It would be years before I came across that reading again and the reminder of a prayer I lost the hope to pray. A prayer that God answered in a way I could never have imagined. My dear ones had not only made peace, but now laughed together and cared for one another.
If you are like me, the mere suggestion that we might say no to a request, particularly in the church, raises all sorts of objections. “I can’t do that – people are counting on me”, we might say. Yet what if this is but a mask? What if our refusal to say no is keeping us from going deeper in our relationship with the Lord? Like Mary sitting at the Lord’s feet, what if Jesus wants us to say no to other demands? What if Jesus is calling people to count on him and not on us?
Jesus calls us to love our enemies, but frankly, I don’t want to. My enemy is my enemy for a reason. Either the individual has hurt me in some way, insulted me and put me down, or they represent a course of action to which I am diametrically opposed. I don’t want to love my enemy; I want to put them in their place. I want to ridicule them and reject them. I want them to experience the hurt and discouragement they have brought into my life.
Slowly but surely, a new foundation of certainty grew. Once I was certain that our God is in fact a good God, and someone who could be trusted, other things fell back into place. I can’t say I understand everything, but that which confuses me are the things I promise to wrestle with.
I once sat with an elderly gentleman who told me that whenever he would step out of line, his father would wag his finger and declare “God will get you for that.” He heard this phrase so often that it stuck with him, becoming the very basis of his picture of God. Despite his years in the church, the countless sermons he listened to, and the hours spent in prayer and ministry, he couldn’t unhear a message of condemnation. It was like a bell that could not be un-rung.
Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt that God blesses everyone else but you? Have you ever felt that, despite your best efforts, you can never climb the spiritual heights needed to “earn” your place in God’s good graces? Henri Nouwen once wrote that the greatest danger to our spiritual lives is our self-rejection.
Henri Nouwen is one of the authors I read a lot from. His words plumb the depths of the spiritual life in profound ways. So, when I started dreaming of my parish's Lenten program for 2022, I knew that I wanted to structure it around the works of Henri Nouwen.
It was uncomfortable to disclose my need for help. It felt awkward and out of place. Didn’t this person have better things to do than mow my lawn? How could I be so foolish! I condemned myself for my selfishness. But that Saturday, he came. There was no frustration in him, no judgement, just the offer of loving help. As I watched him push the mower up and down my lawn, I had a deeper experience of Christ’s love that I have ever experienced.
Forgiving ourselves begins with Christ’s forgiveness. His grace quenches our thirst. He understands our human conditions, creates community, and ultimately calls us to lay down your guilt and regrets. It is finished. We are free.
God’s love is not an emotion which colors our life with rainbows and roses. The love of God doesn’t produce the spiritual equivalent of a school-yard crush. God’s love is deeper than that, more expansive, and more transformative.