by Kim Allen, Director of SHINE Children's Ministry
It’s that time of year again. All the cutesy people start wearing cutesy stuff and take cute Christmas card photos and post them. Just between us, I feel lucky to get my hair washed. (And I don’t even have little kids anymore.) But begun to catch on to the illusion we all live in as I scroll through the social media blitz associated with all of this: that many smiling faces do not necessarily equal happy hearts. Far from it.
Before you write this off as one more rant to “get real” on your social media, hear me out. I’m not saying the photos do not generally represent our families; they do in many ways. Our photos of kiddos/dogs/anniversary trips/tailgates/niece’s wedding are awesome. But having lived in this tired old world long enough, I know that trouble is coming. Maybe not now or even this year, but at some point, that family photo will not be representative of the emotional state of the people in it.
It could be true of this morning, when two of your kids were fighting over the last available snack pack in a lunch box. Or it could be true this evening, when your teenager has produced a D in his math class, something you didn’t see coming because progress reports tend to disappear into the abyss of electronic communications that assault us daily. (I’m not saying this is necessarily an Allen problem; I’m just saying that it could have theoretically been a problem at one time in my mothering career . . .)
Some recent lessons God has been teaching me—both in my personal life and my professional career and even observations of my friends’ lives—have revealed to me that everything may not be as it seems on the surface. There is conflict or sadness or despair present, whether I recognize it or not. And it doesn’t just go away in most cases. You would think that I have learned this lesson before now, and indeed I have, but evidently, I need to learn it again.
I am re-learning that time and space and Scripture are the balms that God gives us for these kinds of wounds. Friends are a bonus, but at the end of the day, if I have these three things, that is all I really need. Time and space have a way of distancing my initial emotional reaction and allowing me to respond rationally to a person or situation. It would serve me well to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, as James 1:19 warns us. The part of this passage that is sometimes not seen is the continuing thought in verse 21, to “receive with meekness the implanted word”.
I love the way the late Eugene Peterson phrased this concept in The Message, his paraphrase of the New Testament:
Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.
What I think God is trying to teach me (again) is that other people’s “issues” that come to my attention are not really only about them; their problems reveal my anger and impatience that are lurking beneath the surface. God uses sore spots and hurt feelings and tough conversations and damaged relationships to change my heart and conform me to the image of Christ, not just to “fix” the other person. He uses these situations to demonstrate my absolute need for the Holy Spirit and the fruit that comes only from His life in me. Through the regular reading of His Word, He convinces me once again that I am very much in need of His love, forgiveness and grace, even if the whole mess is “not my fault.” I can only truly extend grace and forgiveness if I have received it myself.
Now that’s a salvation-garden I’d like to live in every single day.