Sunday, January 11, 2015

Loving the Bitter and Healing

At my church, we have a guest speaker once a month from a charity that we are helping.  Today, the guest speaker was from a children’s mission in Peru.  He has spoken to us before.  I wrote about the time that I first heard him speak in my post here.  The story that he told us today sounded like the story that he told us the two other times that I heard him speak.  It’s about a little girl who was bitter and angry, and the staff learned why: because she saw her own mother bleed to death, and her father ditched her.  She is in college now and is still angry with her father, but the man who spoke to us today said that he told her that she can only love if she forgives.

The speaker also made the point that only Christ can heal people’s emotional wounds.  He said that the mission has trained psychologists, but even they will admit that they themselves do not have the power to heal anyone emotionally.  Only Christ can do that.

The speaker’s remarks were challenging and thought-provoking, just as they were to me when I heard him speak those other two times.  I have a couple of thoughts:

1.  Usually, this man’s remarks make me feel bad because I am not good at loving bitter people.  I remember going through a curriculum, Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God, and Blackaby told the story of how he chose to pour out love on a bunch of anarchists.  Blackaby related that the love that he showed them as he listened to them made him more loving towards the next person he encountered.

Okay, that’s fine.  But what if a bitter person is attacking you and your friends with her words?  What if she is essentially burning your bridges for you?  Are you obligated to stay in a relationship with that person?  “But Jesus would,” many Christians may respond, even though they themselves turn right around and make their own love of others conditional.  I respect and admire those with the strength and wisdom to reach out to bitter people.  I, however, struggle and fail to do so, at least unconditionally.  I expect bitter people in my life to be polite and to behave themselves like we are all expected to do in this society.  But that does not always happen.  Not all wounded people are like hurt puppies who get better with a little love.  They have their thoughts, feelings, and talents, such as shredding people with their words and poking holes in people’s arguments, and some get defensive when anyone expresses disapproval of what they are doing.  I struggle enough to love people in general, but bitter people?  I can’t say I deserve any merit badges there!

So where do I go from here?  I’ll probably keep on doing what I have been doing.  I’ll try to show love, but, if a person gets out of hand, I’ll leave that person in the hands of those who are more competent to deal with him or her, while I keep my distance.  Christlike?  I don’t know.  Jesus did die for us while we were yet sinners and hung around with the disreputable.  But I don’t think that he surrounded himself on a daily basis with bitter people who were continually tearing him down.  Okay, well, there were the religious leaders, but he wasn’t around them all the time.

And even if Jesus would stick around with a bitter person, yeah rah, Jesus, but that doesn’t mean that I have the ability to do so, with my insecurities.

2.  Can only Christ heal?  To be honest, I don’t know.  I do know that finding healing is not easy.  I struggle with Jesus’ commands regarding forgiveness, especially his statement that God won’t forgive us if we don’t forgive others.  How can I just forget the pain from the past?  It’s part of who I am.  I think that God asks the impossible.  I find that, for me personally, praying helps me to cope with painful memories.  It does not completely take them away, however.  I think that therapists can be helpful in suggesting an alternative way to look at things, though.

So where do I go from here?  Well, I can try to put the past behind me.  Some days I will be more successful than other days.  I can also try to treat everyone with love and respect—-and by that I do not mean making them a prominent part of my life, necessarily, but rather not doing harm—-not talking about them in a gossipy fashion behind their back (talking about them anonymously in a private therapy session is different), not lashing out at them, etc.  I know that I have done things that need to be forgiven, and I am appreciative of those who still treat me with kindness.  Even if the wounds are still inside of them, their wounds do not lead them to treat me poorly.  I am grateful when that happens.  And I, in turn, am responsible to make sure that I do not abuse that grace by repeating bad behavior.

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