Removing Splinters

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“I’m not one to judge… but…”

I knew what was coming, the same thing that comes anytime anyone starts any conversation with those words – judgment. I struggle with that. I think Jesus struggled with that, too. The same Lord that warned us, “In the same way you judge others, you will be judged” (Matt. 7:1) and the very God who cautioned, “The same measure that you use, it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:2), He wasn’t lax on this issue of judgment; in fact, of all the things He reprimanded the “religious” for, this was consistent.

What is in us that wants to judge?

Comparison.

That’s the nuts and bolts of it. We haven’t evolved past Cain and Able. We still feel the need to compare ourselves with one another, and lets face it when we can point the finger at a more public, more destructive sin, we will do it. Why? Because in the shadow of those failures, our gossip and little white lies don’t seem like anything that matters.

Jesus addressed judgment with the analogy of a log and a splinter:

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Luke 6:41-42)

I’ve been there. I’ve been the pointer and the accused. But it truly wasn’t until I had to fill the shoes of the accused that I could fully understand how the logs and the splinters must be dealt with.

Jesus wasn’t saying they don’t exist or that we should ignore them. He was bringing attention to the flaw, not excusing it, to help us to see that we must first inspect ourselves before we can even begin to correct another. But that is also the mystery of it, because as you see your flaws and imperfections, when you become aware that you have something in your life that humbles you before God and man, then you are much more gentle in the splinter removal.

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Romans 2:1)

The other day Lily got a piece of glass in her foot. She limped around until finally I convinced her to let me look at it. Reluctantly and with great fear she grabbed her foot, letting me have only the shortest (and non helpful) look. I could sympathize. I have been there – clutching my foot, crying, begging my mom NOT to get out the needle! I got her fear. As I gently pulled her foot back to me, I told her a story, a story of a splinter in a kitchen when I was exactly her age with my mom and my grandma and grandpa. I shared with her the absolute fear I felt because I didn’t know what was coming. And something happened, in the telling, in the sharing, in the confession, she relaxed. She loosened her grip and her eyes lost that stark white stare as she relinquished her foot to my care.

And that’s exactly what removing logs to help with splinters looks like.

Compassion.

As we gently approach one another with the confession and story of a life where we stumbled and fell but found the strength in Christ to get back up again, when we tell them, and remind ourselves anew, of the love that met us when we were convinced we would be disowned, we become credible, and the difficult work of healing seems more tangible, more possible, and less frightening. I think that is the very point Jesus was making – before you point out your neighbors struggle, deal with your own, and then you will see better to help them… because empathy begets compassion, and compassion doesn’t stand at a distance and point, it reaches out.

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Forgive me, God, I’m depressed.

ImageI hate it. I really do. I am a positive and hopeful person most of the time, but then like a thief in the night it sneaks up on me, stealing whatever positive thoughts and hopeful expectations my heart had settled on but not fully embraced.

 I feel guilty. How could one so loved and so forgiven and so obviously favored feel so down? I can so easily speak to another about the Truths of God to help pull them out of their pits of self-abasement, but when I am lapping from the pool of self-pity, I simply forget there is Living Water dammed up inside. Do I forget? Or do I choose not to drink thinking in some twisted way this is my punishment for past sins and aggressions?

 That’s when the lies begin to surface and hover around my heart like a million bees stinging the vulnerable places. Every angry word spoken to me, every accusation made, every failure and misunderstanding find their voice and threaten to undo every Truth I have hidden there. It becomes too much, too loud, and I start to shut down, undone by the venom, needing an antidote but feeling too unworthy to drink from His cup.

 And in those moments, I am so homesick for His compassion and mercy I am literally ill. What is wrong with me? I tell myself, “You better pull yourself together! There are people depending on you! If you become so depressed and overwhelmed and you know the Truth and study it daily, what hope does that offer others that don’t have that foundation?” And I curl up, letting my Saviour cover me with His love and strengthen my frame while I weep over my failures yet again.

“The Lord has compassion on us for He remembers that we are but dust.” (Psalm 103:14-15)

I don’t have to look far to find other ancestors in the faith that had the same struggle. The Psalms read like the diary of a manic depressive; David was no stranger to depression. He went from the heights of favor and provision and praise to the depths of despair and anxiety and fearing for his life. And yet, he was still regarded as “A man after God’s own heart.” I once heard that wasn’t because he always said the right thing before God but that he spoke all that was on his heart – whether it was highest praise or confession of unthinkable sin. Nothing was hidden from God. In that, I suppose I am not so different from King David.

Those around me get frustrated with my emotions. My tears, not hidden, make others uncomfortable. The usual gleam in my eye is replaced with a glassy stare and those closest to me recognize it. “As Jesus is so are you. Jesus is not depressed, and neither are you.” I understand the meaning behind that, but the logic is unsound. No. Jesus is not depressed. Not now. But He had moments of such raw and overwhelming emotion that He was undone. Granted, I’m not in the Garden of Gethsemane about to take on the fullness of God’s wrath for the salvation of the world, but there are moments when ministry takes me to my knees and I cannot bear up under the weight any longer.

“Cast your cares upon Him for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

 And how do you do that exactly? The word for “cast” there is literally “throw, as if casting a net, far and wide,” and far too often I merely hand my cares over like I’m afraid they will be dismissed or worse, rejected. You see how the thoughts then are cyclical?

 But in those desperate moments, very much like the one that I am in today, this verse becomes my beckoning:

 “So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” (Hebrews 12:12-13)

 With that declaration, my focus changes. The “self” cesspool that I was drowning in now is revealed for what it is, the destructive, defeat of an enemy that longs to see me stopped and silenced! And I declare with shaking voice, “You will not win!

 And this childlike warrior finds her weapon, takes her position, and resumes the fight. It is long and it is hard and sometimes I need a moment to run home and cry, to pull the covers over my head and beg for tomorrow to hurry faster, but my Daddy reminds me, “A failure is one that refuses to get back up. You, My child, are more than a conqueror!” Like my forefather David, I take aim at the giant before me, the impeding darkness of depression, knowing my God is greater than even my emotions.

Love deeper

I spent a few days on a tall hill, a mountain in Arkansas, appropriately named Mt. Moriah. It’s the third year in a row that my dearest sisters in Christ and mentors and I have made the trek, and each time we have been blessed with life-changing lessons. This year was no different. Some of us met discipline, and some of us expected discipline but received grace.

It was in the midst of a rain storm on the top of the hill when grace met me. I was desperate. I was there to lay my life on the altar of sacrifice, to see His face and to walk away dead but alive. I sat in the middle of the circle, begging Him to rid me of myself, to show me my sins, and to scold me for my failures. Only He was silent. If I could put the moment into words, we had a staring contest. Both of us looking at this altar and neither of us moving, only waiting for the other to. Finally I made a spiritual rush, took my place, laid out on a table, arms spread wide, fully submitted, waiting for lightening. It didn’t come. If God would “tsk” at us, this was that moment, and in my heart I heard three words, “It is finished.”

I sat up and listened.

“I love you, Leslie. You don’t have to get it to receive it. You don’t have to understand it, but you have to accept it.” I imagined Him looking me in the eyes as the lesson continued, “You spend so much time apologizing for your failures, and pointing out your flaws to Me when you don’t really get that I don’t see you through those things. You wait for my wrath, the same bitter cup of wrath and judgment that my Son drank in for you. He drained that cup. It’s empty. My justice was satisfied.”

I swallowed these Truths, and listened for more.

I am love. And, I love. Everyone. It’s hard for you to fathom, but I have just as much love for you as I do the most despicable ofcreation. I love the murders, the pedaphiles, the adulterers, the thieves, and I long for them to know this!”

I considered that as I recalled the scripture verse in Ephesians: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

How wide: You can’t escape it. We try. We cling to a million different things in the hopes that they will meet our needs, but they don’t and as far as we run, we find ourselves surrounded by His love.

How long: There is no breaking point. God doesn’t say, “I love you to this point and then you are on your own.” Our strings break, our patience thins, but His love goes on and on and on.

How high: You can’t attain it. There is not a bit of good that you can do that earns His love. It’s like building a tower, no matter how high you go, no matter how many materials you possess, you aren’t going to reach the end of it.

How deep: I think this is where we lose sight of His character most. We forget that His love can reach beyond any pit we find ourselves in. We think He can’t possibly want anything to do with us when we are struggling, tempted, or publically condemned. Or, more likely, we think He won’t redeem the greatest sin, the deepest obsession, the darkest evil. We doubt His love for the least of these. We gloss over passages that mention that Jesus spent His time with the “worst of sinners.” In our heads, we imagine tax-collectors and prostitutes, but it’s also highly likely they were murders and thieves, pedaphiles and molesters. I imagine with one look into His eyes, they were undone. His love was penetrable. He didn’t have to speak their sin, they knew who and what they were. He didn’t have to point them out because they were already pariahs. And still, His love reached deeper than that.

It’s hard for us to imagine. We stand in pride and say “Look at me. I am worthy before God because… “ and we rattle off a list of accomplishments, and God says, “So? I mean really, thanks for that, but if you didn’t do it for love, I’d rather you not do it at all.”

Love. There is a reason why it’s the greatest commandment and the greatest gift. When we set our selves free to love, we are free to live – without condemnation, without guilt, and without shame. When we spend more time thinking about what we can do for others instead of what we’d like them to do for us, then we really get the kind of love He is talking about. When you can look with the same endearing smile at the man that smells of urine and has no teeth as you can at the sweetest most innocent child, then I think we might be feeling it. When you can speak as encouragingly to the single mom stripper as you can to the stay at home mom, then you might be expressing His love.

I challenge you. Love deeper. Because, whether we get it or not, love is what it is all about. Nothing else we do matters, if we aren’t first, His love.

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