This is a follow-up to my post, “Broken Relationship.” Since posting that, many of my friends have told me their stories of their broken relationships that remain so. In some cases, the offender’s apologies were ignored or the offender refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing, so restoration is impossible. In other cases, apologies were offered, and forgiveness was given, but distrust, fear, or bitterness prevents restoration. Oh, this hurts my heart so much because it is so contrary to what the bible says and the example God gives. Can you imagine the state we would be in if God told us our sin was too great for Him to forgive and turned his back on us and no amount of sacrifice, legalism, and commandment-following could change his mind? Can you imagine if God forgave us, but refused to acknowledge us in this life or the next? Like when we walk by Him in heaven he just pretended we don’t exist?
I’ll be very candid here. One year ago, my very close friend severed our friendship as the result of miscommunication, unspoken frustration, pain, immaturity, and sin. Any window that I might have had to fix it early on, my selfishness, bitterness, weakness, and fear of being hurt again slammed shut. Because I still have so much love for this person, my poor decisions have haunted me every day since. For months, I did everything in my power to restore the friendship. I prayed. I apologized. I prayed. I begged. I prayed. I emailed. I prayed. I called. I prayed. I wrote cards. And finally, I prayed. In that time I read two of the most incredible books. The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom and Redeeming Love, by Francine Rivers. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THESE BOOKS! THEY WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE! Corrie ten Boom, a strong Christian at the heart of Holland's underground system for hiding Jews from the Nazis, gave her heart to a boy, Karel, who broke it because he wanted to marry someone with money. This is the advice her wise father gave her:
"Corrie, do you know what hurts so very much? It's love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain.
"There are two things we can do when this happen. We can kill the love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or, Corrie, we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel.
"God loves Karel--even more than you do--and if you ask Him, He will give you His love for this man, a love nothing can prevent, nothing destroy. Whenever we cannot love in the old, human way, Corrie, God can give us the perfect way."
I did not know, as I listened to Father's footsteps winding back down the stairs, that he had given me more than the key to his hard moment. I did not know that he had put into my hands the secret that would open far darker rooms than this--places where there was not, on a human level, anything to love at all."
Maybe we were hurt and we feel our heart is not strong enough to forgive them. We can’t take feeling the constant rejection, sadness, pain that comes with being hurt. We want to kill those feelings and erase the good memories that remind us of what has been lost. It is at that point, when we must turn to God! Just when we run out of love and compassion…just when we think our sadness and pain will consume us, we can think of Lamentations 3:22-23, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning.” People thought I was crazy when I would say that I love my old friend more now than I ever have, because God has shown me his love for her. Sure it would be easier to curse the name of those who hurt us. To banish the thoughts of them from our minds and kill the memories. However, in Matthew 22: 37-39, Jesus calls us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” We are to love others, and not just the ones who love us back. My precious 6 year old has a great grasp on this verse that we adults would be wise to accept. He said, “So if you don’t love someone, you are only loving God half-way, because they are God’s child and he told us to love them.” Oh, he blesses my heart!
This is the theme in Redeeming Love, which is based on the biblical book of Hosea. Michael Hosea, a humble, God-fearing farmer in 19th century California, relentlessly pursues Sarah, a bitter, angry prostitute to be his wife. Sarah repeatedly runs from him, hurts him, and longs to return to her former life. Again and again, he forgives her, loves her, and brings her back to him, even when those around him advise him to move on and find someone who will love him back. Isn’t this the advice we give? We want to save our loved ones from pain, not advise them to return to a place or relationship where pain is inevitable. I was faced with this dilemma a few weeks ago. I will joyfully accept any pain if it might bring someone else happiness, let them know they are loved, or possibly lead to restoration. For instance in the case of my friend, one of the most painful prayers I have spoken has been the one for God to bless her friendships with other women, so she will have someone to be there for her, the way she used to allow me to be. But this pain is not something I can force someone else to take on. My son, William, used to be best friends with my friend’s child. My son knows about the severed relationship (I’ll never forget the time he saw me crying and told me I should make my friend a pie to fix everything!), and he misses his friend that he hasn’t seen in a year. He wanted to send the child a card so he would know he remembers him. I said that I would leave it up to him if he wanted to send one. My son said, “But what if your friend throws it away and he never sees it?” My heart broke all over again. I said, “she might, but you will never know if that happens. Is it worth that risk if he does see it and it makes him happy?” He said yes.
So, to all my friends, feeling this heartache, I don’t want to advise you to love unconditionally, because it always hurts to love when we are not loved back. But it is what the bible tells us to do, and so that is what I suggest. Spend a lot of time with God, listen to what he says, and obey him when he tells you to do something. If he tells you to call, call. When he convicts you, ask for forgiveness and apologize to the other person. When he places it on your heart to send a card, be obedient that very day. People might think you are crazy and your efforts might not be welcomed. I thought I was crazy. Loyalty has always been my best characteristic in my relationships, but I felt it was a curse during this time. Like in that Faith Hill song, I begged God to just let me let go. It felt so unfair that I always have to remain loyal even when people are not loyal to me. I begged God to tell me I didn't have to love her anymore, but I found that God will never tell you not to love someone, but he might tell you it is time to release your grasp. God repeatedly told me “Not yet. Don’t let go of this friendship yet. Rely on me, listen to me, and don’t let go yet.” So I listened. I may never know why he told me to hold on to something that seemed so hopeless for so long. It was just a few weeks ago that I heard God tell me, “you can let go now. You have done what I’ve told you to do. Here is the peace and rest you have so longed for.” I can’t explain the feeling that I have now and how different it is from the devastation that held me for so long.
To my friends who have yet to forgive someone or you are hesitant to restore the relationship, forgive. Forgive every time you remember the event or conversation that divided you. It is near impossible for us to do this with our own strength. We need to turn to God consistently. People say “I’ll forgive but I won’t forget.” No, we never forget, but with every reminder we can be humbled by the fact that we, too, are sinners and we need God’s redemption as much as anyone else. Could the same thing happen again and could we experience the same pain all over again? Yes, we might. But God will be there to pick us up again.
The benefit of all this is that it brings greater communion between us and God. We suddenly understand how much he loves us. I’ve never been able to identify with the father of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%2015:11ff&version=NIV) . I’ve been the unappreciative son who wanders from home looking for something better and I’ve been the faithful but bitter older son who resents his father’s unconditional love for his wayward brother. Now I understand what the father felt when he was watching, waiting for his beloved son to return home to him. And while he was still far away, the waiting father runs to him and doesn’t even give the boy a chance to say his rehearsed apology. He throws his arms around him and rejoices that he has returned. He calls for a huge celebration, for his son has returned to him! He doesn’t hold a grudge, give him sanctions, or ask him to pay him back for what he has taken. The son is welcomed back into a fully restored relationship with him. This is what I imagine I would do if I ever saw my friend on my doorstep. Oh the joy of that day! I don’t know if it will happen during my time on earth, but I trust that God, the Redeemer, will allow me this moment one day in heaven when no sin is there to separate anymore.
"I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love."
— Mother Teresa