faith, forgiveness, Jesus, joy, marriage
I have been struggling a lot lately as you know. Forgiveness is a difficult thing for me, and lack of it is one of the most prevalent sins in my life that keeps cropping up again and again. Call it pride, selfishness, whatever you want, I don’t want to forgive someone who has hurt me. Well, today I wasn’t feeling very well, so I stayed home when Travis went to worship. As I have written before, we haven’t been to our church since mid-November, but we’ve been worshiping at another church in the area whose pastor is a friend of Travis. I have been praying earnestly since last night and throughout the morning that God help me with this area of unforgiveness in my life. I’ve been struggling with not wanting to forgive people at church, not wanting to forgive my husband for the role he played in what happened, not wanting to forgive those in authority who do not seem to be protecting us in the way that I want to dictate for them. You see the hypocrisy in my assumptions here. I know it. And add to this the crushing weight of unforgiveness for just about every hurt that has occurred in eight years of marriage. Those of you who are married know what I mean by that – your spouse has the capacity to hurt you in ways that no one else can, and Satan is very good at inserting himself into our marriages and exacerbating those hurts. And I am very good at holding onto them. I’ve built a brick wall around my heart and I don’t let anyone in. That ends today, God willing. I’m terrified and feeling very unsafe, because that wall is what I’ve believed has kept me safe all of these years. It reminds me of the song “Rachel” by Lost and Found. Those of you who are long-time LCMSers will probably know it, especially if you’re part of the camp/university system.
But I don’t look at my situation as hopeless. God can tear down any wall He wants. When Jesus died, He tore the temple curtain in two. I read that this morning as I poured through Scripture. My parents bought us a Treasury of Daily Prayer last year and I have been sporadic in making use of it. It combines a daily set of Scripture readings with other Christian writings and also has other sections with various kinds of prayers and worship supplements. I pulled it out today and turned to the January 24th readings. Apparently today is the day for St. Timothy, and the readings included Psalm 131, Joel 3:1-21, and Romans 12:14-13:14. The Romans passage began with “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” How is it that God always knows what we need to hear at any given time? It always amazes me how He can do that. Then there was a brief passage written by Valerius Herberger. I’ve never heard of this person but I’m sure a more learned theologian than me would know who he is. In the passage he wrote that “on the day of St. Timothy, the Gospel of John 15:9-16 is read.” Needless to say, I pulled out my Bible and turned there next.
9“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command. 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” (Courtesy of Biblegateway.com)
I added the boldface to the two items that stood out for me. First, if you are a long-time reader of this blog (or guessed from the title of it), JOY is a big part of my life. Not the experience of it, per se, but learning to recognize it and experience it. It’s a lesson God has been teaching me in multiple ways. But then verse 13 nailed me. I’ve been so busy making sure that I don’t let other people hurt me that I forgot this truth: love is about self-sacrifice. I have been so unwilling to lay down my life for my husband, let alone anyone else. I know God forgives me for this. But I have been remiss in my duties as a wife in that I haven’t been willing to lay down my wants, my desires, my hurts and anger and even my needs for him. I spent more time thinking it over, how hard that is for me to do, and then God gently reminded me of what Jesus did on our behalf. He DIED. He went to a cross, suffering torment and anguish and DIED so that those who were beating him, mocking him, hurting him, could have life. They were essentially strangers, people that in his human walk he had no relationship with. Then think about the disciples who disowned him, from Peter to Judas and all through the ranks. Think about Paul, who persecuted and killed Christ’s followers. Think about you and me, who turn our backs on God every single day in our sinfulness. And yet Jesus still went through it all to die for every one of us. Who am I to withhold forgiveness, to build a wall of safety around my heart, to stay out of the mess of loving relationships, all in the name of self-preservation?
As I write this, I realize that I need to share all of this with my husband first. So if you see it, it won’t be immediately after I wrote it. I may not publish it at all. But I just had to write this down because of the profound wisdom that God has shared with me about all of this. I have no rights to being comfortable, being happy, having things my way or relishing my self-righteousness. I have the responsibility to lay down my life for my friend, my husband.
bethany actually said:
Stephanie, I feel like such a bad friend. I could have been offering you more support all this while. I have been praying for you, but that doesn’t feel like enough. Forgive me for that, please? You know if you ever need to talk, to get another perspective, I’m just at the other end of the keyboard!
Also, reading this post, one of my favorite passages leapt to mind. I don’t know exactly how it would apply to you, and I am not trying to say anything in particular to you, but sometimes when a verse comes to mind like that I think maybe it’s because God wants you to hear it, that He knows what you’ll get out of it. 🙂 So here you go, 1 John 3:16-20:
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”
I love you, and I’ll be praying for you!
Congratulations, Stephanie, and don’t worry, Bethany! This is an example of the way our Lord works. We fight our battles on our needs and do and say little and eventually, as God says in the letter of my namesake,
James 5:16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous [wo]man can accomplish much.
It is in the fervent and effective prayer that God’s power comes to us individually and collectively to win whatever struggle it is that we are fighting. Holds true for Travis, too – it is a win-win with God.
I know how Bethany feels. I pray at least twice a day sometimes more and it just doesn’t feel like enough. I wish we could talk face to face.
Something that struck me was your reference to JOY as your title. I was at a Fall women’s retreat and Annetta Dellinger talked about Joy. She said “Joy is not in the abscence of problems, but in the presence of GOD”.
I just love this saying. Keep God in the center and the Joy will be there also.