By: Robert Jacobs
Let’s face it, there are people in our life who, for various reasons, are hard to love. With the holidays upon us, I am sure that many of you have thought about what it will mean to interact with these hard to love people, particularly those in your family. Often, we believe (at least subconsciously anyway) that those who have wounded us deeply deserve to be as miserable as they have made us, supposedly fulfilling our desire for justice.
But what do you do if that person seeks forgiveness? What do you do when they attempt to restore a broken relationship? What if they yield to Jesus Himself and find the peace and wholeness that He offers? If they abide in Christ, they will have their shame, sin, and reproach washed away by His blood. Will you be happy for them? Will you shout for joy that they have found wholeness, or will you be bitter that they have the peace of Christ that they do not deserve?
I was the latter. My father and I had a rough relationship which resulted in my receiving substantial emotional wounds. Toward the end of his life, my father became a faithful follower of Christ, abiding in Him and finding the peace and purpose that can only come from His hand. I, however, was bitterly implacable. I literally said to my wife, “Do you know who this man is? He does not deserve the peace of Christ in his life!” I believed that his sin disqualified him from the Grace of Christ and that no one should have anything to do with “that man.”
We see a similar situation in one of the healings that Jesus performs. Upon entering Jericho, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was passing by and he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mk 10:47) The crowd following Jesus turned to Bartimaeus and rebuked him, telling him to be quiet (Mk 10:48). In other words, those who were following Jesus did not think Bartimaeus was worthy to talk with Christ. After all, he was blind, a disability that this society believed to be the result of a moral impediment (Jn 9:9).
Are we this crowd? Are we those “following” Jesus only to preclude those who need him the most? Sure, we may say that we want the lost and the hurting to find Christ, but does that include those who have wounded us?
As the story with Bartimaeus continues, Christ does hear him and calls him to Himself. After this, those following Jesus changed their toon, telling Bartimaeus to “cheer up” because Christ had called him. Strange how their attitude only changes after Jesus rebukes them through His actions.
There is a lesson here for us. Just as our sin does not preclude us from following Christ, so also does other’s sin not prevent them…even those who have wounded us deeply. If we are honest, none of us deserve to follow Christ. From the moment of our conception, we were all rebels and traitors against the kingdom of God (Ps 51:5).
By the grace of God, I began to make peace with my father shortly before he died. Yet if I had celebrated his embracing of Christ rather than rejected it, much more healing could have taken place.
But what about you? Is there someone hard to love in your family—someone who has hurt you badly—that is trying to restore a relationship with you, yet you will not allow them to? It could be that God is calling you to allow that person to tangibly experience the forgiveness of God in their life by you forgiving them.
This is not to say that we do not need to have healthy boundaries with our family, and by no means do I think you should place yourself in danger. However, I do think that when we correctly remember how much we have been forgiven by Christ, it is much easier to offer forgiveness to others and celebrate a reconciled relationship. If we forget how much we have been forgiven, though, we become hard and bitter, claiming our woundedness as a kind of identity.
This Christmas love the hard to love. Seek to be a good gift to others rather than looking for others to be a good gift to you. Because with the Spirit in you, you are indeed a good gift to everyone around you.