Three posts back I wrote about learning to walk...Chloe, my sweet toddling inspiration was at my house yesterday. Last week she was barely making a few steps, and now she is puttering around fairly well. I was hoping to encourage you (and me) to keep that imagery in mind when considering God's people learning to walk in His ways. It does us good to cheer each other on, and to be there to help each other back up when we go down. Sounds good, right? Then I wrote about forgiveness...it doesn't come easy (like anger, bitterness and revenge), but Jesus gives us what we need (an ocean of mercy purchased with His blood) in order to forgive those who sin against us.
But what if we want to help someone up, and being filled with gratitude for the ocean of mercy we've received from God we stand ready to forgive every offense, even the incredibly painful ones, but the offender refuses the help? What if they have fallen down and they don't want to get up? What if they argue that they haven't fallen at all and they are walkin' just fine, thank you very much? What if they are choosing an idol over God and nothing you do or say seems to register? What if it is your spouse, or your child, or a parent, or a close friend? People experience raw pain in this life...these sorts of scenarios play out in our lives and in the lives of those we love. I know (in part). Excruciating does not come close to describing it. I bet every one who reads this knows what I am talking about. Maybe your spouse is threatening divorce. Or maybe there is ongoing unresolved conflict that has created a very odd living arrangement for the rest of you in the house. Or maybe you have a child who thinks you're old fashioned and that God is perfectly fine with them shacking up with someone. The list of possibilities is very long. You'd be the rare exception if at some point in your life, either you or someone close to you has not had your heart ripped open and trampled on in this ongoing, no easy fix sort of way.
My son asked me to read from 1 Samuel 8 this morning. The kids and I sat around the kitchen table doing just that. It told us about how Samuel's sons did not walk in his ways. The elders came to Samuel and said they wanted him to appoint a king for them like the nations round about them. This was nothing short of a rejection of God as their king. Samuel knew this and he was not happy about it. God confirmed it in verse 7: "And the Lord said to Samuel, 'Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.'" Of course the people didn't see it that way. God told Samuel to warn them, but also to heed their voice, which is what Samuel did. He had to entrust them all to God as he watched them all fall down, refusing to get up.
People fall down, and it is good for us to reach out to them with grace-filled hands. Forgiveness does not come easy, but God gives us all we need. But if someone rejects our help and refuses to repent, reaching out and forgiving doesn't bring the peace we long for. Like Samuel, we can pray and entrust them to God. We can pursue peace, but we have limits (Romans 12:18 tells us "as much as depends on you, live peaceably")...other people make choices. Psalm 120 expresses the anguish of one whose peace pursuing life is not reciprocated: "In my distress I cried to the Lord, and He heard me. Deliver my soul, O Lord...Woe is me...My soul has dwelt too long with one who hates peace. I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war."
When we don't know how to take the next breath, God hears our cries. As far as it depends on us, let us pursue peace. Let us reach out with grace-filled hands. Let us forgive as Christ forgave us. And let us entrust those we love to the only One who can change hearts. We may not know the next step to take, but we have the promise of God that He will never forsake us. He will lead us, one step at a time. He is the Light in the darkness. Let us follow Him, even when it hurts, even when our life feels overwhelmingly disoriented and we fear the sun will never shine again. Take the next breath He gives...He is holding your hand and will not let you go in the dark.
If you know someone is going through a hard time like this, walk with them. Be present. Listen with a gentle and merciful spirit when they are speaking out of raw pain. Tell them you love them and mean it. Hope for them when they are feeling hopeless.