At various times in my life, I have hired people to clean for me. The problem is, they could never organize for me. I would need a staff for that, and even then it’s hard for them to read my mind.
I never noticed until it was time to pack up to move, that I am a collector of cleaning products – especially the ones that promise less scrubbing and heaven by way of the shower door. Somehow, I thought that by buying all these spray bottles and magic cloths I was creating the potential for spotless bliss.
The problem with that plan was this: Stuff must be moved, cleaning products must be applied and removed, and stuff needs to be dusted/washed/polished before being put back in a better place. All of this requires my participation. It was easier to give everything a quick flick of a damp rag, throw stuff I didn’t know what to do with in the storage room, turn off the light, shut the door, and get on with life.
I realize now that the storage room could be a symbol of every out-of-order thing in my life that I never got around to dealing with, until it threatened to avalanche into the living areas. When it was time to move, I felt overwhelmed. No one could do it for me and yet I couldn’t do it all myself. I had to ask for help.
My life has tended to have pockets of denial where broken, dirty, and embarrassing things collect. It’s easy to try to keep denying their existence until someone wants to look in all the dark corners – someone like Jesus.
Here’s the thing. God forgives because of Jesus, but when sin clutter spills out and blocks the way between us, communication is hindered. It’s hard to be perfectly, nakedly, candidly honest before the Lord when you are struggling to keep sin hidden. John the Beloved wrote about it this way:
Here, then, is the message which we heard from him, and now proclaim to you: GOD IS LIGHT and no shadow of darkness can exist in him. Consequently, if we were to say that we enjoyed fellowship with him and still went on living in darkness, we should be both telling and living a lie. But if we really are living in the same light in which he eternally exists, then we have true fellowship with each other, and the blood which his Son shed for us keeps us clean from all sin. If we refuse to admit that we are sinners, then we live in a world of illusion and truth becomes a stranger to us. But if we freely admit that we have sinned, we find God utterly reliable and straightforward—he forgives our sins and makes us thoroughly clean from all that is evil. For if we take up the attitude “we have not sinned”, we flatly deny God’s diagnosis of our condition and cut ourselves off from what he has to say to us. (1 John 1:5-9 Phillips)
Confession means admitting we have a sin problem. God forgives and cleanses us, but we need to be bravely honest and ask him to take away all the junk hidden in our hearts. I love a clean house, but a clean heart even more.
I thought I had forgiven, but it was hard. Every time some innocuous thing triggered a painful memory, I prayed hard to forgive again.
I thought I had forgiven, but I hadn’t. I forgave them for bumping into me and knocking me off balance. “There were extenuating circumstances,” I reasoned. “I’m sure they didn’t mean it.”
I thought I had forgiven, but I hadn’t. I thought I was just knocked over, but I wasn’t.
I couldn’t ignore the damage done. I had been trampled, broken. My trust lay in the dust in too many shattered pieces to fix. Even the desire to be the good person in this scenario was not a strong enough glue to hold my heart together. I wanted revenge. I wanted payback!
I made up an invoice and looked squarely at the cost of repercussions from their actions that played out for years.
“Oh God,” I cried. “This is too much! I can’t get by without what they owe me!”
“Take your hands off their throats,” He said. “I forgave you. When I was on the cross, I said ‘Tetelestai.’ It was finished. Done. All legal requirements met. I paid your debt. I paid their debt. Take your hands off their throats. Give up any expectation that they will someday apologize or give what they owe.”
“But how am I to live?”
“Empty your hands so I can fill them. I am your provider. I will give you everything you need.”
“Listen, beloved, I am telling you the truth.
I will give you what you need. I will even give you the trust you need to trust Me.
I give you My love first, so you can then love.
It all comes from Me.
It always has.”
Creative Meditations for Lent, Prompt word: Forgive
Not everyone is there yet, but many health officials around the world are starting to talk about life post-pandemic. I don’t think we are prepared for this any more than we were prepared for the unlabelled corona virus when it first spread across our continent. It may take a while to let go of the sense of being on high alert that has ruled our decisions for the past how many? … too many months.
I’m choosing to write about what I think we may see shortly because I feel qualified. I’m a triple vaxxed, law-abiding, “extremely vulnerable” senior who is ready to move on. I’m in the category of people all these measures were supposedly taken to save and I say thank you and I say enough now. It’s time to start thinking about approaching this differently. In my life I’ve seen financial reversals, tornados, floods, wildfires, near-death experiences, and the post-crisis crises with PTSD symptoms that inevitably played out later.
We have been focussed on survival because we needed to be. We are now accustomed to seeing signs on doors and walls reminding us to mask, distance, and isolate. We’ve heard public service announcements on every speaker reminding us that danger lurks everywhere. As images of hundreds dying in the hallways of hospitals popped up on our screens, we needed to be aware of how our choices affect other people – and how other people’s choices affect us.
Some people were better than others at adapting and not letting the fear get to them, but we all face another big adjustment soon. Even countries that enforced extremely controlling regulations are beginning to admit that the current highly contagious, but less lethal variant means the virus cannot be by eliminated like smallpox was. The health minister in my province, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has said, “We have to change our way of thinking.”
The reality is we are now dealing with a virus that is still very serious to some but merely disrupting and unpleasant for most. The time is approaching to come out of our caves and learn to live with it in our midst like we live with the flu and the common cold.
When the day is finally here I expect there will be a time of celebration for those of us who survived. But there will also be shock and mourning as we start seeing the devastation both the disease and measures taken to stop it have caused around us.
Every day we have seen statistics on case numbers and deaths. What we haven’t seen are daily statistics on businesses lost, case numbers on anxiety and depression, suicides and accidental overdose, bankruptcies and homelessness, and numbers on massive increases in personal and national debt.
We have not yet reckoned with the number of people in mourning for those who died, marriages that have crumbled under the stress, school-aged children who have missed quality education or opportunities for training in extracurricular sports and arts programs, and university students who failed to make important social connections on campus as they instead watched zoom lectures alone in the basement.
For many struggling people, savings for retirement or higher education or down payments on first homes have slipped away and left only a vague memory. Trust in institutions and authorities has similarly faded as questions arise about whose best interest motivated decisions. Some of the mess we will see when our eyes adjust to sunlight ain’t gonna be pretty.
Recently, I have become aware of so many people who have mourned the loss of loved ones during lockdowns without hospital visits to say goodbye, funerals to honour, or the person-to-person comfort we once knew how to give. Some have told me they still need closure. As well as a time of celebration I think we are going to need a time of mourning for those lost not only to the pandemic, but those lost to the consequences of lockdowns, travel restrictions, and quarantines.
We haven’t begun to count the cost of delayed medical diagnosis and treatment. My own scans and appointments with my oncologist and other specialists were delayed by up to nine months –and this was at a time when our local hospital had few, if any, covid cases. I’m good enough for now, thanks for asking, but I know whereof I speak. The wait wasn’t easy. Others have suffered much more than I have. My daughter grieves for a friend who died of cancer that was diagnosed far too late due to postponements.
I believe that our whole country, as well as most others, will soon face a time of mourning if they haven’t already. Not everyone will experience the stages of shock, denial, anger, depression, and acceptance at the same time, nor to the same degree, but we might see a lot of people experiencing feelings of anger or depression at the same time. Tread gently.
My own anger was triggered the other day by the sight of dirty discarded masks in a parking lot. It took me a while to realize it wasn’t about the stupid masks. It was about what they represented – all the inconvenience, fear, feeling unheard, and feeling pushed into choosing sides when I could see more than one side. It was about living in unnatural isolation and loneliness without seeing my sons and daughters-in-law or some of my grandchildren for over two years. It was about not being able to say goodbye to friends. It was about the pain of trying to communicate in a cyberworld with people who could be nastier than I ever realized. It was about too much and too little.
It was about grief. I cried and eventually found peace again. Who knew the sight of a muddy mask in the gutter could evoke so much emotion?
Some people are experiencing the first exciting glimpses of hope that this war may soon be over. Many others are already experiencing the anger stage of grief and are standing up and shouting “Enough!” I am one.
Someone told me that anger is a secondary emotion. It’s like a fix engine light on the dashboard of vehicle. It doesn’t tell us what exactly is wrong, just that something is wrong. Something is not working. Ignoring anger, stifling it, or legislating it away will not work. We are going to have to work through this emotion stuff or we risk even greater division, distrust, and more demonstrations of deep pain than we have thus seen.
Historically, the years after pandemics have involved great upheaval. Anger after tragic loss seeks someone to blame. People will start looking for those responsible for “poisoning the well” like they did after previous plagues. Those who could be in the line of fire may try to redirect blame or even become persecutors of scapegoats themselves. It could turn nasty.
OR people can make one more big voluntary sacrifice of personal rights. After the reckoning and counting the cost, we can choose to extend forgiveness. We can move toward reconciliation. Reconciliation goes beyond forgiveness. Reconciliation requires transparent honesty and the willingness to seriously listen to folks from on all sides, but I believe it is possible.
So, what am I saying? Love.
Love is what I am saying. Love is the way out of this mess.
We have got to get our love on. Without love we aren’t going to make it through this next phase intact.
Whether you believe Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, a prophet, or just a good teacher, his teaching of love instead of hate, forgiveness instead of revenge, kindness instead of greed, and hopefulness instead of hopelessness is the only thing that will revive our souls and allow us to live in the light again.
When I was in Jr. High I sang a duet with a classmate for the opening of Confederation Park in Calgary. (He later became a “Crazy Canuck” skier and won the World Cup Ski Championship – how Canadian!) Some of the songs we sang came back to me today, especially the concluding line of the Canada Centennial song by Bobby Gimby. My prayer is that soon we will grieve the loss, heal the rifts, and sing,
Merrily we roll along, together all the way! Ensemble!
It’s strange the way darkness displaces a little more light every day in the north. I’ve been so busy I didn’t notice the dawn slowly shift from behind the eastern mountains to rise, lazily, beside the ridge of hills much further to the south. Yesterday I needed to turn on my headlights at 3:30 in the afternoon. How did it get so dark so fast?
I have a light on my desk that imitates sunlight. It produces “lux” sufficient to cheer my writing space, but little more. If I were to aim it out my window into the blackness it would scarcely draw the attention of anyone stumbling in the dark street. It’s enough to change my room but not enough to make an impact beyond it.
One of the best opening sentences of any novel (prove me wrong) is Dickens’ “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” Today I feel if I wrote, “It was the darkest of times; it was the brightest of times.” many of you would understand.
I don’t want to be accosted by the news anymore. It’s not just a matter of avoiding the pain of another disaster, another riot, another variant, another death count, another public breach of trust, another grab for power in the guise of “public service.” (“No one jostles for the position of servant,” Gayle Erwin reminds us). I don’t want to pay so much attention to the news on any media because it involves so many people promoting problems by yelling higher and louder than they did the last time their attempts at playing God didn’t work. Very few are listening. Animosity escalates. Our best efforts are not enough. And it’s getting dangerous to say so. How did it get so dark so fast?
I had a vision the other evening. (Take it or leave it. I’ve stopped apologizing.) I saw crowds of people coming from all directions toward a small circle with light emanating from the center. Tired bodies were dressed in dark clothes. Everyone had slumped shoulders and moved without swinging their arms. Some shuffled along as if in pain, but they were all drawn by curiosity to see this strange light. Some pushed their way to the front. I was one of them.
The light emanated from a baby in a manger. I watched him turn into a boy discussing matters of importance with religious leaders baffled by his enlightened insight. He grew into a man creating with carpenter’s tools in his hands. I saw him touching, healing, teaching, caring, and leading as crowds of followers grew. With every action the light around and within him shone brighter. The whole story was told in light I can’t explain. Then I saw him being taken away and murdered on a cross. His body was left in a sealed tomb. The light in the circle suddenly died.
A moan went up from the crowd. It was as though their greatest fear, the fear of disappointment, had been realized.
Then the light walked out of the grave and expanded as he rose until it was too bright for the onlookers to see. The light rose to fill the whole earth. It spread in ripples, and as it did tens, then hundreds, then thousands spontaneously fell to the ground and bowed in worship. I looked and saw costumes and masks drop. I saw ceremonial and honorary robes of all kinds fall to the ground as people bowed in humble adoration.
I realized that Jesus Christ was at the center of all of this. I watched as a chalice appeared where he stood and became a fountain. Out of him flowed light, hope, healing, forgiveness and love, pure love in the form of blood. It was as if many people were overwhelmed by his presence and, really seeing him for the first time, knew he was the answer to the darkness within themselves.
I saw selfish ambition, mockery, slander and mischief slink away as if they found the light too painful to bear.
Later that night, as I walked home under dark clouds, I thought of all the Christmas songs that talked about waiting in darkness and about the baby who came to bring light into the world. On the first day of advent an obscure verse from the ancient hymn “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel” played in my heart.
O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer Our spirits by Thine advent here Disperse the gloomy clouds of night And death’s dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.
Emmanuel means “God with us.” Before this happened I had been praying about how to pray in these dark days. I believe God was showing me the importance of keeping Christ at the center of everything I do. I pray for new life to spring up as his light shines in the darkness and makes an impact beyond my own little corner.
After Paul the apostle came down from his intellectual discussions with philosophers on Mars Hill (which impressed only a few people) he ended up in Corinth. He wrote this about the experience with the people there: My brothers and sisters, when I first came to proclaim to you the secrets of God, I refused to come as an expert, trying to impress you with my eloquent speech and lofty wisdom. For while I was with you I was determined to be consumed with one topic—Jesus, the crucified Messiah.I stood before you feeling inadequate, filled with reverence for God, and trembling under the sense of the importance of my words.The message I preached and how I preached it was not an attempt to sway you with persuasive arguments but to prove to you the almighty power of God’s Holy Spirit.For God intended that your faith not be established on man’s wisdom but by trusting in his almighty power. (1 Corinthians 2:1-4)
My eloquent speech and lofty wisdom plus ten dollars will get you on any subway in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. But the Holy Spirit? His signs point to the Light. As circumstances become darker, the light shines brighter and brighter. This time we’re in? It may be the darkest of times, but it is also the brightest of times. Consider the Light.
O God in Zion, to you even silence is praise! You are the God who answers prayer; all of humanity comes before you with their requests.
Though we are overcome by our many sins, your sacrifice covers over them all. And your priestly lovers, those you’ve chosen, will be greatly favored to be brought close to you. What inexpressible joys are theirs! What feasts of mercy fill them in your heavenly sanctuary! How satisfied we will be just to be near you!
You answer our prayers with amazing wonders and with awe-inspiring displays of power. You are the righteous God who helps us like a father.
Everyone everywhere looks to you, for you are the confidence of all the earth, even to the farthest islands of the sea.
What jaw-dropping, astounding power is yours! You are the mountain maker who sets them all in place.
Psalm 65: 1-7 TPT
I am learning that prayer is not a work we do to impress God. Prayer is not duty. Prayer is not telling God what to do as if he is our servant. Prayer is definitely not manipulating God with fine flattering speeches or dramatic displays of emotional super-religiosity. These things may impress the people around us, but they do not impress God.
What impresses God is faith — believing he is who he says he is and trusting in his love.
Prayer is daring to come close to God in faith and humility and naked honesty. Sometimes, when we pour out our hearts, words flow. Sometimes we sit in silence not knowing what to say. In these moments, the Holy Spirit speaks our hearts when we can’t. In these moments the Holy Spirit speaksto our hearts in the sounds of stillness.
Prayer is just being near him and knowing that no matter what, he loves us like no one else ever can.
Don’t follow after the wicked ones or be jealous of their wealth. Don’t think for a moment they’re better off than you.
They and their short-lived success will soon shrivel up and quickly fade away like grass clippings in the hot sun. Keep trusting in the Lord and do what is right in his eyes. Fix your heart on the promises of God and you will be secure, feasting on his faithfulness.
(Psalm 37:1-3 TPT)
This is a put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is morning. I’m off to pay a bill. A very large bill – more than I get in pension for a month. It’s the result of failing to read the well-hidden small print that negated previous promises.
I’ve wrestled with feeling betrayed and wanted to respond in like manner by refusing to pay.
I asked the Lord what I should do. Psalm 37 was my scheduled reading for today.
I feel the Lord is telling me that the problem is not the size of the bill. It’s my fear of lack. Forgiveness gets us back on the road where trust for God’s provision is concerned. Succumbing to the temptation to do business “the way business is done” doesn’t increase a sense of security in the long run. It’s doing what is right in his eyes that brings freedom.
I have learned that God’s faithfulness is greater than any maneuverings I might come up with. Instead I choose to do what is right and place my trust in the One who has always cared for me. His provision graces us with a security much greater than a pension check.
Laughter in the rain, walking hand in hand under stormy skies. Here we go.
My heart, O God, is quiet and confident. Now I can sing with passion your wonderful praises!
Awake, O my soul, with the music of his splendor-song! Arise, my soul, and sing his praises! My worship will awaken the dawn, greeting the daybreak with my songs of praise! Wherever I go I will thank you, my God. Among all the nations they will hear my praise songs to you. Your love is so extravagant it reaches to the heavens, Your faithfulness so astonishing it stretches to the sky! Lord God, be exalted as you soar throughout the heavens. May your shining glory be shown in the skies! Let it be seen high above all the earth!
(Psalm 57:7-11 TPT)
One of the hardest challenges some of us face is forgiving ourselves. When we can’t forgive ourselves it’s hard to imagine that our heavenly Father does.
I should know better by now. I feel the urgency of the hour. Time becomes more precious, yet easier to waste as I grow older. I give in to self-pity. Negative thinking inevitably leads to conclusions that leave God’s extravagant love out of the picture and end up in a vortex of catastrophic projections.
I hear his voice gently whispering, “You! Eyes here. Look at me! My strength is made perfect in weakness. My strength, not yours. Your weakness, not mine. I’ve got this.”
I see the morning light in a corner of the sky.
“I’m sorry. I was wrong. I know you do,” I tell him.
“I forgive you. Now forgive yourself and let’s start again. It’s a new day and I love you. Do you hear me? I really, really love you.”
Thank you. I trust you, Lord.
Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed your hand has provided. Great is your faithfulness, Lord, unto me.
One evening, as a group of us sat around talking about films we enjoyed, films we hated, and films that influenced us (categories which are not mutually exclusive), we noticed the theme of revenge kept popping up. Of course, somebody did an internet search.
The results shocked us.
We didn’t find 72 films with revenge themes. We found a 72 page-long list of movies based on revenge.
We looked up films with forgiveness themes. We found far fewer. Far, far fewer. A handful of pages. Maybe.
I admit to finding vicarious satisfaction in seeing a well-developed antagonist shot down in flames, hoisted on his own petard, humiliated in front of her ladies’ club, or hung on gallows built for the protagonist. Payback is sweet. I read calls for it every day on social media.
But God’s justice is not satisfied with unhappy endings like that. God takes a thief like Zacchaeus and transforms him into a benefactor. He turns a murderer like Moses into a deliverer, a world dominator like Nebuchadnezzar into a humble worshipper, and a persecutor like Saul into an apostle.
Perhaps that’s why he told us not to take vengeance into our own hands. Our self-righteous, untransformed concept of revenge-based justice would influence us to end the story too soon. We would spoil his fun.
And part of that fun is transforming me. And you.
Your justice is like the majestic mountains. Your judgments are as deep as the oceans, and yet in Your greatness, You, O Eternal, offer life for every person and animal.
(Psalm 36:6 The Voice)
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (Psalm 51:7 NASB)
The word I’m contemplating today is clean. It’s ironic that quoting this phrase from Psalm 51 brings up memories of condemnation because of guilt by association.
When I was a young teenager I went to my friend’s church. The speaker that morning was a missionary with their denomination who worked in Africa. I remember him railing against the missionaries with my family’s denomination. Their crime? They sang a song including the line, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall become white as snow.” He interpreted this as insensitive, blatant racism.
I felt defensive and ashamed at the same time – as a child does when confronted by an attack on her own tribe and who realizes the attacker could be partially right. I had never considered that metaphors carry different meanings to different people, or that someone could take this literally. Did they really think the song could mean ‘Come to Jesus and he can make your skin just like my vastly superior white skin?” If so, that would be horribly insensitive.
When she found out which church I usually went to, my friend’s sister spat out, “Literalist!” I looked down at my pink skin with its random brown polka dots and wondered where the term ‘white’ came from. I certainly wasn’t white as snow. I guess I wasn’t a very good literalist either.
In dream interpretation, symbols can be very personal. If dogs are mangy, snarling, scavengers in your neighbourhood, a dog showing up in your dream will carry a different connotation than if you grew up in a place where dogs curl up on laps and eat organic puppy food from their human’s hand.
The symbol of snow can carry different meaning as well. I live in a place where dazzling white snow makes you reach for sunglasses. I also tire of snow. I haven’t seen a blade of green grass in months. The snow shovelled onto piles by the sidewalk in front of my house is not exactly pure white right now. Between the sand flung from passing trucks, evidence of healthy digestive systems left by passing animals, and the absorption of dullness from a dismal grey sky, the view from my window is not particularly inspiring. Snow can be dazzling, as it was when I captured the moment in the photo above, but at the moment, snow carries a different connotation for me.
Snow falls in the Middle East far less often than it does here. Perhaps people who live in warm climates regard snow as a strange white wonder. I don’t know. I don’t live there.
The people behind the development of The Passion Translation phrased this passage differently in their attempt to accurately capture David’s feelings when confronted by his own hidden sin.
I know that you delight to set your truth deep in my spirit. So come into the hidden places of my heart and teach me wisdom. Purify my conscience! Make this leper clean again! Wash me in your love until I am pure in heart. Satisfy me in your sweetness, and my song of joy will return. The places within me you have crushed will rejoice in your healing touch. Hide my sins from your face; erase all my guilt by your saving grace. Create a new, clean heart within me. Fill me with pure thoughts and holy desires, ready to please you.
Sometimes we miss a writer’s or speaker’s point because our minds snag on the way something is expressed in the process of getting to the main point. If we are expecting to hear something offensive, we will hear insults. If we are looking for negative messages, they will be projected like grey sky on a pile of snow. We tend to see what we are looking for.
Deep places of the heart post guards around pain. Defensiveness seeks to disqualify the light from revealing pain or shame. When we have our guard up we can miss the sweetness and joy that comes from knowing we are forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness. We miss knowing true tender love from Abba Father when we keep him at a distance.
There is more. There is love, joy, peace and deep healing available when we turn to our maker and ask him to create a clean heart in us.
He is willing.
While I reminisced about my youth, a song from the 70s began to play in my head. Apt, considering today’s theme.
*In a case of amusing timing, I just learned from the results of a DNA test one of my adult kids received, that I passed on some Nigerian genes to my progeny. I’m even less white than the missionary assumed.
Politics deals with externals: borders, wealth, crimes. Authentic forgiveness deals with the evil in a persons heart, something for which politics has no cure. Virulent evil (racism, ethnic hatred) spreads through society like an airborne disease, one cough infects a whole busload. When moments of grace do occur, the world must pause, fall silent, and acknowledge that indeed forgiveness offers a kind of cure. There will be no escape from wars, from hunger, from misery, from rancid discrimination, from denial of human rights, if our hearts aren’t changed.