When Relationships Chafe

We love because he first loved us.
(1 John 4:19)

Ready or not, the holiday season is upon us.

In my country, the official kick-off was Thanksgiving Day – a day of feasting and gratitude ironically followed by the slightly sickening commercial festivity known as “Black Friday” which actually begins Thursday evening until “Cyber Monday” takes over and filches more dollars from the American pocket. But I digress…

This year, my family had a phenomenal Thanksgiving week. We were blessed to spend some time in Florida with my dad and stepmom. One of my sisters and her family came, too, and what with the great company, fantastic weather, and delectable food, I doubt we could have concocted a better way to spend the week.

But I realize not everyone is so fortunate.

For many people, the family time aspect of the holidays spells nothing but frustration. We all have those family members who tend to be more querulous, and some among us spend the holidays biting our tongues – or wishing we had.

Every family bears a bandaged wound or two. Every family carries scars from past hurts. It’s a part of being human in a fallen world. The brutal truth is that our real-life family gatherings are more apt to resemble a Griswold family Christmas than a Hallmark movie.

The enforced familial closeness of the holidays can and often does cause simmering tensions to boil over.  But you know what? Even then, family time is good.  In fact, I would venture to say this season is wonderful because of the relational difficulties.

You see, one sunny Florida afternoon, I walked back to my earthly dad’s house and talked with my heavenly Dad along the way. In particular, I was praying over the absence of one other sister at our feast. One of our family’s bandaged wounds.

As I prayed about the situation and about others who are more difficult to love, the Spirit of God whispered the words of 1 John 4:19 into my heart. We love because He first loved us.

Naturally, I went back and read the rest of the chapter and I see what He means. When we are faced with prickly relatives or with co-workers, members of our church family, or even strangers at the grocery store who are a little more challenging to endure, it is at precisely this point that we have a choice to make:

Will we love only those who are easy to love? Or will we love them because our Lord first loved us?

I feel now is a good time to mention that this “when He first loved us” moment was hardly one we can boast about. Romans 5:10 reminds us that we were enemies of God when He loved us enough to offer the dearest part of Himself as ransom for our crimes. He didn’t love us when we were lovable but when we were in full-tilt rebellion against Him.

Our Lord Jesus, Himself, tells us more than once to love our enemies (see Matt. 5:44, Luke 6:27, 35, et al). And back in 1 John 4, the beloved disciple has a great deal more to say about love, not the least of which is a sobering reminder that love isn’t lived out in Hallmark moments but in the gritty and often painful moments of forgiving the unforgivable and answering sharp words with graciousness.

Not because those who hurt us deserve it, but because neither did we. And yet, He loved us anyway.

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
(1 John 4:10-11)

While we’re busily putting Christ back in Christmas and squeezing in Advent devotionals between shopping sprees and holiday parties, let’s be certain that our daily choices match our lofty sentiments. Let’s try to keep in mind that forgiving can only be done when there is something to forgive. Grace and mercy can only be shown when they aren’t deserved.

In love, let’s hold one another accountable to living and loving in humility and with the grace God extends to us. Not necessarily because our families and associates are worth it, but because HE is. And we trust Him enough to obey.

 

 

Legacy

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
(1 Thessalonians 4:13)

Just over a week ago, a lady I have immense admiration for passed from this world. She was an absolute beauty and the wealth she left behind is a fortune of dizzying proportions.

But neither her wealth nor her beauty were notable by the standards of this age and culture.

In fact, her body showed the wear and tear of her 96 years. Small of stature, I doubt she weighed 90 pounds fully dressed and soaking wet. The last few months saw her in much pain and often in a wheelchair, yet she was cheerful and had a smile and kind words for everyone.

Nonetheless, she was truly lovely. Hers was the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit – a beauty which has followed her and found its fulfillment in her permanent home with the Eternal God.

And her fortune… How can I describe it? It is one of the largest I have ever seen. A spiritual legacy spanning four generations. A wealth of faithful obedience to God and of love and compassion which staggers the mind. It is a fortune of far greater value and permanence than any dollar amount.

Her son and daughter-in-law, their children, and their grandchildren have all been heirs of this vast treasure. I see the same gentle and quiet spirit in them. There is joy and laughter and love all around.

Of course, there is pain and strife, too. But when error or rebellion rise up here or there in the family, mercy and grace abound. Within the family and for those who know them, there is not a soul who has reason to doubt that they are loved and important, not only by the family but also by the Lord.

But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.
Psalms 103:17-18

One of my close friends, a prayer and accountability partner, comes from this spiritual inheritance and so I, too, benefit from it. So do our daughters who are also close.

Of course there is mourning for the temporary loss of this precious woman of God. Yet I must say they grieve splendidly, for in the family’s grief, there is also a streak of joy – the joy of knowing she has arrived safely Home.

All of us, myself included, look forward to our own Homecoming. Some future day, we will see her again and once more worship the King of Glory together, but better than before. Then, we will no longer encumbered by sin, weariness, or pain.

And in the meantime, all of us have seen in her an example of eager expectation of the day the Lord calls us home and faithful, uncomplaining endurance if He leaves us here – even if leaving us here is the most difficult part.

So today, my prayers go out for these, my friends. But even more so, my prayers reach out for those friends and loved ones who do not have this hope. My prayer is for my Lord to draw all who are consumed by sorrow and despair to Himself that they may share in an inheritance beyond all imagining.

I was once one of these – hurting and hopeless – and I well know the futility of denying God and living for myself. But He called me out from this pit; called me to die to myself and live for Him.

For my recently departed friend,  for her loved ones, and for all of us who are in Christ, physical death is no longer the enemy to be avoided but the friend to be embraced. It will be the final conquering act over our flesh before our true lives begin.

My friends, my dears, if you have not found love in this dark world, know that it is there. He is there – the One who is Love. The Way, the Truth, the Life.

Find Him. Find hope.

And someday, I pray I can introduce you to Nan – one of my personal heroes.

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
1 Corinthians 15:55