Hard times, these. Seems like we’ve been saying this, or something like it, a lot this year. And it appears that there’s more to come, right? As I take stock of the past nine months, as complicated and surreal as it has been, my heart is especially heavy over the great impact these days have had on relationships. The trouble is pervasive.
Families and friends who once walked together are finding themselves divided over issues, politicians, government policies or public health. We’ve seen families who haven’t missed a holiday in decades separating themselves in anger, unsure if, or how, they’ll ever reconcile. Name calling, labeling, ridiculing, marginalizing and outright rejection have become a normal part of our cultural fabric. Hearts grow cold in resentment and bitterness as mouths utter words of accusation and condemnation.
It can even happen in the church. More accurately, it is happening in the church, among American Christians, and at an alarming rate. Hard times can do this to us; even we who carry the Spirit, and grace, of Christ. As Jesus described the beginning of the last days, he predicted, “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12). In my own life, the word that best describes this condition is “brittle.” When I’ve been dealing with the stresses poorly, the result is diminished bandwidth and a shriveled grace. People whose differing opinions were once accepted are now irritating, annoying... or worse. I find myself frustrated or dismissive -- muttering in my heart if not with my words -- even of those whom I say I love, simply because I feel like I’ve had enough. Maybe you can relate?
As I pondered this condition, the Holy Spirit reminded me (with gentleness and grace, by the way!) of the dozens of “one another” commands found in the New Testament. The one that came into sharpest focus was, “bearing with one another.” I looked it up and found the phrase in the midst of a passage that goes right to the heart of the matter:
Colossians 3:12-15 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
The key here is simple: For the sake of Christ and through the fruit of the Spirit’s work in us, we put others’ feelings, ideas, sensitivities, and worries ahead of our own: “bearing with one another.” Our greatest concerns are their tender spots, places where sarcasm or ribbing cuts deeper than we might have thought or intended. An example that's very real: The non-mask-wearing brother teases or ridicules the mask-wearing brother, forgetting that their decision may represent a very real health concern or a respect for the government. Conversely, the mask-wearing sister might dismissively charge the non-mask-wearing sister with irresponsibility or rebellion without consideration for their real thoughts or reasons. Judgments. Assumptions. Pronouncements. Declarations. And pain.
It can come out in the simplest conversations and have devastating consequences, and the result is that Satan wins. Brothers and sisters separate. Once-loving friendships become frazzled and torn. People who have been trusted allies for years are now regarded with wariness. Fellow heirs of the grace of Christ end relationships with the church or one another, stretched too thin to bear with one another. And Jesus grieves. Deeply.
This entry into our blog is not written abstractly, but in the acute awareness that such things are simmering even among us at FCC. Cracks develop. Concern wanes. Feelings are bruised. Hearts break. And we separate. The way ahead is clear in verses 14-15 above: True, grace-driven love resting in the peace of Christ. Here, and here alone, is where we find the refreshment of grace and the resilience to bear with one another. And we must.
Working through the process of being the man Jesus intentioned for me... while we work through the process of becoming the church Jesus intentioned for us to be