finding more comfort in people — even family members — than in God. It also doesn’t excuse dumping on a fried when relational tension creeps up in our lives. I watch people rush from relationship to relationship looking for significance, value, friendship and affection — and have done so myself! — when God’s offer of relationship stands as the only source of timeless love.

The fact is this: we are completely well known by God. He made us; personally constructed our appearance and personality; gave us both limitations and gifts; decided if we would love or hate strawberries or sports or prefer the mountains or the beach; and then died so we could know Him back. No one will ever love us so powerfully yet tenderly.

What a friend we have in Jesus.

Idols aren’t just little statues that sit in the homes of religious non-Christians. As Ken Sande says:

“Most of us think of an idol as a statue of wood, stone, or metal worshiped by pagan people. But the concept is much broader and far more personal than that. An idol is anything apart from God that we depend on to be happy, fulfilled, or secure. In biblical terms it is something other than God that we set our heart on (Luke 12:29), that motivates us (1 Corinthians 4:5), that masters and rules us (Psalm 119:133; Ephesians 5:5), or that we trust, fear, or serve (Isaiah 42:17; Matthew 6:24; Luke 12:4-5). In short, it is something we love and pursue in place of God (see Philippians 3:19).”

People can be our idols and pursuit of friendship can easily become “something we love and pursue in place of God.”

Has God been stirring your heart to be more well known? Guess what, you ARE! He knows you best and loves you most of everyone anywhere. He knows how your jaw clenches when you’re inwardly angry before a selfish word comes out of your mouth. He knows your temptations and anticipates when you’ll be lonely or jealous or anxious long before you do. He helps, strengthens and protects you when you don’t even realize it and even when you think you chose to do right all by yourself.

And when you fail or reject or push Him away because someone else seems more available or fun or loving, He doesn’t pull back but continues to stay close with patient pursuit.

I pray that you feel not just well known today…but well loved.

P.S.  If you would like to read more about the subject of idolatry you can read the article I quoted from here.

When Friends Become Enemies

Rich and Seth were best friends growing up. They did all the normal stuff together: sports, youth group and girlfriend switching. No one was surprised when they decided to attend the same out-of-state college.

Nearly twenty years later, however, Seth and Rich rarely see each other.  They talk a few times a year by phone and send each other Christmas gifts with a family photo. As 40-somethings, they’re busy with kids and careers…and they have the perfunctory “we gotta do that hunting trip” exchange at least once a year. But they both know that trip is unlikely to happen….

What do you think of their relationship? Did they, like most childhood friends, just drift apart? Does it seem superficial and perhaps dutiful? Or would you define it as healthy and warm, especially for guys who haven’t lived near each other in years?

However you perceive this friendship, what you don’t know is that a few years back something painful happened between them. The details aren’t that important. Some would think their conflict wasn’t all that serious, while others might see the issues as irreparable. Those outside such situations are often quick to judge…until hurt feelings and tension come into our own lives. What is important is that for nearly two years Rich and Seth couldn’t have a amiable conversation so they gave up.

The tension and anger between these two men could have destroyed them. The advice of the few people who knew about their conflict varied widely: everything from “it’s not that big of a deal, move on” to “you’re crazy if you don’t walk away.” These guys and their wives strongly disagreed on some weighty and longstanding issues between them that produced their heated interactions. Yet they agreed on the most important thing; they didn’t want to walk away from a decades-long friendship.

The truth is Rich and Seth’s relationship is healthy. Why? Because they decided to do what Else and JJ did. They humbled themselves and asked forgiveness. It wasn’t easy. Rich was afraid he had disappointed his life long buddy far too deeply. Seth’s resentment tempted him to wonder if he even wanted to try to repair the relationship. One thing we do to each other that isn’t helpful is try to impose our personal preferences on what friendship or care or loyalty should look like rather than allowing the Bible to define that for us.

I am going through a season where I’m battling relational temptations, too. Today I was contacted by a facebook friend who asked me if I ever felt troubled because “Jesus just isn’t enough.” She expressed her discouragement that her emotions and the circumstances of life were crowding in on her, and her relationship with the Lord was being pushed out. I empathized and told her I would pray for her…if she would pray for me.

When circumstances press in, and especially when relational challenges threaten our joy, we have to remember something: Jesus is enough. He was enough for Rich and Seth. Because they value biblical principles more than they prize relief from conflict, they chose to forgive. Their contact isn’t as frequent as some would say is “biblical” and they still work through temptations to be anger and bitter. But they are not allowing others’ “you should be’s” rule. Rather, they understand that the difficulties that took years to develop will likely take years to fully resolve. Forgiveness is the first step to God-gloriying fruit. As author Jerry Bridges says, the process of Christian growth (sanctification) requires “personal, vigorous effort anchored in the grace of God.” Rich and Seth are both learning how to patiently persevere through the Spirit-empowered, vigorous effort that change demands.

These men may never vacation together or invite each other into town for Christmas. The fact that they care about and aren’t bitter toward one another is cause for gratefulness. Being reconciled to someone when sin (yours, theirs or both) has caused a breach in your relationship doesn’t necessarily mean that things have to be “the same” as prior to when things went south.

What does need to remain is the awareness that God is in control even when hopelessness crowds out faith.

If you are either Rich or Seth, I invite you to join me in trusting in gospel-saturated hope that things will get better. “Better” may not mean the person or people with whom you are struggling will change. Believe me, if there was a way to reach in and change a person’s heart I would have figured that out by now! Not only can we not change another’s heart and perspective, we can’t even change our own.

But Someone can. Think about ways in which you are different than you were a year ago…two years ago…ten years ago. You and I aren’t different because we got older or decided to change. We’re different because God promised to complete the work He began at our conversion. He’s doing the changing of us!

I need fresh faith to focus on the needed changes and corresponding promise of grace in my own heart. Because God accepted the atoning death of Jesus Christ as payment for my sin and promises to change me (ever so slowly, it seems) I don’t have to worry about Him changing others. Like Rich and Seth, I can forgive and then let God define what change should look like in those with whom I’m struggling…and provide joy in the struggle.

Over time, friends can become enemies. Husbands and wives may drift apart. Siblings can lose contact. Parents and adult children will offend and hurt each other. Coworkers ask to be transferred to a different department. Sometimes it happens so slowly that it takes a shouting match or bitter tears to expose what’s been hiding in wounded or sinful hearts.

But the good news is there is hope. Even if the other person remains hard-hearted, we can choose grace. The baby in a manger grew up to die so you and I could be forgiven sinners. And then turn and forgive those who sin against us.

God and sinners reconciled. Sinners reconciled with each other. Glory to the newborn King that made this possible.

The Mean Picture Lesson

I happend to catch this candid shot of JJ and Elsie in my backyard last week having a sibling “moment”….

Last week my 5-year-old granddaughter, Elsie, got mad at her brother, JJ. Really mad. No one knows why. But she was so mad she drew a picture of herself and him. Only she drew a diagonal line through him…like those signs you see that warn people not to walk in the grass or cross the street in a certain spot.

Her 7-year-old brother saw his sister’s obvious anger and aloofness, but he hadn’t seen the picture she drew. He just knew she wouldn’t play with him and was snippy when he spoke to her. This had certainly happened numerous times before so he knew what to do. JJ found his mom and told her Elsie was angry and wouldn’t play with him.

That day was like every other one for Rachel — just another sibling skirmish to referee like she had hundreds before. Perhaps the thought came: “How many times am I gonna have to do this?” But what she didn’t know is that this tiff would be different…

In recent months I’ve heard of numerous relational conflicts between people. Folks have gotten really mad at others for varying reasons, some serious and others petty.  Living in a fallen world means promises get broken, feelings get hurt and people get angry. For some reason holiday stress — coupled with the common disappointment when our Christmas season doesn’t closely resemble Hallmark cards and movies — brings relational conflicts to the surface.

As I said on Monday, the holidays can be laced (or it some cases, doused) with disappointment, and one of the big reasons is tension between people who have been or want to be close, but aren’t.

I learned something from JJ and Elsie last week. And their mom. The gospel can shine brightest when people sin.

When Rachel brought her children together to talk through their conflict, she expected things to go as usual. Elsie would complain about something her brother had done. JJ would try to explain or defend himself, and perhaps point out something Elsie did that warranted his reaction. Rachel would try to help them see the importance of getting along and ask them to play nicely. Or maybe, depending on whether or not 3-year-old Eleanor was writing on walls with markers or getting into Mommy’s makeup, Rach would take the time to lovingly remind them that Jesus can help them love each other and then pray with them for His help.

But God had other plans.

They really do love each other.

Before Rachel had time to address Elsie’s anger toward her brother she was bringing over her picture to show Mommy. She was crying, not because she was mad at JJ but because she had drawn a mean picture that demonstrated her angry attitude.  Rachel explained that she understood how easy it is to get angry at people, saying she has drawn that same picture over and over in her own heart. Then JJ cozied up to his sister and put his arm around her.

“It’s okay, Elsie. I understand. I get angry, too,” he said.

Rachel then told them that because they are sinners, Jesus provided a way for them to be forgiven. All Elsie needed to do to stop crying and feeling bad about her mean picture and angry attitude toward her brother was to ask Jesus and JJ to forgive her. Once she did that, it was all over and she didn’t have to feel badly anymore. So Elsie asked forgiveness of God and her brother, then began happily playing.

When Rachel told me the story several days later, she wasn’t boasting about what good parents she and Josh are to raise such humble kids. She was genuinely amazed at God’s work in both her children. She knew that Elsie’s sincere sorrow over drawing such a mean picture of her brother, and JJ’s eagerness to empathize with her, were first and foremost evidences of God’s grace in their lives.

And what’s thrilling is this same grace is available to you and me.

Is there someone you’re not looking forward to spending time with this Christmas, or someone you’re glad you won’t be seeing? Over the past year (or more?) have you noticed growing anger or bitterness building in your heart toward anyone? Have you drawn a mental picture of someone and then essentially crossed him or her out of your life?

Perhaps you can prayerfully consider humbling yourself and sharing your “picture” with them. God will show you what this should look like. He might lead you to take the first step of simple (but not easy!) initiative in the form of a quick email to say hello; or maybe prompt you to plunge right into deeper waters by asking forgiveness for your anger or bitterness.

The reality is they may not respond the way JJ did — and things could actually get even more muddy. But God will be watching. He knows all about the costs of bridging the gap between those in conflict. The cross demonstrates to us that if God could reconcile sinful man to His holy self, there is no relationship beyond repair.

P.S.  Repairing relationships doesn’t always mean things have to be like they once were or that wrong patterns of relating will change right away. Relationships typically take a long time to break down…and equally long to repair. Healthy interactions don’t mean you have to have Christmas dinner together. More on that tomorrow.