I found myself yesterday in conversation with a friend discussing life and all it entails. During our conversation, I recalled times when individuals spoke gentle, loving words to my heart in times of grave disappointment and shame. Ever have those times? The ones I refer to as ostrich days where if you could you would bury your head in the sand and refuse to ever lift it to the light of day and the observing eyes of others again? I’ve had at least my fair share of those and they are not pleasant to endure or to recall, but they stand as reminders of both the good and the ugly in life, of which there is plenty for all of us.
My recollection brought to mind a few sweet friends who, when all others didn’t know what to say or entertained thoughts and opinions that prevented them from offering care, reached out to me with a few simple and loving words of encouragement. Those were defining moments that forever surface in memory when I see these mothers. Proverbs 16:23-24 says it best. “The heart of the wise teaches his mouth, and adds learning to his lips. Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.”
As I recalled and shared with my friend yesterday, wisdom informed the words of those dear ladies who reached out to me in a time of deep need. Where many simply looked the other way for various reasons, the tender, loving hearts of a few added strength to me for the facing of another day. When we are devastated by disappointments and failures of our own and of those we love, it is so very hard to go on out into the world and face others The offer of understanding and encouragement from another is of monumental importance. It reminds us that though most may not stand with us and cheer us on, we are not alone, a strong few hold us close and hold us up giving us necessary confidence for continuing on.
I truly believe what lies always at the heart of the matter is how we see ourselves and where our allegiances lie. If we recognize our own gross limitations and failures, we are likely to freely offer forgiveness and compassion, and if we truly desire wholeness, goodness, and mercy for all then we will not withhold that which encourages life, beginning again, overcoming…
These are weighty matters of the heart. No one knows what they will face, not even what they will do in this life. We can think we know, but we don’t. Jeremiah 17:9 warns, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Most of us have heard time and again, “follow your heart.” Yet, that is not wise advise. We need to follow God’s Spirit and His Word, guarding our hearts and forever working on our hearts by hiding His Word there so that it will lead and guide us and not we ourselves.
I find myself at this stage in my life continually reviewing my own journey with intention of seeing it in the light of the truth, recognizing that it is not for the scrutiny of others, for their judgements and criticisms, but for my learning that I might not sin against the Lord by failing to seek understanding. If my own brokenness and God’s gracious mercy and forgiveness doesn’t inform my steps from here onward, then all has been lost in the suffering. But if, by suffering and failing, I’ve seen the mercy of grace and redemption and learned to love others in their times of deepest need, then I can be only thankful for every step of the journey.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about some of the most often used adjectives in scripture to describe the Lord: gracious, loving, kind, merciful, compassionate, long-suffering, and forgiving. The fruits of the spirit go hand in hand with these: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” May these define us, Lord!
I often think too how so many “Christian” denominations criticize, even slander, others and how in so doing it reveals the absence of the character of God in them. Jesus spoke clearly to the disciples when they were up in arms about people who were casting out demons in Jesus’ name but they weren’t part of their small group. Jesus’ answer to them was this, “For he that is not against us is on our part. For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in My Name, because you belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward. And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in Me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.” (Mark 9:40-42) So very careful ought we to be, so gentle and still, recognizing that God alone searches the heart and knows all things. We are to recognize that each one of us has all we can do to survey our own hearts, minds, and lives and we are not equipped nor appointed to uncover the inner workings of the hearts of others.
For those who have offered pleasant, sweet words of encouragement to me in my times of greatest failure and shame, the definition of who they are to me was forged in that moment…I hope it forever drew and transformed my heart into a more compassionate and pure place from which I will speak into the lives of others who struggle in times to come.