Christmas Redemption   9 comments

The day before Christmas, having slept 4 hours because of pushy dogs, I stood on a cement floor all day at work, feeling upset by a conflict with a fellow employee. When I got home I was greeted by a mess of chicken grease that had overflowed the crockpot, pooled on the counter, and spilled down the cabinets, the footstool, and across the floor.  I cleaned it up and flopped down exhausted, ready to veg out in front of the TV for a while before dragging myself to our Christmas eve communion service.  Kimberly had a different plan.

She wanted to have family prayer with singing, reading, and sharing before we went to church.  I was okay with religion at our house or God’s house, but was too tired for both.  I needed some down time, but she needed to prepare her soul for the service.  What kind of man would block his wife’s spiritual needs?  So I yielded.  After supper, she lit the candles, turned off the lights, and cued up the music, and like a good husband, I sat and pouted.  After the music and reading, Kimberly shared personally while I tried to stay awake in the dark, which was the least I could do… I mean, it was literally the least I could do (huffing would have taken extra effort).

I was very generous with my silence during prayer and on the way to church, rounding off the corners of quiet with a few words to keep her at bay so I could stew in peace.  Nothing messes up a good case of resentment so much as having to explain it to someone else, especially someone reasonable.  In the pew I quietly complained my way through the boring homily, the artless choruses, and the tiresome liturgy.  Then communion.  Go meet God, ready or not.  Suddenly the sermon and songs seemed to complain about me–the question after all is not about a sophisticated form, but a sincere heart–and by that measure, the artless always win.

God does not force Himself on us–He comes as a suckling baby and ends up nailed to a cross, living his life as a penniless wanderer.  He does not wow us with splendor or scare us into submission, but opens His heart to us with gentleness and vulnerability.  Instead of overriding our weakness, He comes to share our weakness, to be one of us, to understand and empathize and breath grace into our brokenness.

Most of my life I used the Lord’s Supper to torment my soul into compliance, using the death of Jesus as a bludgeon rather than a salve, as though communion were a celebration of the giving of the law rather than the giving of His life.  But tonight, instead of telling me, “Your resentment is bad, stop it!”  God says, “your resentment is a sign of pain, let’s try to love and listen to that hurting heart of yours.”

Together we rewind the evening’s tape.  I am tired. I need rest. Kimberly needs prayer.
“Stop right there,” He says. “What happens next?”
“My needs are less important, so I have to deny my own needs,” I answer.  I think about it for a minute. “Actually, that is the cruel message I have heard all my life–that my needs are not important enough to matter, and if my needs don’t matter, then I don’t matter.  No wonder I feel hurt when I’m forced to deny my needs.”
“Were you actually forced?” He asked.
“No, but I know it’s what you want, so I have to do it.”
“So you feel that I care more about Kimberly’s needs than yours?  Actually, you feel as though I consider everyone’s needs as more important than yours, that you are last in line, and that I therefore care least about you and your feelings.  That is heart-breaking!  I want you to know that I care more about you and your needs than you could ever imagine.  You are precious to me, uncountably precious.  The resentment you feel right now is just your heart standing up for you against those lies that say you don’t matter.  And I’m here to tell you that you do matter, that you matter supremely to me.  That is what the cross really means which you celebrate now in communion.  I welcome you, resentment and all.  Come, Let me hold you!”

After that it was easy to slip my arm around Kimberly as we knelt together at the communion rail.  In the deep affirmation of God’s love, peace flows into our hearts and relationships.  We are loved.  That is all that matters.

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Posted December 28, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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9 responses to “Christmas Redemption

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  1. Wow, what a vivid picture of our loving Redeemer. “I welcome you, resentment and all. Come let me hold you!” A great reminder that is has never been about having to get rid of our (my!) resentment (or any other sin) first, in order to then be welcomed and approved by God. The image you have painted with your words reminds me I can’t get rid of my resentment by myself, no matter how hard I try to “be good’. I struggle with being a “rule-keeper” to gain acceptance with God, and meet expectations in my relationships. Then I end up being disappointed with myself and resentful of others who don’t follow the same rules as I think they need to do. “In the deep affirmation of God’s love, peace flows into our hearts and relationships.” Powerful words. I appreciate you letting us in on your conversation with Kimberly and God.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Doris. Those of us hardest on ourselves usually struggle the most not to have strong expectations of others. Of course, when I see this, my temptation is to scold myself into kindness instead of gracing myself into kindness–grace first to myself and then, out of that bounty, to others. I was amazed at how gentle I was towards my own resentment this time–not encouraging it, but not trying to close it down either.. just observing it and trying to understand it with compassion. Instead of burying it with shame, I wanted to uncover it, give it room to breathe and show me what it was trying to say about my experience of life. I think “giving it its head” or pounding its head in are both ways to obscure our understanding of what is behind or under our resentment. I’m deeply grateful that God is on my side in this battle to allow myself grace.

  2. (This is perfect: “I was very generous with my silence during prayer and on the way to church, rounding off the corners of quiet with a few words to keep her at bay so I could stew in peace. Nothing messes up a good case of resentment so much as having to explain it to someone else, especially someone reasonable.”)

    Lovely post describing the incomprehensible love of God. “Instead of overriding our weakness, He comes to share our weakness, to be one of us, to understand and empathize and breathe grace into our brokenness.” Amen. Jesus, breathe Your grace into my brokenness.

  3. Nicely written and painfully honest. So next time, do you think you could be honest enough to say to Kimberly “I just need time to chill, I hope you can understand” ? Could she accept that or would SHE then feel resentment. Sometimes we become the martyr so the other person doesn’t have something against us (but it doesn’t really work well anyway, does it??). Relationships are hard but (kind) honesty is the best policy.

    • So true, Ellen about why we become the martyr. How often I am motivated to do something or not do something to avoid causing resentment in someone else.

    • Ellen, for me and Kimberly the issues and therefore the resolutions always go much deeper than surface feelings that need to be accommodated. For superficial matters, compromise is a good solution, but my real problem was not failure to chill, but failure to validate my own needs (whether or not those needs could be met). The message in my head (NOT from Kimberly) was that my needs didn’t matter, a life-long devaluing message that was subconsciously undermining my soul in that moment. Because I was not aware that this was the basis for my real resentment, it took me time to sort out, time I gave myself to feel my feelings. Kimberly and I may have found a means to accommodate both our needs for the evening and so sidestep my deeper issues, but we actually find it beneficial when our deeper feelings are aroused. In the end we become more healthy personally and relationally.

  4. Re-reading this again today: what a gift you gave us, Janathan! Your words drove me to Hebrews 4:14-16: “Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 4:15 For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. 4:16 Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.

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