Today, Espressos of Faith offers an excerpt from the upcoming Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day, due out this month.
Cover design: Traci Carmichael Art
I performed an interesting social experiment in the past year at a favorite establishment in my town. Folks working there weren’t very friendly, to the point I dreaded going in. So, I tried being very kind every time I went, going out of my way to clean up any mess we left, saying something encouraging at the counter, and in general bringing in a consistent smile, no matter what attitude came back at me. I went in more regularly with my kids, having them do homework and lingering, looking for opportunities to bless. It took a few months, but then suddenly, the staff not only knew me by name, but they started going out of their way to also be kind: They brought my kids free food, helped me more with questions I had, and apologized for mistakes even when I didn’t complain. Although I’m sure I’m not the reason the entire establishment is friendlier, I was able to show my kids that kindness begets more kindness. Even they have noticed a difference.
So, I keep thinking how deliberate the choice is to love and bless. It doesn’t always flow naturally; it is a minute-by-minute choice, but if we employed this same idea everywhere—the car that cuts in front of us for a parking space, the tired clerk at the market counter, the pharmacy technician who doesn’t need one more prescription coming in when she’s already so behind—how many people could we each reach with love and grace? Too much in this world tears us down. What if that pharmacy clerk was going to go home and drink herself into a stupor again tonight because of problems weighing on her unbeknownst to me? What if the impatient car parker is also impatient at home with his kids, snapping at the least little annoyance? Do we need to cause him more angst, or could grace perhaps make a small dent, leading to bigger dents, in the way he daily functions? Could our choice to extend grace turn around a despairing, tense, hopeless attitude? All I know is grace changed who I am, and the people who offered me grace in my own bad attitudes deserve so much credit; they overlooked the ugly in me and encouraged the beautiful. Grace changes things, one forgiving moment at a time. My mouth can’t hold poison and antidote all at the same time. James, brother of Jesus, said it best:
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
And here is a fun one for you. I thought it was amazingly descriptive to wear cursing as one’s garment and have it enter one’s body like water and bones like oil. Hello, songwriter! Modifiers and analogies make my heart jump!
Psalm 109:17-18, David (not yet king) speaking
He loved to pronounce a curse—
may it come on him.
He found no pleasure in blessing—
may it be far from him.
He wore cursing as his garment;
it entered into his body like water,
into his bones like oil.
Summertime presents some nice opportunities for learning how to relate better to one another. I bet if you’re a parent of kids still at home, it does in your house too. One of the rules of my house is: “If you come to any of us with accusations, anger, or emotional response of any kind, you may not walk away when you are in the middle of receiving a response. If you are not prepared to hear out a response to a problem/accusation you put forth, you should not present it in the first place.” I told my children that I know adults who do this to me all of the time. They drop their emotion down but run off and sulk without sticking around to hear another perspective. Any issue or relationship worth working out deserves to have both people heard. We better ourselves with stronger, committed relationships if we learn to develop this one important concept. I see this as part of the blessing/curse idea. Working through misunderstandings or upsets needs to be approached from a stance of blessing. Blessing invites openness and vulnerability. Cursing shuts relationships down. I don’t want cursing to enter my body like water or my bones like oil as the Psalmist depicts for us, which suggests to me a “soaking in.” Toxic interactions have a way of soaking in and permeating so many areas of our lives. Grace and love do just the opposite; they cover us:
1 Peter 4:8, Apostle Peter speaking
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
Along the same lines, I had a difficult “issue of character” discussion with one child at bedtime one night. It wasn’t a huge deal, really, and it was only one area of correction, but this child struggles to receive constructive criticism no matter how delicately it is presented. I waited to make sure it sank in and shared that we all have to be able to take feedback and ask God if it’s something He wants us to correct. Then, because this child bruises easily from feedback, I spent the falling-asleep moments listing all of the things this child does well, areas where I am very pleased, and at Item Number 20, the slight smile gave way to slumber, and peace climbed beside us and laid its head on the pillow as well, a welcome companion. That is not how I conduct myself every day, but when I consult God and come from a standpoint of blessing, informed by His living Word, it is a much more peaceful way to do life.
Just as mourning comes in waves, so does His grace. It rides in on constant tides like a covering of love that soaks into every pore until it fills the heart. There is never grief without grace, if we’d only learn to keep our feet in the Living Water, facing the oncoming surf, not fearing the raging storms, but instead standing steadfast to receive as He gives. If only we stood there in great faith and expectancy, we’d quickly find He never ever stops giving. We’re the ones who lose hope or courage and walk away from the source. His waves of grace chase us and lap at our feet, desiring to heal, to nurture, and to be received, but if our backs are to those waves as we walk away, we never even know what was there for us, what we failed to discover as we walk back inland to where discouragement and fear are ready to take hold and plant roots—only because we gave those dark thoughts permission again. I don’t want to give them permission anymore. I want to sit in tide pools of never-ending grace at the feet of Jesus. If you trust Him, you can sit there too!