When the Gospel Works
When was the last time you got a phone call from a friend, weeping because she hurt you? That happened to me this weekend when an old friend named Lydia called to apologize.
You see, I had spoken with her earlier in the day, and some of the things she said really cut me. Now, she didn't mean to do that - she didn't even know they had that effect. So it wasn't her fault; if anything, it was probably mine. I tend to be pretty open around friends, especially in regards to my struggles. And that's usually a good thing, but the problem is when you open your heart up to others, you almost always end up getting burnt sooner or later.
In this case, I said one thing, she heard another, and we both ended up speaking past one another with very painful results. And I took it personally because I turned to a friend for consolation and felt like I got attacked instead.
Now this type of thing happens all the time in relationships, but it seems particularly frequent in the church. I think there are two reasons for this: a) people in the church are generally needy (they realize they don't have it all together), b) people in the church are generally struggling with their sin (after all, Jesus came to call sinners, not the righteous).
Put those two things together - weakness and sin - and you get what a pastor friend of mine calls "the plumbing." Its all the crap that goes on in the church - the politics, the broken relationships, the personal wrongs...you name it, the church has got it. And the church is often judged and rejected precisely on this account. Sin tends to make itself a public thing.
What we often fail to see, however, are the many places where the church actually works - where sinners saved by God's grace actually overcome their sin, where God restores relationships. We don't see it, because many of the triumphs happen behind closed doors, out of the public eye. If I wasn't sharing this right now, you would never, ever know about it. You might never see how God moved to restore this relationship.
You see, when Lydia's words cut me, I had two choices:
1. "absorb the blow" and pretend like nothing ever happened
2. tell her how I felt and risk further misunderstanding and hurt
Most of us tend to opt for the former, because it's less risky. When we get hurt, the last thing we want to do is go back for more. So we pull back, we protect ourselves, we put up a shell around us and make mental notes not to say certain things around certain people. And when we do that, we actually kill relationship with those around us because we begin living as if the only way they will accept is if I conform to a certain standard.
Yesterday, I risked a lot. I emailed Lydia and said, "hey, you need to know that some of the things you said really hurt; I'm not asking you to do anything about it, I just want you to know how it made me feel." And I really didn't know what to expect.
What I got completely surprised me - within minutes of reading my email, she was on the phone in tears because she had hurt me. She knew she hadn't meant to, and I knew it too, but the fact of the matter is that it did hurt (mostly because of my own sin) - and here she was, dropping everything, calling to apologize and reaffirm her friendship for me.
I probably won't remember the specific words she spoke in that conversation. But I will never forget the message conveyed in her actions, tears, and tone. She was my friend first and foremost - she was FOR me!
And that, my friends, is the gospel at work in the lives of believers. We screw up, we hurt one another, but there is always forgiveness and restoration when we preach the gospel to ourselves and care enough to be honest with one another - to repent when we are wrong, to forgive when we have been wronged. And the beautiful thing is that when a relationship is restored, it doesn't just return to the same place it was before - it's always deepened and strengthened.
So that's my thought for this Monday morning - the gospel really does work. I see it in my life; I see it in Lydia's. And God is growing us both, using these experiences to mature us in Christ and help us to better love those around us.