Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Bless or Blame?

Yesterday morning, I attended the beautiful memorial service for my beloved neighbor and friend, Martha, who passed away on October 4, and of whom I blogged about last Friday.  The pastor of her church, who officiated the service, discussed Martha's battle with cancer and how very difficult and lengthy her journey with the illness has been.  He shared at length about Martha's amazing spirit of faith and joy, and how she exhibited both, regardless of how she was truly feeling and how bad things got during her battle.  He talked of how she never complained, how she showed such perseverance and strength, and how she chose to bless versus blame the Lord during her time of testing and trial.  I had never heard the expression, "bless versus blame" before, and I really loved that.  As I sat there listening to him share of all Martha's wonderful attributes, I thought about how she always made sure to give the Lord all the credit whenever I praised her for her positive attitude and ability to continue to bless and encourage others (and the Lord) even though she was struggling.  Whenever I spoke with her or took her to the doctor, it was truly a struggle to get her to talk about herself.  She was always much more concerned with how I was doing than telling me how she was doing.  Her pastor shared from James 1:2-4 which says, "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing."  He concluded by saying that Martha always counted all her trials as joy, and that she is truly lacking nothing now.  She is in perfect health, perfect joy, and perfect peace.  Martha chose to live her life by blessing the Lord, instead of blaming Him, regardless of the trials He allowed in her life.  She chose to view the trials as opportunities instead of curses.  Amazing stuff.  Supernatural, actually.

When I ponder the rare times I've been able to muster up the ability to exhibit this same amazing power in my own life, it is only when I CHOOSE to rely on GOD for the power to TRUST HIM that I am able to do it.  Without God's help and without realizing and remembering the truth of Who He is, I cannot even begin to bless Him during times of testing.  In and of ourselves, and in our own flesh, we fall short and are totally weak to succeed at this.  If I am brutally honest with you, I have to admit that my tendency during rough times is to blame God.  I have many times thought, "Well, if nothing bad can come into my life without going through God's hands first, as the Bible says, then everything is His fault and in His control.  So HE did this to me!"  But trust is the real issue when we play the blame game with God.  Yes, we know that nothing touches our lives that God doesn't sign-off on first.  But we also have to remember that God's Word says that He has a purpose and something good for us in the pain, struggle, and/or outcome of every trial.  We have to ask for His help at remembering His character and the truth of what He says about times of trial and testing.  We have to remember that this isn't heaven and no one is immune to struggles and hardship--so who do we think we are to expect heaven now?!  We have to take hold of the truths of Who He is, and that He IS trustworthy, or we will go down the slippery slope of not trusting Him. And that isn't a fun ski trip.

There are tons of verses in God's Word that prove God's character and prove that we can trust Him in our hardships.  But my favorite Bible verse of all time is Romans 8:28, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose."  This verse is a wonderful promise to us--it is one of many promises by God found in His Word.  However, there are some stipulations here if you read it carefully and literally.  It is a promise for those who believe in Him, know Him, and love Him, (because how can you love someone you don't believe in and truly know?!).  It is also a promise for those who are living towards His purposes.  Obviously, I cannot cling to this verse if I decide to go rob a bank and end up in prison for it.  Sin has a price regardless, and we have to pay the consequences of it.  Obviously, sin is not a purpose designed by God, nor something He calls us to do.  So we can't expect that good will come from sin when we choose it over God's purpose.  Unless we repent and turn our sins over to God, no good will ever come from any of them.  If we begin to walk with Him and follow Him and His ways, then He will work ALL things for our good, even though sin isn't what He wants for our lives and we always pay for the consequences of it.  I also love another realization from this verse that I received from a Beth Moore Bible study I took years ago.  Beth shared this verse and the wonderful promise in it, but pointed out that it doesn't say that all things in our life will be good--it says that God works them for good.  So true, and so important to remember in this world where we want and expect nothing but good to come into our lives. 

This notion of choosing to "bless versus blame" can also be applied to other people in our lives.  It is really easy to blame other people for the problems we have in life--sometimes it is even easier to blame others than it is to blame God.  Since people are imperfect and drive us crazy sometimes, blaming them seems almost righteous!  Recently, I was faced with a horribly difficult situation in which I knew I needed to go to someone and try to work out a problem that had arose long ago and was never fixed.  I needed to ask for their forgiveness for the things I had done that I felt may have exacerbated the situation or hurt them, and I needed to try to fix it and reconcile it.  I went to them with two prayerfully considered goals--to fix it and hopefully get my friend back, even if the relationship didn't look like I wanted it to look.  God had shown me clearly that I was never going to be free of the situation or this person if I didn't go to them and at least try.  So I went.  And being a non-confrontational person, it literally took everything I had.  I didn't sleep for three nights and prayed as hard about it as I had ever prayed about anything in my life.  Suffice it to say, it didn't go well for me--well, I didn't reach my two goals.  I poured out my heart to this person.  I was broken and contrite.  They said things that made me think I could trust them and that the conversation was being well-received--essentially, they baited me in some ways.  So on and on I went, pouring out my heart and saying the most loving things anyone could say.  And I meant them.  Just when I thought they would do the same in return (because I could clearly tell they relished my honesty and the fact that I'd put all their sins, along with my own, onto myself), they began twisting and stretching my loving words into ugliness, accusing me falsely, blowing my sins way out of proportion to reality, dredging up the past negatively, and blaming me entirely for the issue we'd had.  They made it clear that I never meant anything to them and that they were neutral in their desire for reconciliation (which everyone knows is code for, "I don't really care to reconcile," because when you're neutral, you don't care).  As I stood there making deductions that any idiot could make from such cruel, conflicting words, I found myself wanting to lash out in kind and turn their words back on them.  I wanted to remind them of the sins they had committed against ME and for the truths of what I knew had really happened in our misunderstanding.  I wanted to use all my "A-game tactics" and my "old self" told me I was justified to do so.  I felt like I was having two battles simultaneously--and I was.  The one I could see and the one I couldn't.  Besides the conflict I was having with this former friend, an unseen war was also raging inside my head--a battle of flesh vs. spirit, or my, "old -self vs. new-self."  During the heated conversation with this person, God was speaking to me profusely, or He was trying to speak to me--it was all really more than I could process appropriately at the time.  I now believe this was also a "God thing."  Matt and I had prayed that God would silence my lips if I began to say anything that would further hurt or bring pain to the other person because my mission for going to them in the first place was ultimately and most importantly for healing.  Boy, did He--I don't think I've ever been so lacking in quick-witted words.  I felt like an idiot as I stood there dumbfounded at the cruel and untrue remarks they were making.  I had no reply so many times that I truly felt like a mute!  I wanted to lash-out at them with proofs and points to put them in their place, but God kept reminding me of 2 Corinthians 5:17, which says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"  I wanted so badly to blame this other person right back as they were doing to me.  But God helped me in that moment to hold my tongue, to bless them in return for their unkind remarks to me, and to say things that healed instead of hurt them.  I had told myself in the mirror that night before going to this person that I would not say cruel things if my worst fears came true and they were unkind to me.  I even practiced, reciting over and over to myself in the mirror, "Well, this is not the path I wanted us to take tonight.  All I know is that I miss and love ya, and I want to fix things."  It worked because I found myself saying those exact words repeatedly throughout the conversation that night. I refused to use words that hurt and God helped me not to do it. 

Though I was pretty badly bruised and the remarks they spewed my way have cursed and haunted me at times since, God showed me something very valuable at that moment.  We don't always have to win in life to win.  We don't have to return blame for blame.  We don't have to get what we want to get what we want.  As I stood there broken and battered, humiliated and hurt, God told me that the NEW me could do the same thing He did for me.  He took my sins on Himself, forgave me, and let them go.  He freed me up.  He reminded me that I am not the OLD person I once was--I don't need to repay cursing and blame for cursing and blame.  I am His and He took all my old tendencies away.  He doesn't curse and blame me for my sins, so I don't need to do that to anyone else.  More than that, what right do I have to do that?! That is what God sent me there to see and do that night.  I had hoped and prayed it was for the purpose of fixing everything and getting my friend back.  But God had other plans.  He knew my heart and He knew the heart of this person--hence, He knew reconciliation wasn't going to happen for me.  As I walked out of there that night feeling a bit sorry for myself, I wanted to blame Him for nudging me to go to this person and for shaming myself for them.  Why would He ask me to spend all that time preparing my talking points and praying, as well as, the time, money, and energy that it took to go the distance for them, when He knew all along what the end result would be?  But He was quick to show me the grand purposes of it all.  He knew two things--God had two goals, as well.  He knew I would never be free if I didn't go to this person and say these things, and He knew what I needed to learn about blame, forgiveness, and truly loving people whom I say I love.  Regardless of whether that person wanted to "own" or admit their faults, I needed to own mine, say some stuff to free them up, and let it go.  I know God wanted me to take that person's sins against me, put them on myself (essentially onto Him), forgive them (even though they didn't ask for my forgiveness), and let them go.  It wasn't about reconciling anything--it was about freeing them and me.  In that way, I hope and pray that I was successful in fixing things.  I think I can at least say that one of my two initial goals for that night was met--I fixed it as best as I could on my end, trying everything a person can try and saying everything a person can possibly say.  There's a lot of freedom in that, and I've had to cling to that many days when the enemy lures me to fret or withdraw to sad places.  But God accomplished both His goals, and for that I bask in His glory--to that I hold fast. 

Though I left the situation feeling like a lamb that had been slaughtered, I now feel reborn.  I even verbalized this to my husband as we walked out of there together.  Matt said, "How'd it go?"  I said, "Horribly.  I feel like a lamb that's been led to the slaughter."  But we concurred later that just as another Lamb did, I would rise again, and things would be okay.  Much prayer, discussion, and some other outlying factors had gone into our decision for me to encounter this person, and Matt supported it wholeheartedly because he knew how much I had truly loved this person and how hurt I had been for so long.  He knew I was in bondage to them due to the pain of our misunderstanding.  But God knew it, too, and He knew what it would take for me to move past it all.  As I walked out that night from confronting this person, I remember thinking, "The old has gone, the new has come."  God showed me this so clearly that I didn't even shed a tear (and ten years ago, I would have cried all the way home after an ordeal such as this).  I thank God that He gave me this verse on that night.  His Word is so powerful and breathes such life into us, that it can heal our deepest hurts.  I didn't get my friend back that night.  I still pray for them, for that goal to come to fruition, and for God to perhaps work it all together for good in my life and theirs, if it is in His will and purpose.  But I learned something really precious.  We are not here to blame.  We are here to bless, at all costs.  We have been blessed and freed up by God, and it was at a very high cost.  If we can't show that same love, grace, and mercy to others, what difference does the fact that we've been shown this amazing love, grace, and mercy make?  Our faith is just religion in this case--it means nothing and is just for show.  God also showed me that He has new things in store for me and I am not to be living in bondage to anyone or anything--period.  He wanted me to let this person go for now, perhaps forever, in order to bring freedom back to my life.  I was in bondage to all the hurts, to all the "what-if(s)," and to all the, "shoulda, woulda, couldas."  It was a really painful thing to let go of it all--when we carry around a hurt, it oddly becomes a strange bedfellow to us.  When you constantly lick a wound or "pick at it," as a friend from church recently said, it never heals--it actually gets worse.  Bad habits die hard, as they say.  We also always think we know what is best for us, so we fight it.  God often has other ideas.

I praise God for the fact that He reminded me of who I am in Him, and that He is making me new every day.  He reminded me that I don't have to cling to my old ways, beliefs, and attitudes--that I have to let stuff go and turn it all over to Him.  He is helping me to choose to bless Him and others, and not blame.  There was a time in my life when my husband even told me I should have been a lawyer due to my ability to debate well and "win."  Men always jokingly say that, "women are always right."  Well, in my marriage, that wasn't a joke--it was a known fact, and poor Matt loved me so much he just oftentimes gave into it!  I praise God that He has helped to change me in this way, even on some level.  It has been really painful for me at times, but I have needed it.  I know I have much more to learn in this area of life, and that I'll never "arrive" when it comes to my fleshly tendencies.  Blame comes really naturally and easily for perfectionists.  We strive so hard to please others, to love others, and to do right by them, that when they fail us, it hurts really badly--we have invested dearly in them, and we have sought only to bless them, and we are flat ticked if that isn't being reciprocated!  We perfectionists also work so hard, that we have a pretty high opinion of ourselves, too.  We don't understand it when others don't value us fairly or show us respect in return.  Since even God's Word says you "reap what you sow," it is easy to think that if you've sown love and other good things, that others should return the same to you.  We can view God in this way, as well.  We can strive so hard to please Him that when He allows bad things into our lives, we are ticked at Him--because what did we possibly do to deserve it?!  It is humbling to realize that in all the times we shake our fist at God, He is so merciful to tolerate us instead of smiting us as He could so easily do.  It is a shameful thing to think you are always right and only deserving of good, regardless of how hard you work and how much you love other people.  No one is above this law of sin and nature--the only thing any of us deserve is death.  I do believe we reap what we sow, but God chooses to bring a harvest back to us in ways that aren't always understandable at the time.  It doesn't always look like we want it to look, or come from the people from whom we want it to come.  God has allowed me to go through some shame in this situation, and even some that was totally undeserved and unwarranted.  But He showed me something else, too--this other person was hurting.  Though they claimed they weren't, and even said things to allude to the fact that they hadn't given me a second thought, the amount of talking they did, the conflicting things they said, and the frustration and anger they clearly showed told me I had hurt them (or that the situation had greatly bothered them, in the very least).  For that alone, I was glad I went to them and told them all that I did.  Hurting people feels much worse than being hurt--this is another huge lesson learned.  I praise Him for teaching me some things (humility for one) and for ultimately freeing me.   He took all my shame upon Himself--and the whole world's, for that matter.  So He happens to be an undeserving expert at shame and humility.

When I count the costs between blessing and blaming, I realize that though blessing is initially way more costly than blaming, it actually returns a harvest ten-fold of what you paid--maybe more.  It doesn't feel like it at the time, but God promises us in James 4:10, that when we humble ourselves, He will lift us up.  God always keeps His promises.  Praise be to God, and blessing to all!