Its official, congratulations you’ve succeeded.
“It wasn’t easy, dealing with anger, jealousy, greed and guilt; in fact it was one of the most difficult and emotional things I’ve ever done. When I finally headed for home last night, as I was walking away from his house, it felt like a boulder had been lifted from my chest and I had that tired, sore but exhilarating feeling I get after a good work out. I really felt the presence of God through it all and the reward is unbelievable. We really are brothers after all, and nothing will ever get in the way of our relationship ever again.”
Don’t you just love it when there’s a happy ending? But is it really the end?
A week or so later our friend was talking with someone who had a relationship with both them and it went something like this.
“I here you guys have made peace that’s great, but I’m really kind of surprised; I mean the way he treated you and all. The things he said about you; I don’t mean to butt in, but I’d be careful if I was you.”
A couple of months later, at a neighborhood picnic, our two “brothers” had this conversation.
“What do mean you don’t have time; you have time for everyone else, Mike.”
“Yeah I know, but of all people I thought you would understand! If you’re going to be a jerk about it, I’ll cancel my plans and give you a hand. Some things never change,” he said under his breath.
Remember when I said, you can forgive but never forget? Well this is a good example of the downside. It doesn’t take much for those old feelings and emotions to come rushing back in. The glow of victory has faded and it’s time to face reality, and although you have forgave and been forgiven, reconciliation can be damaged and even destroyed if you aren’t careful. There’s a phrase you don’t hear much anymore, and it was the stock and trade of many old time preachers. They would go on and on about the dangers of “back sliding” in the faith and falling back into the sin that previously had them in its clutches. They’d warn the congregation that if they continue to “back slide,” they should question whether they had saved in the first place. Was your reconciliation with God based on a lie, the preacher would ask?
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could erase our minds like we can wipe clean the hard drive on our computer, or would it?
I’m an alcoholic, or more specifically, I was an alcoholic. One of the things that I faced, once God conquered the addiction on my behalf, was my memories. Interesting enough there were both good ones and bad ones. I remembered the good times that I had, which often involved drinking with my friends. I longed for the days when my wife and I would go out and enjoy a cocktail together; spending hours in talk and intimacy. None of these things of course require alcohol, but it is what I associated with it. I even commented, any number of times, how much I missed the taste of a good 12 year old single malt scotch. Then there are the other memories, hiding bottles of vodka around the house and garage to hide my shame, and having to pull over on the way home from work for that last, one for the road. I remember how at first I thought that I could quit anytime I wanted, but reality always seemed to prove me wrong. And most of all I remember the lies I told my wife, Cindy and how the guilt from that was worse than any hangover. The fact is that I have memories galore and they will be with me for the rest of my life.
The issue isn’t whether or not you’ll have memories of your past, only when and how you’ll use them. Besides, I have often thought that if we didn’t have memories, how easy it would to repeat our mistakes. How we use them or which ones we dwell on, is not a matter of chance or circumstance, it is a matter of choice. We can allow those feelings jealousy, anger, greed and guilt to rear there ugly head and they will take front and center, count on it. And if you aren’t careful, you’ll find yourself right back where you began, separated and wishing you weren’t. The other response is to try to shove them to back of your mind, in the hope that’ll stay there; however, that strategy rarely if ever works. Or you can use them as reminder of your broken past and how painful it was and how desperately you wanted to forgive and be forgiven. It’s not unlike how a child learns that hot things will burn them and no matter how many times to warn them they’ll touch that hot iron, warming up on the ironing board. They’ll remember the blister a lot more vividly than your warning. Use your memories as a springboard to not repeat the mistakes of your past. Use them instead as means of protecting and preserving what you have rebuilt, with the fervor of a protective mother or father warning their child of the dangers of life and then repeating them.
It would be nice if every attempt we make at reconciliation had a happy ending. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Sometimes we do everything right, or at least we tried, and the relationship ends in a pile of mistrust and bitterness. It hurts on any number of levels, not the least of which is the fact that we’ve failed. But you have to ask yourself, is it a failure or just another step along the way? You see, we don’t know how the story ends.
Most of us know the story about Moses and his leading the people of God out of their captivity in Egypt, to the land God had promised them. You remember; all those plaques that descended on the Egyptians, frogs, flies, hail, boils and locusts; it was God’s way of motivating Pharaoh to let His people go. But why didn’t Pharaoh let them leave after it was obvious that it wasn’t going to end well for him; in fact it would cost him the life of his son. The account in Exodus tells us that at first, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened to God’s desires by Pharaoh’s own will, but later on we are told that “The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen.” Hey, wait a minute, that doesn’t seem fair; maybe Pharaoh was about to change his mind and God got in the way! I guess we’ll never know but one thing we know for sure is that Pharaoh refused to do what would be essential to prevent further chaos and suffering. God warned Pharaoh, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?”
The point is that we don’t know how our life’s stories are going to end; we don’t know if it is God’s will that our relationship is going to be healed now or why not. Maybe God is telling the one you are estranged from, “humble yourself before me.” Perhaps God needs us to step aside for a time and let God harden and then soften their heart. This is a difficult thought when the person is someone we love and want desperately for them to love us back.
This understanding of how God works should motivate us to never give up, but to pray for opportunities to contribute to the process of healing; not to abandon our friend just because we’re not satisfied with their progress.