Why I love the body of Christ – forgiving friendship

Yesterday, I wrote about a friend of mine who has an amazing testimony of redemption and transformation.  Today, I’d like to tell you a story…

Once upon a time there were two friends.  For years, they shared life together.  One day, massive heartbreak occurred.  The friendship dissolved.  Time passed, but not without the lacing of an occasional, short hello or semi-genuine smile when we saw one another. It never grew less awkward.

Boundary lines were drawn and mutual friends were lost.  My name was dishonored, and at times I felt extremely alone.  Betrayed.  Unloved.  Forgotten.

During this time, I sought God as my refuge.  He and I dealt with my heartache.  He taught me how to be okay, even if life around me wasn’t fully okay.  He became known to me as my God of sanity.  Still, there was a sense of awkwardness stirring.  Things were unsettled between my friend and me.  I had done what I could to seek amicable relations, yet I felt powerless to do anything more as I no longer had a dog in the fight.

I let my friend go – partially because I will never force anyone be with me who doesn’t want to, and partially because I could not control any of this, including her feelings toward me.

Years passed.

Recently, to my surprise, I received a phone call from her.  Just to hear her voice on my voicemail caught me off guard.  I had no earthly idea why she called because our lives have not overlapped for a long time.  Before I was able to return her call, I ran into her at church.  I began with an immediate apology for not returning her call yet due to life barraging me with wave after wave of relentless issues to deal with all at once.

She simply took my hand, and with tearful eyes, began to apologize to me.  I was taken back at her sincerity, genuineness and humility.  She was visibly, transparently broken. She told me that God used a recent sermon to convict her so heavily regarding me that she could not carry this weight one more step.  The words she used were extremely powerful to me…

Although I have always loved you, I have not loved you well.  I am sorry.

When she said that, it was like cool water to a thirsty soul.  Over time, I had worked things through with God to overcome my grief, anger and sheer shock of events, but I had no idea how much good it would do for my heart to hear her words.

Her husband stood with us as she offered her apology several times.  I told her with amazement, Your countenance is different.  You have a softness about you that I haven’t seen in years.  She replied through tears, Thank you.  I needed to hear that. 

It was a beautiful moment between two people.  God had surely done a huge work in her heart.  It was visible in many ways.

Her apology is one I never thought would happen. You know how it goes – hurts happen, time passes, life goes on, the subject gets dropped, feelings get stuffed and we smile as if nothing ever happened while a sting pierces our heart – but we hide it well.

This is not how God intended it to be with people, particularly within the body of Christ. He has set forth rules for handling life’s sticky situations, and Christians are, therefore, held to a higher standard.  I totally get that, but what I think the world doesn’t understand is that we are human, very human.  Christ lives in us, but we have free will to choose our behavior.  We want to please God, but we wrestle incessantly with our human nature that is selfish on all counts.

Paul wrote about this in Romans 7:14-25.  It takes everything in us, but it is only with God’s help, we live the way He wants us to live.  Our spirit knows the Truth, but our flesh craves a human response.

Delightfully, because God had worked with me to forgive her a long time ago, I was freely able to extend that forgiveness to her with no strings attached.  That’s what felt so incredible!  She and I came at this from two different vantage points, but because God was the common thread, He wove us together in His mercy and grace.

I can say with a sincere heart that all is well.  It was a biblical moment that superseded our humanness.

Just last week, I read the headlines of a national magazine that so-and-so will never forgive so-and-so and that she has written her off forever.  I thought to myself how sad that was.  Forever is a long time.  And, for Christ-followers, we will share forever together so we’d better learn how to get along now!

Are either of us, my friend or me, perfect people?  No.  Do we have perfect lives?  No.  Do we serve a perfect God, who took the time while ruling the universe, to reach down and mend a relationship among the 6+ billion people who walk this planet?  Yes.

It was a miraculous moment.  Honestly, I had given up hope that anything like that would ever occur.  Her heartfelt actions and words refreshed my hope that the seemingly impossible is possible with God.  Everything is possible with God (Mark 10:27).

Had we not been believers, trying to live according to God’s ways, our story would end with the same headline of being written off forever.  Not so with God.  Who would have thought?

Being a part of the body of Christ means we are intertwined in each others’ lives.  We are – family.  We have a Heavenly Father to whom we are accountable for our actions.  The world says to be our own god and make our own rules and answer to no one.  The only place that gets us is alone, because it’s all about us, right?

Christians may not always get it right.  We live under a microscope of cynicism from the world who waits for us to get tripped up in our faith journey.  Yep.  It’s going to happen. We are sinners saved by grace.  But, the difference is that with God, we get a chance to start again.

His forgiveness is the only kind that lasts.   If we forgive on a human level, we are bound by conditional love – which is hyper-temperamental and unreliable.  We forgive out of our finite capacity based on our personalities and life experience.  However, God’s forgiveness is based on what has been given to us – divine forgiveness through Christ’s sacrifice for our sin.  And that is an unconditional, endless supply to offer others.

Do we wrestle with emotions?  You bet.  In the course of my life, it has just about killed me to offer forgiveness in certain circumstances, and I will not write that I have perfected the area of offering divine forgiveness.  But, through this experience with my friend, God has poured streams of living hope into my soul – an unexplainable optimism – that where we give up and come to the end of ourselves, God says, Finally!  Now let me carry it the rest of the way.

I love being part of the body of Christ.  Why?  It works.  God’s way works.  Not according to world’s standard because good guys finish last, right?  But, according to God’s standard, we can have unshakable peace, audacious faith, and irrational joy – and we get to share these hidden treasures with other believers who have also discovered them along their faith journey.

God’s way is hard.  Really hard.  But, it’s the right way.  The world’s way of dealing with broken relationships is broken itself.  Grudges drain energy.  Unforgiveness poisons the soul.  Ongoing anger turns bitter.  Relationships end, but the hurt never stops.  I’ll take the hard, but beneficial, way any day.  Christians still have feelings to work through, we’re not robots, but laying them at the feet of the One who carried the cross of my shame, I am free to trust His system of perfect love.  After all, at any moment, I may be the one asking for forgiveness.

Even though I am imperfect, I can love with God’s perfect love.  Where what I have within myself ends, He begins and carries the baton of righteousness and godliness for me – holding my hand as we run the race.  Helping.  Cheering.  Instructing.  I am never alone. Neither is anyone who calls on His name.  I have my friend back again and we have both been changed in the process – hopefully to more resemble the One who created us.  God is our Redeemer, Restorer and Reconciler.  We are thankful.

If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared. ~ Psalm 130:3-4

***

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. ~ Ephesians 4:2-3

***

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. ~ Matthew 5:22-23

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Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. ~ Ephesians 4:32

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Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?  Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” ~ Matthew 18:21-22

***

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. ~ Colossians 3:12-13

 

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