Ever wonder why we tend to hurt those closest to us? Why is it that so often we treat complete strangers with more care and respect than those we love the most? I know I’ve been on both ends of this odd phenomenon. I’ve been hurt and I’ve done the hurting.
Practically speaking, we spend more time around those we love and so they are more likely to be on the receiving end of our cranky moods and they are more likely to annoy us with their quirky habits. Plus, there is more safety found in a close, loving relationship than with a stranger. A family member is more likely to offer grace and forgiveness than a mere acquaintance. A close friend is more likely to remember all of our good traits and the fun experiences, which hopefully outweigh our less than stellar ones.
And yet… they actually deserve the best of us, not the worst!
I think it is safe to say that we would all be wise to take a deep breath, count to 10, and guard our tongues so that we don’t lash out at those dear to us. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” But what do we do when we are on the receiving end of the hurt?
Ephesians 4:31-32 says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Holding onto the hurt leads to bitterness, which ultimately imprisons us. Forgiveness is the key to freedom. No, forgiving does not excuse the behavior that caused the hurt in the first place. Forgiving another does not magically make you forget what happened nor does it instantly repair the relationship. However, forgiving those who hurt us is what Jesus asks us to do. He knows it is what is best for our heart. Plus he wants us to extend the same grace and kindness to others that he first extended to us. We tend to hurt because we’ve been hurt. Remembering this helps us extend kindness and compassion as well. Additionally, when I am secure in my identity as God’s beloved daughter, I can more easily extend grace, forgiveness, kindness, and compassion to those who have hurt me.
Power pitcher, Roger Clemons, won over 350 games, struck out 4672 batters, and won two World Series Championships during his illustrious major league baseball career that spanned over twenty years with four different teams. Roger was elected to his first of 11 All Star teams in 1986, his third year in the league. Clemons took the mound as the starting pitcher for his American League team in the bottom of the first inning and though he was able to get through the inning without giving up a run, he was clearly nervous.
As a Boston Red Sox, playing in the American League, where a designated hitter is allowed, Roger had not had to bat during his major league career. Now playing the All Star game in a National League ballpark, where there is no designated hitter, Roger stepped to the plate in the top of the second inning to face National League counterpart, Dwight Gooden. Clemons struck out looking at three straight pitches. As the story goes, he returned to the dugout and asked his fellow teammates if his pitches looked the same as the ones he just faced. A teammate responded, “No, you pitch harder.” Clemons returned to the mound brimming with confidence and pitched two more shutout innings. He earned the All Star game MVP and went on that season to not only win his first of 7 Cy Young Awards (an award given to the best pitcher in each league) but also the American League MVP award, which is rarely given to a pitcher.
Like Clemons, I wonder how often I lose confidence and grow insecure because I lose perspective. Clemons needed to be reminded of the strength and power behind his fastball. I need to be reminded of God’s strength and power through me. Unfortunately, Roger’s ability to throw a 90 mile per hour fastball faded over time and his career eventually ended. Fortunately, God’s strength and power never fades and are at my disposal at all times.
However, much of the time, it sure doesn’t feel like it! Instead of an All Star, power pitcher able to strike out the side, I typically feel like an old, washed up knuckleballer getting hit all over the park! And in those moments of weakness I realize three things:
1. I’ve often lost sight of my identity in Christ. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.” As God’s child, I have been called up to play in the major leagues yet I often act as if I’m still in the minors.
2. Because I lose sight that I am a child of God, I begin to rely on my own strength and abilities. However 1 Corinthians 1:25, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”
3. I tend to forget that the moments of weakness, when my confidence has been shaken, are the times when God’s power is most evident. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul says, “But [the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” And when God’s power is made evident in my life, God’s name is glorified, and my confidence grows… not confidence in my own ability. No. My confidence in my identity as God’s child grows, a child who has access to her Father’s strength and power to do things that are beyond comprehension or imagination.
I just returned from vacation. Not your typical vacation full of exotic places, beaches, resorts, or theme parks. No. I spent a week visiting friends – hopping from one guest room to another. And I have to tell you, I have the very best friends in the entire world. Seriously, no contest, it’s not even close. As I reflected on the week with these wonderful people, I realized that there are some commonalities among my friendships that make them so rich and meaningful.
My friendships are full of laughter. Time with friends is always characterized with quick, witty comments and side splitting antics. My friends are fun and funny.
My friendships are familiar and comfortable. The houses have changed and there are now husbands and children, but one thing has remained – I’m at home when I’m in their presence. None of my friends even flinched when I informed them of my intentions of paying a visit. All would have been offended had I even thought of staying at a hotel. The comfort and hospitality so great that there’s no hesitancy to raid the fridge when hungry and in need of a late night snack.
My friendships are authentic and honest. My friends speak truth to me, even when that truth is difficult or not what I want to hear. My friends challenge me and sharpen me.
My friendship are full of genuine love, care, and acceptance. My friends have loved me when I wasn’t very lovable and stood by me when I couldn’t stand on my own. My friends have attended sporting events despite a true disinterest in sports, learned more about Iowa than they ever thought possible, and continue to pretend to care about my dog as much as I do.
My friends know me. My friends are excited to connect with me -whether it’s daily or it’s been four years, whether it’s a text message of a favorite line from FRIENDS or a treasured hand written letter. My friends pray for me. My friends cheer me on and believe in me. My friends weep and cry with me.
As I sat in church last Sunday, it was this experience of friendship that led me to realize something regarding my walk with Jesus. My pastor is currently speaking on eternity – the reality and truth about heaven and hell. I often have a longing for heaven, an ache that echoes deep in my soul. However, my understanding of heaven is so vague and lacking. I have often wondered if I simply choose heaven because of a fear of hell. Then it hit me… my longing for home is natural for this world is not my home, but what makes heaven home? I stayed in three lovely houses during my vacation. What made them special was not the architecture or the furnishings, but the people who dwell there – my friends. Heaven is home because that is where Jesus is. And Jesus is my friend.
John 15:13-15 says, “13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.14 You are my friends if you do what I command.15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
However, what I realized sitting in church made me sad. I realized that I don’t treat Jesus like he’s my friend. I don’t have the same inside jokes, comfort, authenticity, knowledge, or genuineness with him as I do with my earthly friends. Oh, he has that with me, but it is often so one-sided as I rarely reciprocate. No, instead, I tend to approach Jesus like a celebrity I’ve been able to meet. I look at him with star crossed eyes, hoping to get an autograph, and brag that I’ve met him without actually growing close relationally or emotionally. But Jesus is more than a celebrity who happens to know my name.
JESUS IS MY FRIEND! And he longs for me to act as such. He wants to share laughs, inside jokes, and playful pokes. He wants me to know him as intimately as he already knows me. He longs to spend time with me, long or short, silly or serious. He wants me to be most comfortable in his presence and not feel bashful about raiding his refrigerator. Heaven is exciting because I literally get to hang out with Jesus, not as a fan adoring a celebrity but as intimate and genuine friends. Jesus said so himself.
And so my new prayer is that I see Jesus as He sees me, as a friend, and that my relationship with him reflects that truth. Only then will I be able to truly bring heaven to earth and only then will my longing for heaven truly make sense. What keeps you from seeing Jesus as your friend? How do you hope grow closer and become more intimate and comfortable with Jesus?