By Linda Rex
September 22, 2019, Proper 20—One of the most painful things I have experienced over the years is going through the consequences of a bad decision or decisions I have made, especially with regards to my significant relationships. It seems as though some consequences never end, even though we may have changed or done our best to make amends for the error done.
We often believe, however incorrectly, that if we just do the right thing from now on, our life will be much better. I’d like to say that is the case, but sometimes we have to go through the hard and messy stuff for a while before we see the benefits of changing the way we live.
The reality is that as broken human beings, our bent is toward doing things in a self-centered, self-preserving, self-fulfilling way. When we discover that life wasn’t meant to be lived with ourselves at the center and try to live a Christ-centered life, we often discover there are shackles and traps we have not seen that we have been caught in that we cannot escape easily and on our own.
As human beings, life can be wonderful, and then it can be hell. Sometimes the hell in our lives is the result of our own choices. Sometimes it is the result of the choices of those around us. Either way, we do have occasions when we wrestle with the ugliness of our broken humanity and the consequences of sin.
Here in the Western world today we do not always see the immediate consequences of our choices. One can live for many years on the edge financially before we finally hit the bottom. A person can play by the rules a long time and successfully hide an addiction, but in due time, the truth will come out, exposing a life of deceit, unfaithfulness, and/or worse.
Some types of our brokenness is socially acceptable and so we see no need to change anything, not realizing the harm we are doing to ourselves or to others. But consequences happen. We will at some point have to deal with the truth about God and about ourselves and come face-to-face with the reality we are not meant to be at the center of everything—Christ is.
The people of Judah came to a place where all they trusted in and counted on was going to be swept away. Starvation, war, enslavement—these were the consequences they were facing. Jeremiah grieved with the suffering of his people. He knew the sin of the people was very grave—unfaithfulness to their covenant God—and the consequences they were beginning to feel would only get worse. Why could they not see the path they were on? Jeremiah mourned—he lamented the fallen condition of his people, longing for their healing and renewal.
What Judah was called by Jeremiah to see was that, just as he shared their pain and suffering, so God also shared their pain and suffering. It was not enough for God to look upon his people from a distance and see them suffering the consequences of their choices. No, at the perfect time, God came and actually entered into the midst of their suffering. God in human flesh in the person of Jesus was Abba’s ultimate answer to the suffering of his people. Even though God’s people could never seem to get things right, still God would come himself and set things right.
Truly, our sinfulness as human beings is a sickness only the divine Physician can heal. The apostle Paul reminds us that Jesus became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. We cannot and do not get ourselves right with God—Jesus came and made us right with God, and makes us right as we trust in his perfect, complete gift of himself in our place and on our behalf.
What we have is a Physician who is also the one who is sick. He became the patient, bearing the full weight of our illness and the consequences of our sin, including death on a cross, and brought us complete restoration and renewal in his very person.
When Jesus rose from the grave and ascended to his Father, he brought our broken humanity to a new place—to the place where by faith we live eternally in union and communion with the Father in the Spirit. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit from his Father so we could share in his perfect relationship with Abba and be able to live the other-centered, Christ-centered lives we were created to participate in.
This does not mean that when we trust in Christ that all the consequences of our failures to love magically disappear. It seems we often have to wrestle with these for years as part of our calling to share in the sufferings of Christ. There are times when God graciously removes the consequences of our choices—healing venereal disease, curing alcoholism, or removing a hunger for cocaine. But this is not always the case. Sometimes our battle against such pulls is the Physician’s very cure and is the means by which he intends us to participate in him providing the cure for others with the same struggle.
The biggest take-away here is, God is present in the midst of our consequences. He may or may not remove or minimize them—we should ask, but accept he may not. He shares our struggle and our pain—as we allow. And when we trust in Christ and are baptized, we are placed within the body of Christ to share this journey with others who are facing the same struggles. We are meant to participate in a spiritual community—a hospital for sinners, you might say—where we are all, as broken human beings, finding our healing and renewal in Christ.
We have a divine Physician who is on call for us 24/7 and who cares about the smallest concern of our lives. We probably ought to listen to him and follow his guidelines for the care of our souls—to feed and nourish properly the temple of the Spirit and our minds and hearts. We probably ought to live the way he created us to live—loving him wholeheartedly and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
But at any moment, no matter the joy or pain, he is present in the Spirit to share what we are going through, to help us bear whatever we face, even if it is the consequences of our bad choices. He never meant for us to go through life alone, but always to be at the center, sharing every part of it with us.
Dearest Abba, thank you for giving us your Son as our on-call Physician, who is always present and available to us at any time. Thank you, Jesus, for coming yourself and bearing our troubles and trials, and freeing us from the shackles of evil, sin, and death on the cross, rising to bring us all to share in your unity with the Father in the Spirit. Turn our hearts to you, Lord Jesus, to trust you in faith. Fill us anew with your Spirit, giving us the heart to live in the truth of who we are as image-bears of our God who is love. Amen.
“I hurt with the hurt of my people. I mourn and am overcome with grief. Is there no medicine in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why is there no healing for the wounds of my people?” Jeremiah 8:21-22 NLT
Yesterday I tried to reach someone at business by phone, but was put on hold. I waited and waited for someone to take me off of hold and to answer what I thought was an important question, but they took a very long time to respond. As I tried to wait patiently, I listened reluctantly to the voice on the line telling me all the positive attributes of the organization and why I should be doing business with them rather than with someone else.
There were a lot of good things said by the recording I was hearing, but after waiting on the line for quite literally an hour, all I really heard was their indifference to their customers. In fact, every couple minutes they would remind me someone would be with me “shortly”. I remarked to my daughter, who was tempering my impatience with reminders to be calm, that apparently their definition of “shortly” was a lot different than my definition of “shortly”.
After another phone call put in a little later during which I was hung up on and then called back and apologized to, I finally got the answer I needed. And I didn’t even think to mention my concern about their definition of “shortly”. I was just happy to have my concerns taken care of.
However, today when I got put on hold with another company, after about 10 minutes of waiting for tech support, I was beginning to wonder about what the word “momentarily” was supposed to mean. The recording told me someone would be with me “momentarily”. I thought “momentarily” meant in just a moment something would happen. I’m beginning to see that I might need to adjust my use of the English language to fit a culture where time has become very relative for some people.
But then again, maybe the problem isn’t with them, but rather with my inner need to have what I want done, done right now and at my convenience rather than theirs. Maybe what needs to change is my view of time and what is really most important in each moment. For me it is the task at hand. But for God, I’m beginning to believe it is instead the relationship I am encountering in that moment.
When I slow down enough to create space in a circumstance for Christ to enter in by the Spirit, I find the capacity to be patient when I have no reason to be patient, and to be gracious when I have every reason to be frustrated and angry. I’ve noticed lately I need to pay closer attention to my response to the situation in which I find myself, and to detach enough I am no longer reacting but am being proactive instead.
I first learned about dealing with inter-relational issues proactively when my children were little and they knew just how to push my buttons. I learned the time to deal with a problem behavior was not after it had occurred and my temper was hot, but before it ever occurred.
Being proactive meant I set a healthy, safe boundary and let them know ahead of time what it was, why it was in place and what the consequence would be for choosing to violate it. And when they pushed the boundary, the consequence was immediate though compassionate and gracious. In this way they could not blame anyone but themselves for having brought the unpleasant result upon themselves by their behavior.
Handling such issues in that order saved all of us from a lot of anger, yelling, and other unhealthy ways of dealing with the problem. And the result was healthier and more pleasant relationships, I believe, and a greater sense of security in my children. They didn’t have to guess at how I was going to respond, nor could they manipulate me into responding the way they wanted me to in order to get their way.
And a lot of times it only took one or two times standing my ground on important issues in this way, and it ceased to be an issue. They just needed to know what it meant to be a part of the family with regards to that particular issue, whatever it was—honoring bedtime rules and being honest and caring with others, for example.
Now at this late juncture in my life I am learning I need to treat myself in the same way—proactively rather than reactively. It works so much better when I plan ahead of time what my response is going to be in a difficult situation instead of allowing it to cause me to be upset, frustrated and angry.
When I make a phone call expecting to be answered immediately, I am put out when I have to sit on hold for an hour before getting the information I need. I could have hung up and called back, but I still would have been on hold. The issue isn’t with the phone call, but with my expectations and my response—I am reacting to the situation, not proactively following the way of love. I am allowing the circumstance, the person on the other line, the poor customer service, to define me and how I am going to respond.
But what really defines me is not that phone call. Nor is it the person who answers or doesn’t answer. What defines me is the Who in whose image I was made. It is the love of God in Christ which I am filled with, led by, and surrounded by. I, and every other person, am made in the image of God Who is love, and Who created us to love and be loved.
So proactively, I respond to this irritating life situation with the love of God in Christ—making space for Jesus to rest between me and the other person I am interacting with. If I just react instead, there is an immediate response directly to the person and to the situation, which leaves very little room for the Spirit to work. God is a whole lot more concerned about us loving him and loving others than he is about us getting our way in one particular instance in our lives. So we need to proactively create space for the Spirit, to allow the Spirit to go to work in every situation.
My daughter and I were talking about the phone call yesterday, and I was reminded again that stress is never the issue—stress does and will happen. It is our response to the stress which happens in our lives which can be the issue rather than the stress itself. Do we make space for God to work? Do we rest in him and seek to build the relationships of love in our lives, or are we merely focused on the task at hand?
How we respond to and deal with stress impacts our mental, emotional and physical health, as well as our spiritual health. I can see I have a new way to put what I have learned into practice in my relationships with God and others by proactively living in love with those who can be and are irritating, thoughtless or indifferent.
I will face challenges to my self-control and my patience and peace of mind, just as everyone else does. But Christ has already provided what is needed in these situations and he lives in you and me by his Spirit. As we invite him into these situations, and slow down in the moment and realize what is most important to him—living in love—we will find the capacity to create space for the Spirit and the ability to be patient, gracious and understanding instead of frustrated, irritated and angry. It is the work he is doing in us and in our lives, and by making room for him to work, we participate with him in the process.
Lord, thank you for your faithful love and grace, and for living in love in us, with us and for us. May we open space up in all our relationships and encounters in daily life for you to do your perfect work, so we may all grow up into the fullness of Christ. In your Name we pray. Amen.
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” Ephesians 5:1–2