When they don't love those I love
There she was, a woman who I had considered a spiritual mentor for most of my life, saying goodbye to me at my last service in my old church. The church I had grown up in, gotten married in, made most of my life decisions. And it was heart wrenching and awful. She took my face in her hands and told me all the ways she loved me and how much she was going to miss me.
But then she told me that she would never forgive my husband.
I understood that she was hurting. For me, for the church, for many reasons. There is no denying that the sin was great and the hurt was real. But I stood there stunned. What was I supposed to say? How could I respond? I think I muttered an okay, hugged her goodbye and left. And you know, to my great sadness, things have never been okay since. We went back once and she couldn’t even look at my husband, which meant that she couldn’t be around me. And it broke my heart.
My husband and I are one flesh. When someone rejects him, harbours bitterness against him, refuses their forgiveness, it becomes very difficult if not impossible to keep a relationship with that person.
But now I find myself in that same boat - how do I not harbour bitterness against that person who is struggling with it themselves? How do we learn to love those who do not love us or the people we love?
I went to my pastor with this problem. I asked him how much I was responsible for, how do I reconcile with people who want nothing to do with us? How do I deal with this woman, and the other ones who have stopped texting me, refuse to look at me when we run across each other, and those who have simply stopped being my friends? While we talked specifics at that meeting, it was really his sermon two days later that hit me with the answer.
He was preaching on the topic of the split between Paul and Barnabas. Here they were, ministering together, about to leave on a missionary journey. Barnabas brings up the topic of John Mark. Paul basically said there was no way he was having anything to do with him. You see, John Mark had messed up. He had left Paul before. And since we don’t know much about why, we can’t assume it was some great sin, but whatever it was, it was enough to make Paul write him off. Barnabas disagreed and the Bible says that, “the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other”.
How do two spiritual people disagree so badly that they can’t work together anymore? Especially two people so spiritual I couldn’t hope to ever be like them? Does this leave any hope for us? Us regular people who are navigating the waters of relationships with other regular sinful people?
My pastor pointed out that even though they were departed one from the other, God used them both. This shouldn’t have surprised me so much but it did. God took even that situation and used it to further His work. Now instead of just one missionary team going out, there were two. And God used both teams and people were saved and God was glorified.
And it totally changed the way I saw those who are now against me and those I love. Because God is using them in amazing ways, even though I think they’re wrong.
Hmm, sounds kind of like my life. I completely expect God to continue using me in spite of my faults. I don’t know why I understand that in my own life, and yet so often forget that its also true in the lives of others.
The best part of this story is when Paul, much later, sends for John Mark. He calls him profitable. Maybe John Mark never thought he’d be forgiven. Maybe Barnabas never thought that there could be reconciliation. But our God is the God of miracles and second chances and redemption and reconciliation and forgiveness. Isn’t that amazing and full of hope? I’m clinging to all those words.