(image from Gaudenscor)

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus told his disciples when they asked (bet they regretted that one) that they had to be prepared to forgive someone who sinned against them seventy times seven (sometimes put seventy-seven times. Not sure which is more correct, but it doesn’t really matter – it’s A LOT).

There are lots of other verses about forgiveness spattered throughout Matthew and the rest of the Bible. You get the impression that it seems to be a good idea. It brings with it the idea of reconciliation and shalom (peace and wholeness) and joy and renewal and mercy and the general topsy-turvy nature of the kingdom of God.

Wonderful. Sounds like such a good theory, doesn’t it? Forgiveness seems to bring benefit to all, even the person who has to get out there and do it. And they all live happily ever after.

Only, I’m just not sure that that is always the case. What if the pain from the hurt is constant and ongoing? What if the person doesn’t recognise that they have done anything wrong? What if they act like you and your hurt don’t exist?

It seems that the jury’s out on whether you need someone to repent before you forgive them. I’m not sure either way. Certainly, it’s not a great idea to carry round a heavy burden of pain which could be laid to rest, but without any acknowledgement from the other party, sometimes it doesn’t feel like there is anywhere safe to put it. As sinners, we need God to forgive us, but the Bible is pretty clear that in order to turn to Christ, we need to repent of all the things we have done wrong.

But then if you look back into recent African history, you soon discover that the people there are good at this. They seem to recognise the value of laying down the burden which some see as being “trapped in a prison of hatred”. (see Rwandan forgiveness article) Terrible things have happened in Rwanda, to name just one country, but people have been prepared to be able to move on. So challenging for us.

Forgiveness hurts. It isn’t easy. It isn’t glamourous. It isn’t fun. And you might never gain recognition for it, because the person who sinned against you may never admit it either to you or to anyone else. They may never demonstrate any sort of remorse. Are you prepared to forgive, even without repentance?

Somehow the cross has to be central. Our burden of hurt is something we can lay down at the foot of the cross, knowing that our sins and those of the other can be met and dealt with there. Jesus died for me and also for the person who abused me. He died for me and those who have rejected me. He died for me, just as he died for everyone.

Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation. And it never should. Forgiveness is just that. It means giving up our resentment against someone. It means we don’t harbour a grievance against them.

I think that the seventy times seven reflects the difficulty of this challenge. We have the choice as we wake up each day, as to whether we will forgive so-and-so or not. Seventy times seven. Surely, that’s the number of times we have to forgive each offence, seventy times seven different ones? (Though in some cases, maybe it is more than just one wrong.) It requires continual effort and grace.

It might be painful. It might feel (and quite frankly often does) totally crap. But it is somehow necessary. And the God who does not remain silent, the God who forgives us our sin, and who sent his Spirit upon us is there throughout, our Rock and our Redeemer.

Am I there yet? No. Do I want to be there? Maybe. On a good day. But I do have to keep on trusting in the goodness of God, in and through everything.

train

Some ideas from a day I spent on a train the other day:

  1. Sneeze explosively across the person sitting next to you and their work.
  2. Picking your nose and then eating it. In full view.
  3. Invading the space of the person sitting next to you. Who wasn’t big to start with.
  4. Shouting “Minnie Mouse” very loudly and repeatedly. (This particular perpetrator was very young).
  5. Asking said perpetrator to be quiet, but clearly not expecting them to obey.
  6. Coughing up your guts and sounding like you might not last out the journey. (Ok, I did feel some sympathy there)
  7. Asking your child “Have you done a poo?” when they are practically sitting on you, while you are eating your lunch. Said poo was way too close to my baguette.
  8. Letting your child poke their fingers forward to your seat and touch your arm, in a way that would be creepy if they were more than 3 years old.
  9. (One for the officials) Not providing plastic boxes for personal belongings going into the X-Ray machine. Said baguette nearly ended up squashed by a suitcase.
  10. (Again, one for the officials) Making someone remove their belt while lunch is getting squashed in the above fashion.
  11. (Final official one) Looking like you might shoot the person who goes to rescue lunch while still removing belt.
  12. Buying MacDonalds for lunch for your family, and the paper bag exploding everywhere. Rejecting help from anyone offering to carry either family, bags or lunch.

And all of these happened on my journey home. The last made me think the most. How much do I reject help when it is offered? “No, I really don’t need you to carry my bag. I’ll just keep on struggling by myself. It’s balanced really….” CRASH
“Of course I can manage!” Hmm.

But the rest were rather amusing. Afterwards…

 

There are times when I feel a little lost. I look back and wonder how on earth I have come to be in that particular place, at that particular time. How on earth did I end up holding this particular responsibility? Did I really say that I love doing x?

It does has its benefits. It means I can be a bit more vague when it comes to making decisions. If I’m not sure who I am it means that I don’t have a set standard of ethics to frame my choices. It means that I can sit back and let others do the hard work and be responsible. It means that I can love my green trousers one day and hate them the next.

Sometimes this can be classed as growth. The idea that you can look back with the benefit of hindsight and ask yourself “really?” Changing is not a bad thing. Especially when it is being transformed into the image of Christ.

But Christians talk a lot about identity. As forgiven people, we find our identity in Christ. We are no longer characterised by sin or the things we have done, but rather by what Jesus has done for us. We are new people. Such good news.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Brilliant. This means that I don’t have to worry about the old labels I had for myself. Self-harmer. Crazy person. Loner.

So why do I? Why did I tell someone yesterday that I considered myself to be mentally unstable at times? Or, even worse, why did I worry that they thought that I was? Do I still see myself as a self-harmer, or someone redeemed by grace?

I wonder whether these labels are easier to handle than facing up to the reality. The reality that I have become a new person, and that I do have choices to make about how to live my life, because that is what grown up people do. I think decisions are difficult sometimes.

There is also the fact that, by considering myself to be a self-harmer, it means that I am allowing myself the possibility of relapse. If I really felt I needed to. Maybe. When desperate. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Again, there are positive aspects to this. It means that I am more likely to seek the help I need from friends and others. It means that I am constantly relying on God for my strength not to cut myself. And it means that I don’t take my recovery for granted.

But to what extent will I be able to recover fully if I stay like this? Does it mean that I am defined by the bad things and the relapses rather than the redemption of the Cross and God’s love for me? How do I think God sees me?

Important questions from a slightly panicked heart.

I choose Christ. I choose to be defined by Him and not by a pair of scissors.

The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.’  (Zephaniah 3:17)

And this is so true.

 

Shame

Posted: April 2, 2013 in A little about me, Hope
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Sometimes, I want to hide everything. I worry so much about what people will think of me when they find out what I’ve done to myself. People either don’t understand at all or, even worse, want to help. “why don’t you just think happy thoughts?” Or they think it is something they have said or done – and often it is.

I think though, that that is only part of the story. I think there is part of me that has been ashamed of what I’ve done. How much I’ve worried people. How something that just seems so wrong can make me feel better.

So I worry about telling people who I really am. I think about the label “self-harmer” that I’m happy to employ myself but I don’t want others to use. I don’t want people to know about the battles that rage inside of me.

But actually, this is so wrong. Because there is nothing that I haven’t already brought to the cross of Christ. God made me to be the person I am warts, thunder thighs, self-harm and all. That doesn’t mean he is happy for me to hurt myself, or not to be the person he has made me to be and all that. But it does mean I can be free of shame.

And also, there is nothing that I have ever done or will ever do that is so bad that it can’t be dealt with by Christ on the cross. And the same goes for everyone. Yes, I have to turn to Christ. But I do because he is the only one who can help.

The Gospel shines its light into even the darkest places. And that means I have nothing to be ashamed of.

A Meditation

Posted: April 1, 2013 in Hope
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vague trigger alert…broken glass

From Pearl Beyond Price: The Attractive Jesus by David Day, Zondervan, p. 105

For this you need to close your eyes and take a journey of imagination.
You’re in a kind of workshop. It’s for making stained-glass windows. All around you are designs for windows and areas where glass is being measured and cut.
On the table in front of you lie pieces of broken glass. All kinds of colours. Sharp edged.
Christ is standing at your side. It is his workshop.
He says, ‘These are your hurts, your griefs; these are the pains you feel, each one a splinter of broken glass.’
Even here in the presence of Christ you can hardly bear to touch them. They have cut you too deeply in the past.
But you recognise each piece. Gently, Christ asks you to name them.
Tell him where it hurts. And why. And who.
He is listening. Now he takes each piece and begins to arrange them on the table. Fitting them together. Making a pattern for a new window – taking your hurt and shaping it into something beautiful.

I know it isn’t always that simple. But sometimes this is still true. Actually, it is heresy to say it isn’t always true. It’s just that we don’t always want to know. Or we don’t like the beauty that has been created. Or we throw it back on the floor to shatter into a million pieces again. Or sometimes that process just takes a very long time.

Pearl Beyond Price is a great book and well worth a read.

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One question I puzzle over a lot is whether everything in my life matches up. A few years ago, I auditioned for music colleges all around the country. One liked my playing enough to offer me a scholarship. The next day, I went to practice, and I was suddenly racked with fear. What if they discover that I can’t really play my scales? That I don’t really play as well as they think I do?

Scales apart, it does seem important that people know the real you. That you don’t change in personality or in actions or in morals when you are with different people. That what you say and what you do matches, and especially with what you believe.

Now, is is something I find very hard to do. I’m very good at hiding. I’m totally pants at asking for help, and even sometimes turn it down when it is offered. do you want to borrow my hairdryer? Are you sure? Really? (True story. I gave in in the end and borrowed it. But only after about 5 mins of the above.)

The time I spent on anti-depressants gave me something I could relatively easily tell people was wrong. Yes, I’m feeling a bit low at the moment, and I’m taking some pills to help that. But no. Hardly anyone knew. Hardly anyone knows that when I do get low, something bad might happen and I might go back down into that place of darkness, where the sun sure doesn’t shine.

On the contrary, on the outside, things look fine. Work happens, shallow friendships are made (with a few deeper ones as well), it is easy to be Little Miss Perfect. But it always seems that there is so much at stake.

I pray that my words might match my actions. I pray that my actions might match what I believe about Jesus, who lived among us as a vulnerable person, who came to serve and die for us. Who was perfect, but also human. That his power is made perfect in our weakness.

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The other day I went to a different church for a change. Also, partly because I didn’t get out of bed early enough to go the other one. Anyway, I went somewhere different.

It seemed a fairly normal service. Then the sermon started. And things got a little messy. Somehow, the preacher managed to link what he was saying to contemporary culture via the link of Jimmy Saville. As far as I’m concerned, that’s pretty bad news.

Yes, the news about Jimmy Saville broke a while ago. And yes, the abuse that happened to me was years and years ago. And through many a counselling session and many a good chat with a friend, it has been dealt with. With a few wounds along the way.

But I used to spend hours with my brother watching Jim’ll Fix It. We loved it. Jim even wrote a letter of support to my school choir once upon a time. He was a charismatic figure we all loved.

And he came crashing down from his pedestal when the news broke last year – I don’t even remember when. But then it was like someone turning the knife in the wound as day after day, I woke up to hear the headlines reporting even more allegations about him. Newspapers splashed his picture all over their front pages. He was everywhere. Truly, it was horrible.

Yes, what he did was completely wrong and he should have been brought to justice, a LONG time ago. But surely now that’s old news? The media got it very wrong, by making it be so present each day. And Fragmentz wrote a fantastic blog entry about it at the time and about being a survivor. Fragmentz – Some thoughts on being a survivor and Jimmy Saville

So when the preacher mentioned Jimmy Saville, I was angry. I didn’t need to go there again. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only one there to have found it hard.

But then it got worse. Society can condemn Jimmy Saville because they consider what he did to have been morally wrong. But it considers sex outside of marriage as ok when it is between two consenting adults; something which the Bible tells us is wrong. Yes, I can see that point of view, in fact, I do believe that any sex outside marriage is not part of God’s plan for us. Yes, just because there are two consenting adults it doesn’t make it right.

However, by this time, something inside me was screaming You can’t liken sex outside of marriage to child abuse and paedophilia!!! I’m not even sure I heard the rest of what the guy said, as I was so angry. Abuse is morally wrong, and it has to remain separate from other sexual sins, simply because it is that. That doesn’t mean it cannot be forgiven, but it seemed to me like comparing the stealing of a penny sweet to murder.

After the service, I calmed down a bit. Spotting the preacher by the door, I decided to talk to him about what he said, and tell him that it had been totally unreasonable. That abuse affects something like 1 in 5 people (maybe even more) and that what he said would have been very difficult for many people to hear.

As I talked to him though, it turned out that he had no intention whatsoever of likening sex outside of marriage to child abuse. He hadn’t quite thought through what he had said enough to make the link – it had been a total accident. He accepted my criticism, said he would write it down for the future. And Jimmy Saville had also been one of his childhood heroes.

Instead of me seething throughout the rest of the day, and possibly descending into a place which I might have regretted, I felt alive. I had a life-giving conversation with someone who treated me as a valid conversation partner. And I’m hoping it made a difference for the future.

And whatever, it was another battle won for me. Another time when I didn’t descend into the dark and lonely place from where it seems impossible to escape. And I only hope that when someone gives me friendly criticism, I will be as ready to listen.

“If a brother or sister sins, go and point out the fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” Matt 18:15

Preachers – just don’t go there with Jimmy Saville. It’s not cool, nor is it helpful. And please, read through what you have written before you proclaim it to a congregation…just in case. These things do happen.

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