Lessons of Sadie

I love to read novels, especially historical fiction. Beach time is one of my favorite times for reading. I recently returned from an Isle of Palms vacation and read Lisa Wingate’s book THE LANGUAGE OF SYCAMORES. Why did this novel make me want to comment here? I guess because the story character Sadie reminded me that every family on earth encounters dysfunction. In the story, Sadie’s name had been scratched out of the family Bible… Serious right?

Sadie’s sister Rose was the grandmother of the central character (Karen) in the novel. Rose had two sisters in life, but Sadie was the one sister scratched out of the family Bible. What could possibly have caused this kind of estrangement? We might find ourselves asking the same question in our own families. Now about Sadie – stop reading now if you don’t want to discover a partial spoiler in Wingate’s story. This is close to the ending, an excerpt from a letter that Grandma Rose wrote to Karen before she passed away, but which remained regrettably unread by Karen for a few years after Rose’s passing:

“There is one last thing I must ask you to do for me, my practical girl. Make amends with your sister. Do not harbor the little grudges of childhood. How I wish I could deliver this message to my own dear sisters: I am sorry. Just that. I was wrong. I held a grudge when I should have forgiven. I criticized when I should have loved. Most people need love much more than they need critics. Remember that, and you will live a good life. I Love You, Grandma Rose.”

I’m thinking there are even bigger grudges in adulthood because we are more sophisticated in our opinion-forming and blaming energies. And lots of us are the practical ones, with pretty good arguments. I can relate…

But, Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” This made me think of what it often takes to forgive – and that is very often giving up my right to be right. It is taking time to listen. Taking time to respect. Taking time to consider. Taking time to be grateful. Taking time to remember what is good and praiseworthy. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”

My opinion-forming energies are always working in overdrive until something reminds me to wake up out of my slumber. Recently, that wake up call was a car accident that could have taken out one of my children or grandchildren or all of the family. If I remember how much I have been forgiven, then I have no other motive except to know the Lord God and act like a forgiven child and recipient of His grace. God’s Truth has a melting effect. I have the freedom to forgive freely as I have been forgiven. And I have the freedom to spread grace around. What a wonderful use of precious time.

There is work that is worthy: I must cast off my non-forgiving motives. Cast off my self-reformation. Cast off my success-building in interpersonal relationships. Cast off being right about all my well-nursed grievances. Truly, love trumps every issue that might steal my joy, slurp up my emotional energy, or threaten my sense of justice. Love reminds me of the tremendous loss and grief that I would have experienced had that car accident turned out differently than it did. And the tremendous loss and grief that would have been experienced by others in the family Bible, those scratched out and those not scratched out.

Thank you Sadie for reminding me of the forgiveness that it is a privilege for me to extend to others for God’s glory. Thank you my Dear Parents for drilling this quote into me and my brother when we were growing up – “let us love one another.” Dear God, please make me less practical, less critical, less graceless. Help me never to write anyone out of the family Bible.

Come Close to Me

Reconciliation is the reason Jesus stooped way down from heaven to suffer human brokenness in physical death, provide atonement for our sins, and provide the ultimate victory for believers – reconciliation with God from Whom we had been estranged since Adam. But, living out reconciliation as believers is still hard. Almost everyday I ask myself “why can’t we all get along?” And then I answer my own question with “I know why, I just wish it could be different…”

What we long for is what only Jesus can provide. Genesis 45:3-5 says, “Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still living?’ But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come close to me.’ When they had done so, he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.’ “

One key to reconciliation is “coming close.” God did this “coming close” when He sent His only Son to us to provide a way for our salvation through His death and resurrection. We in turn need to do this “coming close” in our primary vertical relationship with God and then our horizontal relationships with people.

We live with the possibility that we can offer one-way forgiveness to others when they have hurt us, but the reality that we may not be able to experience two-way reconciliation. Isn’t this the model Jesus gave us? He came to provide forgiveness for sin, but seemingly many do not accept the invitation into Christ’s reconciliation and choose to remain lost.

In my educational career, I found that all kinds of hostility and evil could be perpetuated by trying to communicate with colleagues, parents, and students indirectly through social media, email, texts, and letters. Misunderstanding abounded. The absence of body language and facial expressions made imaginations run wild. Missing tone of voice was a setup for confusion.

As walls of misunderstanding were being built up, it always seemed that they came magically tumbling down in face-to-face meetings. Of course, the magic is in the power of the Holy Spirit to break down barriers and move in with love and grace. Physical presence always seemed to light the path. Empathy was made possible. Forgiveness was easier to embrace.

Joseph had already forgiven his brothers for selling him into slavery and not knowing if he was alive or dead many years later. He had been freed from the slavery of unforgiveness. Yet, he longed for reconciliation with his brothers and God made a way for this. It involved “coming close.” Joseph initiated the process of reconciliation as a picture of the way God would initiate reconciliation through Jesus Christ.

If we live out faith in Christ by modeling Him, we need to be initiators of reconciliation. When we are sinned against, we need to make the first move. The first move deals with our own hearts. We need to repent of any part we have played in causing hurt and then forgive others for the hurts they have caused. But then, like Joseph, we need to keep doing the work that is our part – to move in close to those who have caused the hurt, to seek restoration, repair, and rebuilding if it can possibly be re-had.

What we find is that proximity and presence, being in person, being face-to-face, and “coming close” are all barrier-droppers. If you read the story of Joseph, you will see that, even though the process of reconciliation took years, that Joseph was constantly moving toward it. It was his hope, his dream, and his longing to be reunited with his family. It was the work to be done to which he was dedicated. It was the work to be done that depended on God’s grace and mercy to be completed. It was the work to be done that God used for the salvation of many lives, not just Joseph’s family. The picture is usually bigger than what we see, because God is working behind the scenes to continue His offer of salvation to many others.

“Come close to me” is the watchword for moving from forgiveness to reconciliation.