“I was lost, now I’m found by the Father, I’ve been changed from ruin to treasure. I’ve been given a hope and a future, I’ve been blessed beyond all measure.”
-song by Rend Collective
I am inspired by true stories of survival and rescue. One of my favorites is the story of Jessica Buchanan, an aid worker kidnapped in Somalia and then rescued by SEAL Team Six. Or the story of Lara Logan, a reporter who was violently assaulted by a mob in Egypt, and then rescued by a group of women dressed head to toe in black religious dress. One of them put her arms around Lara, pulled her away and then they all stood between her and a frenzied mob of 200-300 men.
“She put her arms around me. And oh my God, I can’t tell you what that moment was like for me. I wasn’t safe yet, because the mob was still trying to get at me. But now it wasn’t just about me anymore.“
Lara Logan (interview, Daily News)
**(The story of Lara Logan’s attack is quite shocking. The details are troubling and graphic, and I want to be sensitive to my more tender-hearted readers. For those reasons I have not included a link.)
The Bible (especially the book of Psalms) often describes God as our rescuer and deliverer. I always like to think that when trouble comes He will swoop in like SEAL Team Six and carry me out to safety and peace. But of course, that’s not always how it works, is it?
Instead of rescuing us from a battle, He sometimes rescues us IN it. During difficult situations He comes nearer when we cry out for help, and stands between us and the angry mob. Never distracted or preoccupied. Always there, ready to be a part of our battle, like a good Father who walks through hardship with a beloved daughter or son.
How often do I cry out to be removed from pain and hardship? How many times have I prayed for deliverance FROM my circumstances? How frequently do I try to pray my way out of difficulty, rather than praying for wisdom and strength as I walk through those times?
Let me tell you about something that happened about four years ago:
A trusted adult did a terrible thing to my child, and I was undone. I remember that day after school, our shaking child asked my husband and I to sit down so the story could be told, and afterward, I was left trembling with rage, grief and helplessness.
In that very moment, unforgiveness was planted; not a tiny seed, that would need tending to survive, but a full-grown, thriving, blossoming, fully-rooted unforgiveness. It’s branches stretched all through me, and became part of my being. I could hardly breathe, it filled me so completely.
For a month after the incident, our child would not sleep alone. We tossed and turned through 30 nights together, and in the deepest hours of night, while the inky blackness suffocated me, I would place my hand on my child’s warm back and silently cry. How had this happened? How had this person felt safe to do what they did? How would I ever be free of this choking thing inside of me?
I asked God over and over to rescue me from my anger and unforgiveness. I begged him to rid me of it. I did the work; spent hours praying, meditating and studying Scripture. But I was never free. Never rescued out of this untenable situation. For years I stood against the angry mob, with Jesus at my side, waiting for Him to take me out of there.
We were eating lunch at McAlister’s Deli with the kids (four years later) when this person came up in conversation. Without my permission, tears began to make their way down my cheeks. I was ashamed, and immediately began explaining myself, “I still have a hard time. I can’t forgive. It’s too hurtful.”
I’ll never forget the memory of my child’s face. Humble. Loving. Earnest.
“Mom. It was done to ME. I was the one hurt. You’re holding onto something I’ve already let heal. You should forgive, because I already have.”
I don’t know why that moment and that conversation clicked for me. Perhaps it was the simple truth that God had quietly done His work in my child apart from my grand efforts. His grace and peace were being expressed through their forgiveness, while I was still trying to battle my way OUT of anger and unforgiveness. The earnest plea of my child made me realize something else; until that moment, my desire to be free of unforgiveness was conditional.
You see, I wanted- desperately wanted– to be free of unforgiveness. But I also wanted justice. How could I pardon a wrong done to my child? How could I put forgiveness above what’s right and good and just? I wanted an apology. An understanding of the harm caused. An acknowledgement of the pain brought to our doorstep. For four years I languished in the in-between of wanting freedom and wanting justice.
In my battle against the hurt and unforgiveness, I had missed His tender admonishment, “Put down your desire for justice. Give it to me. Your hands are too full, and there’s no room for the forgiveness I want to give you.” God’s rescue was complete only after I gave up my revenge, and trusted Him completely to make it right.
Sometimes God orchestrates our path so that we have to walk upon the thing He is teaching us. I was forced to practice my new forgiveness when my child came into daily contact with the person who had done this thing. Each morning, I lived it out by laying down my fear, my sorrow, my hurt and the memory of unforgiveness as I dropped my child off at school.
During those weeks, I focused on His grace and mercy with the thought that ultimately His goodness far outshone the memory of my pain. The idea was that if I could fix my eyes on God, and let His character permeate the situation, He would somehow smooth out the rugged edges of my scarred heart and restore my mind to joy and peace.
Several months passed, when we heard the awful news. Devastating events were happening in the life of the person who I’d struggled to forgive. I searched my heart for any residue of unforgiveness, and probed my mind for leftover thoughts of vengeance, but found neither. God had rescued me and made me new. Instead of delighting in their troubles, I was able to earnestly pray for their comfort and healing. My children were able to see forgiveness modeled in it’s most authentic form, and learn that God is able to do the impossible. The improbable. The unexpected. And the miraculous.
“It’s not an easy journey, to get to a place where you forgive people. But it is such a powerful place, because it frees you.” Tyler Perry
I would add that the journey to forgiveness is best traveled with the One who heals more completely and more accurately than we could ever manage on our own. Instead of rushing in to rescue me out of heartbreak, He was always close by, carrying me through the darkest parts, and tenderly turning my attention to His way, rather than my own.
In Galatians chapter 5, Paul says that “if we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit” to demonstrate these qualities:
“…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.”
Would I wish this whole experience away? Absolutely. There is nothing so fracturing to a mother’s heart as the pain of her children. I’m not courageous or long-suffering. If I can avoid pain and heartache, I will. But I’m no fool. I know the value of learning life lessons, and the strength that comes from walking through hard things. Most of all, I see Him stepping closer during the devastating times, and ultimately being my rescue and salvation.
My understanding of God has been completely transformed as I experience motherhood. There is always the temptation to remove obstacles from my child’s path and rescue them from pain. (Of course there are times when this is absolutely necessary, and we act swiftly and with confidence.) But many times, my best choice is to step in, pull them close and walk the hard road with them because the value is in the learning and the growing, however unpleasant it may be.
Our Heavenly Father knows this too, and He is right there; ready to teach, lead and rescue His beloved children. In Joshua 1:9, God tells His people,
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”