Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Great pain... great thanks...
The giving of thanks...
How and when do we do it?
Jesus broke bread and gave thanks on the eve of His death. He did it while surrounded by friends and disciples; one of whom would betray Him for money, one of whom would temporarily deny Him, and all of whom would abandon Him in His greatest hour of need.
I don't get the impression that Jesus was panicky as He lifted His eyes to Heaven and thanked His Father for the Passover Matzoh they were about to eat. Later, in the garden, He would pray through His upcoming ordeal and His agony would be so deep-seated that His sweat glands would burst and produce droplets of blood. So I know He is deeply aware of the ordeal that is coming but I don't see panic in this passage, just a calm knowing and a giving of thanks.
Knowing that Judas would betray Him and knowing that Peter would deny Him, He could have done a number of things. He could have tried to pressure Judas into staying his hand, into not going to the authorities to hand Him over. (And what could be more hurtful than to have a "brother", someone who has walked beside you, broken bread with you, and served you - someone who knows you are innocent - to not just lead the authorities to your private place of prayer but to walk up boldly and give you a brotherly hypocritical kiss? Wouldn't you just want to slap someone who did that to you? I know I would!)
He could have, after Judas left the Passover gathering, said nasty things about Judas to the other disciples. He could have stirred them up to the point that if they didn't stop Judas from betraying Jesus, they would at least have gone out and gotten revenge on Judas afterwards.
But He basically gave thanks to God and then passed out food to His disciples whom, having loved for the past three years, He continued to love right up until the end. And beyond. And in spite of...
I've been hurt. We all have.
Some hurts are so deep that it takes a while to forgive. And even when the pain has subsided to the point where things are bearable, it still takes the supernatural grace of God to wash that bitterness right out of our hearts. In my experience, if the hurt is deep enough, it's not something we can wish away or work away by our own efforts. And it's not something we can sing away while burying it in the dungeon of our innermost being. It has to be acknowledged and it has to be forgiven by His power and it has to be washed away completely by His blood.
Simply put: great pain requires great cleansing from the Great Physician.
Without His cleansing, it's hard - maybe impossible - to truly have a thankful heart. At least, that has been my experience and I am a champion at nursing my wounds and wanting revenge. Sadly, it is something I excel at. If you haven't seen that in me, it's because you either don't know me very well or I've done a good job of hiding it.
So maybe instead of asking how do we give thanks, for me the big question for many years has been how do I extend forgiveness? Like maybe forgiveness 101 is a prerequisite for thankfulness 101...?
I know that God can just flood our hearts with His own love and forgiveness in a moment of time and I've experienced that. But then round two in an ongoing saga of betrayal and conflict comes along and with it, not the thankful breaking of bread with those who would harm me, but the nasty thoughts of revenge and the desire to inflame all my friends against my perceived enemies. Soooo very much unlike Jesus, my Lord.. but there it is. If I told you anything different, I would be lying.
So what did God do over time?
First, He hammered me not once but several times with the injunction to do good to those who have hurt me, to give food to my enemy when he is hungry and drink when he is thirsty. (And maybe also a place for my enemy to rest his head???:) By His grace, reluctantly, hesitantly, I did that. Not because I wanted to but because He kept bringing this to mind until I couldn't wiggle out of it any longer. I either had to do it or disobey Him. (Romans 12:17-21)
And when I did it, although it didn't change the heart of my enemy as far as I could see, it did begin to change mine.
Still, the progress was slow, often coming at a snail's pace.
And then there was the injunction to pray for those who hurt you. Jesus said it so I could hardly ignore it. For some reason, this was harder for me than giving food. Maybe because I knew if I prayed, it would bring God into their picture and I felt pretty sure He wouldn't stop at a meal or a gift card to a restaurant. So, I tried rationalizing the command away but when that wouldn't work, I prayed somewhat nastily: God, break them until they are decent people... And then looked up to Heaven like, "Okay, God. I prayed! Is that enough?"
Ouch! What a contrast to "Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing..."
So we went to the next level. Gradually he brought me to the place where I could grudgingly pray, Father, bless them... and bring justice to them for what they have done to me... =/
Ummmm... Still not there yet but getting warmer! The truth is that during those days, when I would try to ask God to bless them in specific ways, the words would just stick in my craw. However, to my shame, when I wanted to say nasty things about them, the words just flowed and flowed and flowed...
So we went to the next level:) The day came when God enabled me to pray that He would bless them in specific ways.. and mean it. And with those first faltering, un-nasty prayers, came a sense of something different. I knew He was bringing me out of something dark, like a spiritual compost heap - not to put too fine a point on it - into something light, like the joy of His presence. But there is something in me that still sort of likes the dark.. . especially when I am wounded.
It was a two-step forward, sometimes 3 step backwards process within. Basically I was like a yo-yo, first driven by resentment, then arrested by His love, then empowered by His forgiveness, and then sooner or later, sadly, brought back into the fray of "He-said-and-she-said-and-I-didn't-deserve...".
At any rate, I knew He was bringing me along but I also knew there was still a holdout in one corner of my mind. You might say after all this: Come on, Cathie! You're telling me there's still something left!!! After everything He's done for you??? And I would have to say, "Yep, there still was. I call it the Psalm 73 game and it was embedded deep within me. It goes like this: Please bless so-and-so as long as You don't bless them more than me... As a child, I expected things to be ''even/Stephen" - maybe you know what I mean.
Spiritually, I was still a child in this grown-up game, asking God, Okay, whoever tries to do right get's the lion's share of the blessings, right? That's how it works, God. Isn't it??? And since I'm obeying You, asking You to bless them, then I can bank on the fact that You'll bless them.. but not more than You bless me, right?
So, thankfully, He took me to the next level :)
One morning during a quiet time, I felt like Jesus was standing beside me, acknowledging my hurt - He who bears nail prints in His wrists and His feet, put there for my sins - seemed to be asking me gently but firmly if I was ready to see blessing poured out on the ones I considered my enemies. He doesn't need my permission for anything but somehow, I sensed that He was drawing me openly into the process of blessing, asking me point blank if I was willing to be a participant in the blessing and restoration process. At that moment, I realized that I had never really needed revenge at all; I simply needed to know that He understood. It was an ah ha moment that made me wonder how often I am convinced I need one thing when really I need something totally different, something much deeper. I was grateful and told Him I was ready to see the ones I considered my enemies to be restored, to be made whole. That I wanted them to be wrapped in His love and bring joy to His heart.
But there was more. A second encounter during a quiet time. One minute I was meditating on Scripture and the next I sensed that He was asking me a new question, a follow-up question, "Suppose I only have enough blessing to pour out on one family? Which would it be - yours or theirs?" I knew the question was hypothetical, that it wasn't about His capacity to bless - which is unlimited - but about my deep-seated feeling that everything should be "fair and square", that He was really saying, "Cathy, what if I choose to bless them but not you? Would you still love Me then? And would you still allow Me to prayerfully love them through you? Would you still want to see them restored, no holds barred?"
He was presenting me with a major game-changer, a breaking-of-all-the-rules-so-I-can-love-with-abandon type of question. A test, if you will. In my flesh, being a bean counter from infancy, I would never go for this in a million years. But to my surprise I realized that He had already plowed up some more of the hard soil of my heart and actually prepared me for this very moment. I felt His grace and then prayer just bubbled up from deep within me, "Yes, Lord, if You only choose to bless one family financially, let it be theirs and not ours. Yes, Lord, if you so choose to bless just one... let it be them.. and not us..."
This may sound odd to you as it once did to me. But it shouldn't.
The Bible says that when I was hostile to Him, He took my sin and my shame and paid for all of it. With His life. On the cross.
And that was just the first of the many blessings He has poured out on me; I the one who was once His enemy. I, the one, who can still slip back across the demilitarized zone of my heart and become His enemy once again, temporarily. I, the one who gladly takes everything His nail-scarred hand gives and yet grudgingly asks Him to withhold from others whom I dislike.
How do we give thanks?
It's not a simple question but I think the answer lies within another question: how do we forgive?
It seems to me that one can't really come without the other.
And the answer is: we forgive as He forgave and we give thanks as He gave thanks, not always while sitting around a Norman Rockwell table laden with food and smiling friends, but sometimes at an upper room table, containing bread and wine and surrounded by people who would deny us, abandon us,and even betray us.
On the night when He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it... I Corinthians 11:23-24.
I'm so glad He did.