Jeff and I sat down last night to read this devotional book we were sent by a mentor while losing Jonan, it is called Hope. It is a one year devotional about finding hope during painful times. The woman who wrote it has 2 babies in the grave (both about 6 months old at the time of death, due to a rare syndrome); she had the first baby and a year and half later, the second. She is not writing all about losing children. She is writing to those who have pain. Most of us. She says it is useless to compare pain, “It all just hurts” she says. Very true, and well said.
Our particular reading last night was about guarding our hearts. When hearts are broken, they are vulnerable. In that place we can easily be tempted toward hardening these broken hearts so they don’t break again. Harding something is one way to strengthen it, but when it comes to our hearts…that will never lead to healing or hope. We read a lot of Scripture and from her book, then we each shared which parts were striking us. For me it was the Scripture from Hebrews 3:13
“Exhort [or encourage] one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’,
that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
I have heard and read this many times before. But last night it caught my heart different. Often time before I have considered this to be about keeping someone out of a willful sin. For example, let me encourage my friend who wants to talk about his coworker behind her back. Let me exhort him to talk to her directly and not tell others about his issue and cause strife and discord in their workspace, and potentially hurt his coworker. Now, I do think that this verse can be read like this. It makes perfect sense and seems straightforward enough. It is easy for us to deceive ourselves that our motives are pure, when they are not; that our actions are just fine when really are hurtful to someone; that one more drink won’t make any difference. And in these cases we do need someone to encourage us because we can easily deceive ourselves.
The longer I live the more I realize how vulnerable we are to deceit. How easily sin can creep into our lives and fester. And how important it is to have people who love us enough to speak this to us when they see it. But what about when pain just smashes your world, or maybe slowly sets up camp one tent stake at a time? What happens to us when we go through pain and we are all alone? When the world has just given us one too many bad days. When we resign to a dark way of seeing life.
We all know those people, whether personally or just in passing at the grocery store. Those people who just as soon spit on you than smile at you. A week ago just such a man rang our doorbell. He was delivering a package to our neighbor and couldn’t find her apartment door. To be kind, we will say he was persnickety. The present challenge he was facing was about a 2 and he was giving it the energy of a 9. Tone it down a bit fella, it’s gonna be alright. Jeff and I talked about this man later as we encountered another such person on the roadways. Jeff noting again this earlier gentleman’s annoying and unkind tone. And something came out of my mouth that actually surprised me. I was feeling tender at the moment and I said “You know, Jeff, maybe he has been through just one too many times…. like we are walking through now… but didn’t have the people around him to love him like we do around us. I just can’t imagine.”
As we were reading the Scripture verse from Hebrews last night I realized that we have been recipient of such “exhortation”, of such great “encouragement”. I can honestly say it has been the love of so many in this time and many of those who have pointed my eyes again and again toward Christ that have kept me from hardening. Yes, I am still struggling with anger…but like I posted the other day it doesn’t mean we have a small God, just a broken world. And I am not hardening my heart, I am simply grieving. These are different. How important it is to encourage one another daily, so that we are not hardened. How many of us has have desired this encouragement at times…for someone to have a word that would be a balm to our hearts? Maybe not a perfect word, but a word that points us toward Hope, that keeps us from hardening inside. How many times has it not been there?
Jeff and I have been exhorted through meals, cards, emails, prayers, flowers, money, tears, and other ways of serving us that has all said to us “You are not alone, do not harden your hearts, there is yet Hope.” I am so thankful to be part of the Body of Christ who are holding out Hope for us. Who are obeying words of Scripture like this to encourage those who are weak. Who are reminding us through kindness and words that we do not grieve as those without hope. Tonight I am praying I can will become such a person. One who will not just pain or measure it against mine, but simply exhort another, holding out truth and hope. What a difference it makes.