For the last year, Tricia and I have had the blessing and privilege as counselors to walk alongside of a couple who worked through a very sad and painful situation many Christian couples have encountered. They had to trudge through considerable pain and anguish as they headed toward healing together. These folks have been dedicated to the cause Christ for decades, and the fruit they've produced shows the love they had for people. Yet one of them stumbled and very hard work had to be done. They never gave up.
Last night, Jim LaMontagne, Tricia and I got to be part of a celebration of restoration and healing for them in the community they serve. Grace abounded. Mature men and women gathered in solidarity and gratitude for all that Christ had done in their midst to overcome the satanic schemes aimed at this couple and the community. As we worshiped, gave testimony, cried and laughed together, heard a word from God, and gathered around our friends to pray for them, I was struck once again that when we as followers of Jesus actually live the way of the Kingdom with one another, healing, reconciliation and restoration is the outcome.
Putting in the hard work of forgiving and rebuilding relationships is daunting. Doing so means confronting aching fear, and working through deep hurt or betrayal. Trust has to be found and rebuilt. People have to feel safe that when the unthinkable happens and whole communities are effected, the necessary due diligence has been put forth for them to lower their guard. It's all a matter of integrity, faith and spiritual maturity.
These folks did it. It took a year, but they did it.
A sadder reality is, if we don't live the Kingdom way with one another, we easily apply the "one-strike-you're out" rule, especially with our leaders, but not exclusively so. It was in the church I first heard the phrase "we shoot our wounded." In my 25 years as a Christian counselor, I've seen the vile devastation wrought by utter meanness from one Christian toward another, usually with a head held high. Churches are filled with walking wounded. As my friend and imagine cohort Jim likes to say: "we become self-appointed fruit inspectors," always measuring our brethren by standards we can't or don't live ourselves. In those instances, we ignore the rule and way of the Kingdom by pursuing our own selfish inclinations. Friendships, marriages, families, and churches split over such selfishness.
But, last year and last night showed me how Christians should work through the unthinkable with one another. It wasn't perfect or pretty, but it was right.
Here's what I've learned about how the Kingdom actually works in such tough situations when folks actually step up and try hard:
You head full into the pain together.You make sure you have a firm grasp of the facts, not hearsay or self-righteous gossip. That takes time; the dust needs to settle for truth to appear. Ask lot's of questions. Keep your wits about you. Work to share honestly from the heart. Listen hard for the heart of the other, especially the one who has stumbled and is being mangled by shame, guilt, fear, regret, and even self-hatred. Listen well also to everyone drawn in and wounded by what happened. Pray for wisdom and choose to love all the time. Don't jump to conclusions. Persist toward healing and reconciling if the people involved open. Be patient because there will be frightfully high emotions, confusion, anger, and doubt peppered throughout the task. Look to make peace. If and when the matter is resolved, celebrate joyously, and refuse to let the adversary open up old wounds or resentments. It is finished. Keep it that way. You may also have to mourn the loss of brethren who refuse to walk in the Kingdom way because of what happened, even if it didn't happen directly to them. Human sin costs.
The Kingdom principles of grace, healing, reconciliation and restoration are not practiced enough. They are talked about, but when a bomb gets dropped in the middle of things, or people have to wade waist deep through a persisting and painful mess, many abandon the very hard task of living through them, and not giving up when the way is rough. Wisdom, graciousness, and courage disappear. We lose much when we allow that to happen. Moving on without making the effort God requires of us is actually falling backwards.into darkness. It's never worth it.
I've not always lived the Kingdom way in my relationships. In fact, I've failed more than once.Not proud of it. My spiritual immaturity has been a thief and a liar. I'm still growing in this regard. But I'll say with assurance, with grace and good-natured courage, and the Holy Spirit's patient reminding, I'll keep making progress. Last night reaffirmed for me the Kingdom way is the only way that brings real life and hope.