Category: Forgiveness



I’ve never been an immaculate housekeeper. Okay, let’s be real. My housecleaning skills are definitely subpar. I’m quite comfortable with dirty dishes in the sink and dust bunnies in the corner. I only clean for company.

But lately, I’ve become a bit of a clean freak. My daily chores now include disinfecting cabinet knobs and door handles, wiping down countertops, and sanitizing sink faucets. My house has never been this clean.

Thank you, COVID-19.

My cleaning frenzy began the last week of March. Our youngest daughter had spent the previous week on spring break in Florida, before hastily flying home to finish her college semester online. Our middle daughter and her husband’s family were enjoying their spring break in Mexico. That is, until an impending border closure led to a sudden change of plans, subjecting them to a sleepless night in the JFK airport as they awaited their connecting flight home. Concerned that some corona viruses might have hitched a ride back with them, we all socially-distanced and self-quarantined.

And I cleaned.

Even though I don’t love cleaning, I’ve come to love the feeling of being clean. At the end of the day, I can sleep peacefully, knowing my house, and my hands, are clean.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be clean, not just from viruses and germs, but spiritually. I’ve been reading through the book of John, where the word “clean” has been calling out to me like a prized package of Lysol wipes. Let’s take a look at one of those passages, a familiar one, found in John 13.

Jesus and His disciples are sharing a final meal before His final sacrifice. During supper, He suddenly gets up, gathers towels, and fills a basin with water. The Master then kneels as the Servant, cupping dusty feet in His almighty hands. The disciples are speechless, but submissive. All except for one. In characteristic fashion, Peter is outspoken in his objection.

Allow me to paraphrase John 13:6-9:

Peter: “You’re not washing my feet!”

Jesus: “Peter, it’s important that I do this for you.”

Peter: “Ok, then don’t just wash my feet; give my whole body a bath!”

Peter is a black-and-white kind of guy. With him, it’s all, or nothing. Jesus pauses to give Peter a brief lesson in personal hygiene.

“He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean…” (John 13:10a, NASB)

Completely clean. I liked the sound of that. Especially now, with my newfound appreciation for sanitization.

But Jesus is speaking of a spiritual cleansing. The kind that occurs the instant a repentant soul appeals to a righteous Savior to remove all the stains. The kind that results from standing naked under the blood-red flow of forgiveness.

It’s a deep clean. Permanent and pristine.

Jesus also offers His followers a second cleaning service. This one is to be received regularly, as we brush up against a contaminated world. Because our feet will get dirty. Our fingers will get germy.

“It is the daily cleansing which we are taught to seek…is it not a relief to be permitted thus to wash our feet after a day’s contact with the earth?” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary)

It is a relief, indeed, to slip freshly scrubbed feet between the sheets at night.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9, NASB)

This is a season for cleansing. For washing, not just our hands, but our hearts. For sanitizing, not just our surfaces, but our very souls.

Whether it’s a sin-weary body, or just two tired feet…won’t you let the Servant-Savior do this for you today?

It feels so good to be clean.



My Snapchat streak passed away quietly sometime in the night. I didn’t mean to kill it. It died of neglect.

RIP, Streak.

For you non-Snapchatters, a “streak” is created when you and a friend exchange photos (called “snaps”) at least once a day for three consecutive days. In the image above the little flame icon indicates a streak, and the preceding number is its age in days. I’m not sure what the ultimate goal is exactly, but it is VERY important to keep your streak going. My teenage daughter somehow talked me into starting a streak with her.

It lasted 58 days.

In my defense, I worked hard at that streak. I don’t like taking selfies, so I had to be creative in finding other subjects to snap. Coffee mugs featured prominently in my chats. Exciting stuff there.

I enjoyed staying in touch with my daughter throughout the day. I looked forward to learning, for example, which shoes she was sporting in the morning, or who she was goofing off with in class. But I did not like the pressure I felt to respond in kind. My shoes just aren’t that cute, and goofing off at work is generally frowned upon.

I recently noticed that my Bible app is now doing streaks. It keeps track of how many consecutive days I’ve read my online Bible. I didn’t sign up for this. Today I was greeted with:

Good Morning, Shelley

You’ve connected with God’s Word for 14 days in a row!

Cue the confetti.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to have goals. It’s great to form daily habits that reflect and reinforce the priorities in our lives. But the stress of supporting a streak is just too much for me.

I want to connect with the ones I love simply because I love them. And if I miss a day, to know it’s ok to pick back up right where we left off. Without having to start the count all over again.

It reminds me of my teen years, when I used to practice the piano. I’d be playing along just fine, and then I’d make a dreaded mistake. Back to the beginning I’d go, in search of a flawless performance. The result? I usually knew the first few lines of my pieces really well!

But what if, instead of starting completely over when we messed up, we just kept moving forward? I think that’s what God is really after in our walks with Him. Not perfection; but affection. Not obligation; but devotion.

I don’t think He has a giant heavenly Snapchat scoreboard where He tracks our performance. I don’t believe He expects perfect and unbroken “streaks” with His children. When we skip a day in His Word, we don’t undo everything we’ve experienced with Him up to that point. When we make a mistake, we can acknowledge our shortcomings and sin. And then simply resume walking in love and fellowship with Him.

That’s it. The pressure’s off.

So strike the streak. Life with Jesus is not a series of snaps, but a lifetime stroll with a loving, and forgiving, Savior.

For you have rescued me from death; you have kept my feet from slipping. So now I can walk in your presence, O God, in your life-giving light. (Psalm 56:13, NLT)

Passionate about Purity

Passionate about Purity

I was out shopping one afternoon when I was approached by a large, muscular, young man. He was holding a single, white, long-stemmed rose.

“What does the color white mean?” he asked me, gesturing at the rose.

I assumed he was selecting a rose for his girlfriend and wanted to make sure the color matched the sentiment he hoped to convey.

“It means Purity,” I responded without hesitation.

He looked at me, puzzled.

“What’s THAT?” he muttered, as he turned away.

He chose a yellow rose instead!

Though this brief exchange took place years ago, I’ve never forgotten it and have often pondered how I would answer the question that went unanswered:  What IS purity?

Is it just an old-fashioned and outdated concept? Is it even possible in this day and age? The Bible has plenty to say about it…

Purity is puzzling.

Purity doesn’t make sense apart from a knowledge of God. God is Pure. The dictionary defines pure as: “free from moral fault or guilt.” Because God is pure, He calls His followers to live in purity:

And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:3, NLT)

Sexual purity is a foreign concept in a society that promotes passion with little restraint. Yet children of God are not to conform to the world’s ways. We are to be set apart, holy:

For it is God’s will that you should be holy: You must abstain from sexual immorality… (1 Thessalonians 4:3, BSB)

A Holy God has determined the boundaries for our sexual conduct. A biblical definition of purity could be simply this: abstinence before marriage and faithfulness after marriage. But purity is more than just seeing how close we can get to the boundary lines without crossing them:

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. (Ephesians 5:3, NIV)

Not even a hint. Not even a second look or a lustful thought. Because even the tiniest speck of contamination renders a substance impure.

Sounds completely unattainable, doesn’t it? Yet…

Purity is possible.

Whenever God issues a command, inherent within it is the power to obey it. Believers in Christ have His Holy Spirit within them, and ready access to His strength. I personally know dozens of Christian couples who remained sexually pure until marriage, and many more who are staying faithful after marriage. For with God, nothing is impossible.

But this doesn’t happen without some serious intentionality. We must get practical about purity. These biblical principles can help:

1–Trust your Father’s heart. He’s not trying to deceive or deprive you, but to protect and provide His very best for you, His beloved child.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 3:17, NIV)

2–Let His Word be your guide. God’s timeless instructions must be the basis of your moral convictions, not the changing opinions of the world.

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. (Psalm 119:9, ESV)

3–Avoid whatever might encourage sexual compromise. This would include websites, movies, music, etc. Seek out others who share your desire to live a holy life.

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22, ESV)

4–Ask God for help when you are tempted. Look for His way out–and then take it!

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. (1 Corinthians 10:13, NLT)

5–Take sexual sin seriously. God does. He knows the heartache it can bring, and He cares about your well-being.

Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. (1 Corinthians 6:18, NLT)

Purity isn’t perfection.

But what if you’ve already blown it? We all stumble in many ways. Only Jesus led a life of perfect purity. His perfection purchased our pardon.

One of the most wonderful verses in the Bible is 1 John 1:9:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (NIV)

Did you notice the word “purify?” If you’ve stumbled sexually in the past, your purity can be restored! Go to God, sincerely confess your sins and gratefully accept His forgiveness.

You can begin again, clean and pure in His eyes.

I recently counseled a young, single college student who was very relieved when her pregnancy test came back negative. After this scare, she was ready to make some changes. She eagerly accepted the invitation to pray and recommit herself to a lifestyle of sexual purity. She even planned to buy herself a purity ring as a reminder of her cleansing and commitment!

“Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18, NLT)

God can make a red rose white again.

Friend, may I encourage you to become passionate about purity? It’s never too late to begin doing what is right! Your commitment may not be applauded or understood. You may not do it perfectly. But purity IS possible, with God’s help!

A life of purity is like a rare and fragrant flower, beautiful in His sight.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8, NIV) 

We Build

We Build

Hands with ring

By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established…
(Proverbs 24:3, NIV)

I can still see her, that younger version of me, newly engaged and mesmerized by the brilliance of her diamond ring as it reflected the ballroom lights. It’s a wonder I heard anything at all that first FamilyLife conference, so enamored was I with that ring on my finger, as I held the hand of the handsome guy who had dropped to one knee and placed it there. I was young, in love and starry-eyed.

Six months later and we were happily married, setting out to build a godly marriage based on the principles of His Word. We had been blessed with a good foundation, the best possible start. Six years further down the road we attended another FamilyLife conference, this time as parents of young children. We enjoyed “speaking in complete sentences” and calling each other something besides “Mom” and “Dad,” as we were encouraged to continue building our home on those same, unchanging biblical principles.

The wise woman builds her house,
But the foolish tears it down with her own hands.
(Proverbs 14:1, NAS)

And then, somewhere in the course of the 18 years that followed, we slowly began to forget, drift. Hurts and disappointments came to visit. Stubbornness, unforgiveness and bitterness took up residence. I did more than my fair share of the tearing down and less than my fair share of the building up. Our marriage was in need of repair.

It’s bigger than we thought. It’s taller than it ought to be, this pile of rubble and ruins.”*

When the opportunity to attend another FamilyLife conference this past weekend presented itself, we both knew we needed to take it. It seemed to me we were each limping a little as we carried our suitcases into the hotel, this older version of ourselves straining under the weight of the rubble we had allowed to accumulate.

As we nervously took our seats in the ballroom, I didn’t even glance at my wedding ring, self-consciously scanning the room instead. The pre-marrieds were easy enough to pick out, all starry-eyed and hand-holding as they were. But to my relief, there were also some couples who looked a lot like us, a bit weary and weighed down. Many were our age or older. There was even one couple sitting near us who had been married for 43 years. All had come seeking encouragement and support.

We clear away what was, and make room for what will be.”*

Throughout the course of the weekend, we were reminded of the keys to a successful marriage. We were confronted with our individual failures to follow God’s plan and welcomed the opportunities we were given to confess and forgive. It wasn’t always easy. But God blessedly came, like a bulldozer, and cleared away the rubble.

“The God of heaven will give us success;
therefore we His servants will arise and build…”
(Nehemiah 2:20a, NAS)

With fresh but tender hope, we began to rebuild. At the end of the conference, we stood in that hotel ballroom filled with hundreds of couples who struggle just like us, held hands as we faced each other, and in unison tearfully renewed our vows. (We’ve got the certificate to prove it!) It was especially moving and meaningful for us since we will celebrate our 25th anniversary next year.

Our oldest daughter recently got engaged and plans to marry this coming year. At the conference I couldn’t help but think of her and her fiancé, as I remembered Chris and myself as a newly engaged couple and reflected on where we are today, almost 25 years later.

Here’s what I would tell them:

Marriage truly is God’s wonderful design and His beautiful gift. It’s okay to have stars in your eyes right now. But know that when the excitement of a wedding and the novelty of being newlyweds subsides, building a godly home will take hard work, humility and dedication. Build each other up, don’t tear each other down. Keep short accounts and don’t let the rubble pile up. But if it does, invite God to come and help you clear it away. Then you can resume building, with His grace and strength, for His glory.

To my fellow married couples (and myself!) I would say:

Every marriage needs some focused TLC from time to time. View your relationship as a sacred priority. Regularly invest in it. A couples small group or a FamilyLife conference are great places to start. Your marriage is worth it. The marriages of future generations are watching.

And to my husband of nearly 25 years, I offer this:

What I’m trying to say, in some clumsy way, is that it’s you and only you, for always.”*

There is no one else I’d rather keep building with. 18 years from now, if the Lord allows, let’s be that couple, sitting side by side at the FamilyLife conference, who’ve been married for 43 years.


*Lyrics are from “We Build” by Nichole Nordeman. A great video meditation with this song, on the work and commitment of marriage can be found at:
For more information on FamilyLife conferences and other marriage and family resources go to:
To Love Him

To Love Him

I’ll be honest.  There are some passages in the Bible that I’ve never really liked.  Luke 7:36-50 is one of them.  Guess what last night’s Bible study was on?

You guessed it.

In case you’re not familiar with Luke 7:36-50, it’s the story of a woman-with-a-less-than-stellar-reputation who very passionately anointed Jesus.  She was a “sinner.”  A prostitute.

It’s also the story of a man-with-an-impressive-spiritual-resume who very passively stood by.  He was a “saint.”  A Pharisee.

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them. (Luke 7:36-38*)

Luke 7

If I had been one of the dinner guests around the table that evening, I no doubt would have squirmed in my chair and looked away, cringing.  What she does is Awkward.  Embarrassing.  Inappropriate.

Simon, the host of the dinner, was also displeased with this uninvited guest, the party crasher.  Jesus told him a story:

“A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”
Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”
“That’s right,” Jesus said. (Luke 7:41b-43)

Here’s the point:

Some sinners are greater debtors; but whether our debt be more or less, it is more than we are able to pay.” (Matthew Henry)

Let that sink in.

Now imagine Simon’s surprise when Jesus goes on to commend her and correct him:

“Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume. (Luke 7:44b-46)

This gal “got it.”  She understood that Jesus was a very special Guest of Honor.  Worthy of honor.  The ultimate V.I.P.  Suddenly she had my respect.  Her actions were actually the more “appropriate” response.  Because GOD was in the house!

Who can forgive sins but God only, and in Simon’s house God was present in the person of His Son.” (All the Women of the Bible)

She alone fell at His feet and worshiped.

Jesus continues:

“I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” (Luke 7:47-48)

This is the place in the passage where I’d always get hung up.  My problem was that I identified more with the “good” Pharisee than with the “bad” woman.  It seemed “unfair” to me that the one who had sinned more got to love more.

But really, aren’t we all “the woman” in the story?  We’ve each been forgiven MUCH.  So much more than we’ll ever know.  The woman shows us the only “proper” response as she gives Jesus the one thing He’s really after:  OUR LOVE.

The woman was, at least in Simon’s mind, a greater sinner. The woman was, as Jesus pointed out, the greater lover as well.” (Bob Deffinbaugh)

Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?”
And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:48-50)

Isn’t it interesting, that:

Of all those who went to the dinner, only this woman is said to have left forgiven”? (Bob Deffinbaugh)

And at the end of the day, isn’t that all that matters?  The question is not “What have you done?” but “What has Jesus done for you?”  The issue is not where you’ve been, but where He wants to take you.  I have no doubt that her life radically changed that day, and that many other lives were changed through her testimony.

My grandfather, at nearly 70 years of age, came to know Christ through a former prostitute.  He had been invited to hear her story at a church service one evening.  As she spoke, he realized, “If God can forgive her, then he can forgive me.”  He lived another decade, a forgiven, changed man.  I loved him and his story.

I now love the woman of Luke 7 and her story, too.

But most of all, I love “this man (who) goes around forgiving sins.” (Luke 7:49)

To know Him – to be forgiven by Him – is to love Him.

*All Scriptures are from the New Living Translation of the Bible.

(Quotes from Bob Deffinbaugh are excerpted from an article called “Wordless Worship of an Unnamed Woman” at

The Star in Our Faults

The Star in Our Faults

Star painting

I am weak;
Sinner, still.
Faults exposed,
Heartsick, ill.
Head bowed low,
Hand raised high.
Who will free me?
This, my cry.
Mercy dawns,
Purest light.
Heaven to earth,
Piercing night.
Perfect Life,
Violent death.
Faultless Lamb,
Final breath.
Veil now torn,
Victory won.
It is finished!
Love’s work, done!
Grace sufficient,
Covers scar.
Faults, forgiven!
Hero!  Star!

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25, NIV)

Puppies and Poop

Puppies and Poop

BathThat’s right.  You can’t have one without the other.  The trick is to keep the ‘other’ from getting on the ‘one.’  And on any other surfaces you’d rather not have to immediately sanitize.

Our first week with a new puppy brought a not-so-slight increase in laundry and baths.  (Good thing we live in the county, where we don’t have a water bill.)  I kept hearing that puppies don’t like to combine their bathrooms with their bedrooms.  Well, this little guy didn’t seem to mind that combo one little bit.

I began to dread the scene that awaited me on the other side of the bathroom door each morning.  There he’d be, all 2.1 pounds of him, jumping and scratching on the sides of his kennel, desperate to be picked up and held.  I was genuinely happy to see him and eager to embrace him.  But his condition was not exactly conducive to cuddling, if you know what I mean.

Laurel and I would fly into crisis mode, gathering supplies and scrambling to fill the sink with warm water.  He’d whimper and wiggle as we tried to work some orange-scented “Puppy Fun!” shampoo into the offending areas.  I wanted to say, “Stop fighting me!  I can’t hold you until I get you cleaned up!”  Eventually we’d get him bathed and bundled in a dry towel, where he’d sleep, spent from the struggle.  By then, Laurel and I needed a nap too!

Just like that four-letter word that begins with ‘s,’ SIN happens in our lives.  It goes hand in hand with our human condition.  And when sin happens, we also have a tendency to step in it, track it around, and make an even bigger mess.  We wonder why God appears to be distant as we cry out for comfort.  The truth is He longs to hold us close, but the issue of our sin must first be addressed.  We are helpless to clean ourselves up.

This is why Jesus came.

If you are still resisting Him, might I encourage you to stop?  Submit to His capable care and let His love and mercy wash away sin’s stain.  Relax in His strong grip.  Rest in His tight embrace.

You can trust Him.

If you know Him as Savior, then why not be quick to run to Him when you make a mess?  There’s no need to wallow in it or cower in shame.  Just confess your sin, gratefully accept His forgiveness and get back to enjoying your relationship with Him.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, NAS)

It feels good to be clean.

And even better to be held.


Stormy Weather

Stormy Weather

The drive to Laurel’s orthodontist appointment on this sunny summer morning was pleasant enough.  We chatted amiably and even prayed together.  The drive home?  Not so much.  By the time we turned into the driveway we were hardly speaking to each other.

This was Laurel’s first time getting her braces tightened.  (Or adjusted.  Or whatever it is they do to braces these days.)  The assistant wasn’t the most gentle, and before we even left the office Laurel’s teeth were already sore.  She was also disappointed that her braces were minus the colored elastics she was hoping to sport for her upcoming birthday.  (This may sound minor.  Let me assure you, as the mom of a 12-almost-13-year-old, that it is not.)  Physical pain plus emotional let down is a bad combo.

When my children are hurt I don’t handle it well.  I often react by getting angry.  Not at them, but at the situation, and my lack of control over it.  (Of course, they don’t know the difference.)  I also have a low tolerance for complaining.  The kind which commenced immediately upon exiting the orthodontist’s office.  Another bad combo.

Add to all of this an adolescent girl and one menopausal mama and you’ve now got yourself a really  bad combo.  A hormonal hurricane.  The perfect storm.

Our emotions and voices began rising like an incoming tidal surge.  Before we even knew what had hit, “Tropical Storm Smith” had made landfall and was swirling around us.  Words pelted.  Tears fell.

Upon arriving home we quickly retreated to separate rooms to recover and regroup.  I attempted to process the emotionally charged exchange that had just occurred.  A common denominator stood out to me:  Pain.

When we are hurting, either physically or emotionally, conditions are ideal for a storm to develop.  I also recalled reading a few years ago that hurricanes need fuel, in the form of moist, warm air, to survive.  Laurel’s frustration and my anger added the necessary fuel components.  Next thing we knew we were caught up in unexpected, heated conflict.

Jesus knew a thing or two about storms.  To this day, the Sea of Galilee is notorious for sudden storms that can spring up out of nowhere.  Jesus and His disciples were threatened by such storms on more than one occasion.  Only they never caught Him off guard.

Thankfully, He also knows a thing or two about calming storms.  I asked Him to settle my heart and restore peace to my relationship with my daughter.  We offered and accepted apologies and shared hugs.  We were able to discuss what had happened, and why, and how we might prevent it from escalating out of control in the future.

It isn’t always smooth sailing in relationships.  Storms sneak up.  Conflicts come.  Hormones wreak havoc.    But we don’t have to end up a shipwreck.  With His help we can seek to understand our reactions, learn from our mistakes, and take steps to avoid repeating them.

“And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” (Mark 4:39, ESV)

Ahh, the sweet calm after the storm.

(Note:  The painting above is called “Storm Before the Calm” by Lucy Dickens.)



I have an aversion to throwing away uneaten food, even though the chances of it getting consumed in this household are slim.  I married a man who hates leftovers.  My kids aren’t much help either, unless it involves carry-out pizza.  But I come from a long line of leftover lovers, and old habits die hard.  So I faithfully carry on the proud family tradition of mummifying the contents of assorted little containers in Saran Wrap and sending them off on their journey to the back of the fridge to be forgotten.

A random peek inside my refrigerator revealed, among other delicacies:  a half-eaten, dried out deli chicken breast, a bowl of petrified onion dip, and a moldy ham.  Dee-lish.  Why do I keep this stuff around?  Probably because I have another aversion:  coming into contact with these unappetizing items which I once so carefully preserved.  I simply ignore them and hope they go away.

My state of denial will continue until my husband, disgusted with the crowded shelves, brings the trash can over to the open refrigerator and starts dumping.  We breathe a collective sigh of relief; the dishes are disinfected and returned to the cabinet to await new inhabitants.  It’s The Circle of Leftover Life.

There’s another way I store leftovers, however.  It happens when I’ve been hurt.  I tend to hang onto it, befriending it, rather than letting it go.  I wrap it in layers of self-righteousness, victimization, or justification and stick it in the fridge of unforgiveness, thinking it will be fine in there.  Or maybe it will just miraculously disappear and I won’t have to deal with it.

I’ve heard the refrigerator described as “the place where leftovers go to die.”  Only they don’t really die, do they?  They evolve into something worse.  Just as that bowl of bright orange carrots doesn’t retain its original color and taste, so “hurt” doesn’t remain as “hurt.”  It mutates.

The Bible gives us a glimpse of the changes that occur when we allow hurt to linger in our lives.  It is found in Ephesians 4:31:  “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” (NAS)  Some commentators suggest that this list is a progression, going from bad to worse.  Let’s place the slide of Ephesians 4:31 under a microscope and examine the organisms that are growing there.

I believe hurt is the breeding ground for bitterness, which the thesaurus also describes as “resentment.”  According to Webster’s, the word stems from an Old English word meaning “to bite.”  Bitterness bites, all right.  Hebrews 12:15 describes a “root of bitterness” which “springing up causes trouble.”  When we choose to nurture our hurt, we invite the bacteria of bitterness to multiply.

Wrath and anger are the next arrivals on the scene.  Wrath is translated passion in the New English Bible.  Anger is described as “more premeditated, while wrath is more spontaneous.” (Bob Deffinbaugh, emphasis mine)  Do you see the progression?  Which is considered greater—a crime of passion, or one that is premeditated?  Wrath and anger are dangerous molds that grow in a bitter spirit.

Clamor and slander develop in the Petri dish of our speech.  The dictionary defines clamor as “a loud continuous noise.”  My favorite definition is this:  “(Clamor is) the loud self-assertion of the angry man, who will make everyone hear his grievances.”*  (Did you catch that reference to anger?)  This is where we make sure everyone knows how greatly we have been wronged!  If unchecked, clamor will degrade into slander, which is “speech that demeans the other person” (Deffinbaugh) or is “injurious to another’s good name.”**  These words don’t merely attack the individual’s character and reputation, but, according to Hebrews 12:15, the people we vent to are now also being “defiled.”  This is part of the toxic and infectious nature of bitterness.

The final fungus we view through the lens is malice:  “resentment that has turned even more sour…ill-will to the degree that we wish to see them suffer…actively seeking to bring harm to another.” (Deffinbaugh)  Things can get really messy here.  Because we have been hurt, we want them to hurt too.  This leads many to seek retribution and revenge.

A few years ago I was deeply hurt by someone close to me.  I kept the offense tucked away in a corner of my mind, hoping it would fade with time, but it didn’t.  It was always there, ready to be recalled.  What I failed to notice during the months that followed was that it was morphing into something ugly and unrecognizable.

Instead of just hurt, I began to feel angry.  When the topic came up in conversation, I was all too willing to recount their sins, referring to them by name, with complete disregard for their reputation.   I secretly wanted them to suffer for their indiscretions, thinking they would only be getting what they deserved.  I assured myself that when they called and told me how sorry they were for hurting me, I would most certainly forgive them.  Only that call never came.  Meanwhile, the shelves of my heart were sagging under the weight of all my “leftovers.”

Thankfully, Ephesians 4:31 not only describes the contents of a cluttered heart, but it also provides the remedy:  Put Them Away.  This doesn’t mean stuffing them in a drawer somewhere.  The idea here is “to pick up and carry away, to make a clean sweep.”***  Forgiveness is the equivalent of pulling the trash can over to the refrigerator and tossing out all that nasty stuff we’ve accumulated.  Some things just don’t improve with age!  Get rid of them!

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you,” are the instructions given in the very next verse.   Forgiveness is a choice, and the only right response to what God has done for us in Christ.  When I finally chose to forgive, it was a simple (that doesn’t mean easy!) act of the will.  I didn’t “feel” any differently towards them.  But forgiveness cleared the way for some new things to sprout in my heart, like kindness and compassion.  When I saw this person a month or so later, I surprised myself (and probably them!) when I reached out spontaneously to hug them.  God had freed me from my hurt, bitterness, and anger!  There was now room in my heart for love.

So…what’s in your fridge?  Go ahead, open the door to your heart, and take an honest inventory.  Got some unidentified “dying” objects in there?  Some mystery meat?  God is giving you permission to throw them out.  Enlist others’ help (a trusted friend, your spiritual leader, a godly counselor) if you just can’t bring yourself to face them.  But determine today to forgive.  Let them go.  You won’t miss them!  God can then restock your empty shelves with fresh and wholesome things that only He can supply and that everyone can enjoy!

 *Francis Foulkes, The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians
**Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words
***Robertson’s Word Pictures
The Lists

The Lists

I…hate…him.  I sat up in bed, startled by the intensity of the thought.  The dislike I felt for this person had now morphed into something bigger, uglier.  I had been hurt, on more than one occasion, by his actions.  A conversation earlier that evening had caused the memory of those incidents to resurface.  I was well acquainted with Hurt, and quite familiar with its companions, Anger and Bitterness.  But this new, dark stranger named Hate lurking at the entrance to my heart frightened me.

How did I get here?  I wondered, alarmed.  Hoping to gain some insight by writing, I pulled a half sheet of paper from my Bible cover pocket.  I began retracing my steps, listing the offenses that had caused the hurt.  After an hour or so spent recalling and recording his sins, I slipped the page back into my Bible and turned off the bedside light.

The next evening, I heard a knock at my heart’s door.  This time it was Humility, gently suggesting I take a look at that “log in my own eye.”  I pushed past Pride as I reached for my Bible and the nearest piece of paper, and began compiling my own list:  My Sinful Reactions to Being Hurt.  I was surprised at how quickly the ink covered the page.  Words like:  Disrespect, Critical Spirit, and Self-Righteousness stared back at me.  It was also no surprise to see Anger and Bitterness putting in an appearance.  This wasn’t exactly a Top Ten list of Christian virtues.

Lord, please take it away, I silently pleaded as I surveyed My List.  It wasn’t pretty.  I wanted to be forgiven, to have the slate wiped clean, to rip up that piece of paper and throw it in the trash.

Up until that moment, I hadn’t paid much attention to the writing on the opposite side of the page.  As I turned it over, I saw that it was His List from the night before!  I had unknowingly grabbed the same piece of paper and written right on the back of it.  Examining the two lists, I was struck by how minor and trivial his offenses seemed in comparison to mine, like little “specks” beside my “log.”  Yet I was still reluctant to let them go.

Jesus’ words from Matthew 6:14 came to mind:  “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”  I had never fully understood that concept.  Wasn’t God’s forgiveness free, without any conditions or strings attached?  Couldn’t I get rid of my list, but keep his?  After all, I might need it for future reference.

Flipping that double-sided piece of paper back and forth in my hands, God pointed out my double standard.  It suddenly made perfect sense.  Just as it would be impossible to destroy the front of a page without obliterating the back, the two sides of forgiveness were also inseparable in His sight.  If I wanted my sins gone, his had to go too.

Grace and Mercy embraced me as I accepted God’s forgiveness and told Him I would also forgive my offender.  I held the paper, My List facing up, and began to tear it into little pieces, once again hardly noticing the writing on the other side.  I bid farewell to Anger, Bitterness, Hate and Company as they retreated on the squares of paper fluttering to the trash can below.  Then I made my way to bed, devoid of lists, but full of Peace.

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