Poison Control

One of most impactful experiences of a Kairos Prison Ministry weekend is the day we focus on forgiveness. Early that morning, both residents and volunteers are given slips of paper on which to write down the names of those who have offended us, whether through devastating deeds or smaller slights. Incidents from the past return to mind throughout the day, and all of our lists lengthen. At one point, we hear and consider this most profound perspective: Unforgiveness is like drinking poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die. As this insight seeps into the 80-plus souls gathered there, no one needs to defend the notion, for no one pretends to deny it. It is a powerful moment of coming to terms with this commonly shared human condition.

We all bear the wounds of disappointments and hurts, as well as the grudges that fester within them. The question is, how do we purge our grievances and resentments? Forgiveness is not easy! We’ve all wielded unforgiveness as a shield against more potential harm, and sometimes pointing to the actions of others diverts us from examining our own. Moreover, the process of forgiveness means unearthing offenses we once “buried alive”—suppressing without resolving—and sometimes the one who’s disappointed us the most is ourselves.

Somewhere along the way, I discovered that when I accept and trust Jesus’ limitless love for me—when I contemplate and believe that He not only forgives me for my wrongs, but loves me enough to pay their price—then my heart changes toward those have wronged me. The grudge-dam bursts, and forgiveness flows. Granted, I sometimes find myself having to release the same people for the same wrong again and again, but it’s always the acceptance of God’s love for me that gives me the ability, desire, and strength to do so.

The apostle Paul shows us this amazing thing about God’s proactive love: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”1 He didn’t wait for an apology that might never have come; He took the initiative to love us in this most selfless way. And what did He say about those who wrongfully executed Him? “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”2 Such forgiveness is the antidote to our resentments and all their toxins, and Jesus Christ is where we find it.

Father, may your love so live in me that I would freely forgive others as you, through Christ, have painstakingly forgiven me. Amen.

Love . . . keeps no records of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:4, 5)

1 Romans 5:8
2 Luke 23:34

Amazing Compassion

“Pay It Forward” is a movie about a middle school boy who, in response to his teacher’s assignment to change the world for the better, devises a plan he calls (you guessed it), “pay it forward.” The idea is this: instead of returning a favor received from another, the beneficiary responds by doing favors for three other people. I usually enjoy feel-good movies, and this is a feel-good movie.

I’ve come to realize that compassion has a phenomenon all its own: we are best comforted by those who have suffered what we now suffer, and our own compassion burns more deeply for others now experiencing the struggles we ourselves have encountered along the way. It flows not so much as a resolve of our will, but as a response of our heart. Have you seen it around you? Have you lived it yourself? Who, for instance, can understand the shock of a cancer diagnosis better than another who has absorbed the same? Who can come alongside one reeling from job loss better than those once similarly dismissed? Can anyone even begin to understand a life of addiction other those who have been humbled by its power and still live with its reality one day at a time? Injustices, unfaithfulness, grief—no matter our plight, it is generally the people who have pioneered these perilous paths before us who now strengthen us the most. And our deepest pools of compassion await those now navigating the raging rapids we ourselves once traversed.

To the church in ancient Corinth, St. Paul writes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4). This truth hasn’t changed at all since the apostle penned it two thousand years ago, has it? People are still people, and God is still God. And His compassion still flows most freely through those who have known its comfort. People like you and me.

Who around us will cry silently for comfort today?

Lord God, please send me as your instrument of compassion so that others receive the comfort they crave. Amen.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:12)

True Dignity

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. (Psalm 116:15)

Mom had lived life in a way anyone would admire—with resilience and resolve, elegance and elan, wisdom and grace. A portrait of dignity. Now ravaged by disease and rapid in demise, she yet again showed a depth of understanding that people had come to respect in her: that so many of the things we value in this life—belongings and possessions, physical vigor and strength, steely independence—don’t follow us into the heavenly kingdom that awaits. “It all has to be stripped away, doesn’t it?” she mused. “Yes,” I replied, “I think you’re right.” We sat together in accepting silence.

But for the promise of eternal life, this would have been the stuff of tragedy. From the outside, pitiable; by human reckoning, outrageous. Yet as I watched Mom relinquish these things we so highly esteem, I couldn’t shake from my mind this perspective from the Psalms: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” It had long been for me a source of wonder and hope, but now the verse repeatedly came to mind and resoundingly came to life. For as Mom’s body steadily weakened toward its natural end, her soul yearned ever-stronger for a newness yet to come, reaching out for freedom from a body that now constrained her.

It is an experience that awaits all who trust in Christ Jesus. The apostle Paul explains it for us: “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16, 17).

As Mom faded from this world and set her sites on the next, there was no loss of dignity; instead, we only saw her grow in it—true dignity, the dignity that is now and forever ours in Christ. Precious, indeed.

Lord Jesus, our dignity—indeed our glory—is found in you and only in you. Thank you. From the bottom of our heart, thank you. Amen.

The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
(1 Corinthians 15:42-44)