Simple act of love or veiled criticism?

My attempt at a gentle teaching moment for a child I’m close to but who is not my actual child wasn’t met with appreciation.

I certainly never intended to overstep. I care deeply about a large number of kiddos in my life, this one included, and think a lot about ways I can assist their parents in developing the good parts of their character.

But the parent took my offering as indictment rather than assistance in what I know is already being taught in the home.

Obviously I have no experience as a parent and don’t claim to have any advice for raising children.

I merely recall how many times I clung to every word and piece of advice offered by extended family members, mentors, teachers, coaches, church leaders, public figures and other such heroes in my life growing up while thinking my parents didn’t have a clue.

Obviously, I discovered how wrong I was about my parents’ level of wisdom once I moved into adulthood myself. And the older I get the more I appreciate the advice, direction and concern my parents provided and continue to provide.

Still it is the rare child who discovers during his or her childhood the value of listening to parents who truly have their best interest in mind and are striving to follow God as they fulfill their role.

Built-in resistance

And because of that built-in reaction to resist and stake our independence, we need a collective force to help us grow into what we hope would be considered responsibile adults.

It’s certainly an extra load none of us have to add to our already overpacked schedules but I’ve found it fulfilling to watch a young person grow and mature, sometimes knowing I had the privilege of contributing to his or her development.

Of course, it can be discouraging at moments as well, like when they refuse to listen to anyone with rational intentions or when they take full credit for something that someone else actually taught them.

I’m guessing parents deal with that scenario on a daily basis.

Trust issues

And, if I’m honest, I can see how another person attempting to share life lessons with a child could upset a parent.

As long as the advice being shared or actions being modeled are in sync with the parents’ comfort level, I’m sure they would normally welcome the reinforcements.

But in a day when criticism is tossed about so freely and flippantly, it is possible the ones who take offense are often times misreading simple acts of love and kindness as veiled judgmental stabs. Then again, it really is hard to tell these days.

I’ve found myself in several day-to-day situations (nothing to do with children) defending a straight-up answer to a question or simple request for assistance in a certain area as being exactly what I outlined. The accusers claimed that what I was saying could not be as simple as I said, that there had to be a hidden agenda.

It hurts a bit when the person saying this to you is someone you thought knew your heart, but it has made me realize the unfortunate degree of how much we as family members, friends, co-workers and believers in general have built walls because of past hurts.

And it inspires me to keep fighting to share God’s love and light, and to remember I desperately need His guidance and strength — and the support of fellow believers — to push through the darkness.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Polishing the rough spots

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The distance and coldness slapped me in the face. I knew my friend had a lot on her mind so I didn’t worry about it — at first.

When it happened again, I asked if she was OK because she seemed upset about something. She said she was and didn’t offer any explanation.

After a few days of the same experience, I investigated because she obviously wasn’t OK. I thought back to what might have happened and realized I was what happened.

In a pressure-filled, deadline-crunched, sleep-deprived moment, I had barked at her about a project we were both working on. In the moment, I didn’t realize I had been hurtful.

My words were not meant to target her. I was actually frustrated with myself because I had not prepared as thoroughly as I thought I had.

Rebuilding trust

As soon as my aha moment came, I ran to my friend to apologize. She appreciated the acknowledgement and eventually warmed up to me — but it wasn’t immediate. She kept me at a slight distance for months.

It hurts me deeply when I hurt another person and yet I’m extremely capable of doing it.

I don’t tend to panic nor react frantically in tense situations. I’m the person who stays calm, assesses every side of the situation and determines the plan of action. But with this calmness under pressure comes a laser focus and sharp directness that can easily stomp on another’s feelings.

While I’m continuously working to improve in this area, I’ve also learned to show others grace when the situation is reversed. I try to give them the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t targeting me, that they are merely under a lot of pressure at the moment.

Many friends have modeled that same grace for me through the years.

Reading the right cues

In fact, another friend of mine and I had a rough season once when we were misreading each other’s emotions as being upset with the other. Once we realized what we were doing, we made a pact that we would always tell the other if something was wrong in our relationship rather than forcing each other to guess.

The experience was so freeing that I challenged myself to move quickly to resolve any conflict that might arise in all my relationships.

My goal is to stop myself the second I realize I’m being unfair or hurtful, take responsibility and apologize, then regroup in a way to have a calm and mutually respectful conversation. I’m learning to truly validate the other person’s feelings and decipher the facts of the situation while trying to avoid emotional responses. I’m also learning I don’t have to always be right — yes, that might have been the hardest one for me to swallow.

When I’m on the other side, I’m trying to calmly alert the person right away that what he or she did or said was hurtful to me. From there, my goal is to be kind, forgive and not leave any awkward feelings between us. It is really hard to tell another person when he or she has hurt or frustrated you, so I’m also working hard to not react defensively when someone is bold enough to share.

Worth all the effort

Some days merely attempting to live in relationship with the vast number of people in our lives can stretch our abilities, but I’ll be the first to say it is worth all the effort. I can’t imagine my life without all the amazing people who make it so rich, joyful and fulfilling. I’m just thankful they choose to love me despite my many shortcomings.

—By Jennifer Davis Rash

Finding forgiveness for a wounded heart

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It was as if the verse had been penciled into the Gospel of Luke when I wasn’t looking. Had it really been there all along?

Luke 19:8 — “Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much” (NASB).

The Gospel According to Luke — written by the only Gentile author in the New Testament who was described by Paul as the “beloved physician” (Col. 4:14) and known for being a detailed historian — has been a consistent part of my readings since becoming a Christian a little more than 25 years ago. With the theme of the book focused on Christ as the perfect and compassionate Son of Man offering salvation to the whole world, it became a favorite book of mine almost immediately.

Journalist-like

Luke, who also wrote the Acts of the Apostles, acknowledges in Luke 1:2 that he was not an eyewitness of the life of Jesus Christ but his writings are extremely detailed.

I appreciate Luke’s style. He reminds me of an investigative journalist as he dives in deep, consulting as many eyewitnesses as he can find, keeping copious notes and working hard to tell the full story.

Thoroughness

He did thorough research and sought to totally understand the story before writing about it. You can always tell when a journalist doesn’t understand the story he or she is writing about because you (as the reader) don’t understand it either. Luke is careful to avoid this pitfall in his writing.

While a journalist might not choose to go with a chronological approach, this seemed to work best for Luke (1:3) who undoubtedly had an overwhelming amount of content to weave together in a readable form.

Life lessons

The Gospel of Luke has helped me learn more about Jesus and understand His teachings. The Lord’s Prayer in chapter 11 and the Sermon on the Mount in chapter 6 as well as the 35 parables (19 unique to Luke) have continued to challenge and grow me in my discipleship journey.

And while the book has helped me understand so much of Jesus’ life and the various ethics, values and morals of the Christian life as well as the basic ways we as believers should live, Zaccheus’ decision to make right his wrongs slipped past me — at least until I truly needed to see it.

About two years ago, God began to disclose some dark places in my heart and the conviction to deal with them was strong enough to lead me deeper into Scripture to seek the proper path. It all had to do with forgiveness — forgiveness of those who had hurt me and seeking forgiveness from those I had wronged.

No limit on forgiveness

The list was a manageable length but that didn’t make it any easier. Every conversation was going to be hard.

Luke — who had carefully researched and documented his book, which is thought to have been written between 59 and 62 A.D. — said in 17:3–4 we are to forgive our brother (or sister). And there is no limit to how many times we should forgive him or her no matter how many times he or she sins against us.

There were eight people on my list to forgive and this passage burned in my mind. I started down my list right away and checked off four within the year and worked through the other four this past year.

And wouldn’t you know it, within days of being free, I ended up with another exercise in forgiveness, and just a few weeks after that I encountered a hurt that knocked the breath out of me — one that I’m currently working through, trying to reach the point of forgiveness.

Seeking forgiveness

Of course, the journey of learning to forgive others uncovered my own wrongdoings that need forgiving. Five people came to mind right away. I sought out the first three people immediately and asked for forgiveness. The other two were a bit harder, but I worked through them.

In all of the forgiving and asking for forgiveness I realized God is faithful to show us where we need work if we will pay attention. And Luke shows us the complete picture of what forgiveness means. It is not only about making amends and seeking forgiveness but also about being willing to truly forgive without holding a grudge. Matthew 18:21–35 provides another great lesson in forgiveness, reminding us that we are to forgive others as God has forgiven us.

Not always easy

Still I’m the first to admit that knowing we should forgive when we have been wounded doesn’t take the difficulty away of actually being able to do it.

C.S. Lewis said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.”

Which is harder for you — forgiving someone who has hurt you or asking for forgiveness when you’ve hurt someone else?

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Did you notice his eyes?

By Jennifer Davis Rash

Executive Editor, The Alabama Baptist

The man carried himself with confidence and purpose. He walked into the church and up to the welcome desk without hesitation.

“I’d like to go to your singles Sunday School class,” he said.

“No problem,” one gentleman said and pointed the man my way. “She will help you find your class.”

As I wrapped up my conversation with a family of five new to our church and regrouped to help the gentleman at the desk, I noticed several people walk by and greet him, speak to him, pat him on the back, etc. Our church is a friendly church and the members are good about welcoming guests, but in this particular case no one spent more than a few seconds with the man before moving on.

When he turned to look at me, all I could see was pain in his eyes. He said all the right words and knew what to do in a church setting, but something wasn’t right. I purposefully didn’t take him to a class right away. I spent some time talking with him, got him a soda, asked questions and tried to get to know more about him. Within a few minutes, he was sharing his real story with me and he definitely needed to talk. He also needed a different class than the one he came in asking about.

The more I heard his story, the more I could narrow down which Life Group (or Sunday School) class would be best for him. I also knew exactly which leader would connect with him and personally located the class leader so that I could introduce them immediately.

The connection was made, phone numbers and email addresses were exchanged and the man knew he had a family of faith willing to walk with him on his journey.

The experience that Sunday shook me a bit. What if I had not slowed down long enough to really look into his eyes? What if I had not noticed the pain? What if I had not shown compassion and truly cared about him as a person?

Of course, the next person may have done all the right things and taken even better care of the situation, but it reminded me that we shouldn’t leave these opportunities for the next person. What if the next person isn’t paying attention?

God gave me the opportunity to encourage a fellow believer who was in a world of hurt that day. It meant I had to rearrange my schedule. It meant I didn’t finish a project for one of the ministers when I said I would. It meant I missed catching up with many of my friends. But it also meant receiving a tremendous blessing.

As I drove home from church, I thanked God for allowing me to participate in the experience. I also wondered how many other hurting people had walked up to the welcome desk and received a friendly greeting but nothing deeper. How many others had I not noticed?

What about in everyday life outside of church? How many people do we see every day and never slow down long enough to read their eyes, observe their body language or notice their words?

And if we are honest, how many times do we sense someone needs to talk or needs a friend, but we don’t want to invest the time, change our schedule or deal with it in general?

How many times have we been so focused on the latest office or family drama that we missed noticing the sadness in the eyes of the person listening to us?

As Christian believers and church families, what difference could we make if we all slowed down and served others through the gifts of awareness, listening and encouragement?

Healing a hurting heart

By Jennifer Davis Rash
Executive Editor, The Alabama Baptist

How can it be that my heart hurts so much? I do care for all of them deeply, but the pain that exists is theirs, not mine. Still I hurt as if it were my own.

Call after call, email after email, personal story after personal story and all in just a few months time — so many close friends and family members feeling such intense levels of loss.

One dear friend buried her 21-year-old son just days after another friend buried her 14-year-old daughter. Another has been told that it’s only a matter of time for her 2-year-old. Yet another fears this could be her child’s fate also.

One lost her husband because he doesn’t want to be married any longer; another is losing his wife for the same reason. One lost his wife to Alzheimer’s; another is losing his to cancer.

Two families are losing their adult children — one a young man, the other a young woman — to lifestyles that mock their family’s Christian faith and value system. One mother lost her teenage son to stubbornness and rebellion. Another family is working through lost trust and forgiveness.

Three young women feel the loss of not yet finding their life mate.

A handful of others lost income and struggle to pay the bills; another lost a large amount in a business investment.

The situations are all different, but they all revolve around pain, loss and a broken heart.

I know I can really never know the extent of the pain because it is their pain, but I do know that I have hurt for them at such an intense level. In every case, I’ve wanted to rush to them and take the pain away, do anything I could to heal their heart. But I know I can’t do that. Only God can care for them at that level. It is their pain to bear, and they have to decide to set their face toward the wind and push through the hurt, even with the multitude of layers and setbacks, in order to find healing.

And while it has been an honor for me to be part of the prayer and emotional support for each of them, it also has taken me on a journey of personal pain as I moved from care and concern to grieving in a sort of vicarious way I’ve never really experienced before. I took on each situation as if it was my own, and in doing so, I’ve uncovered a few areas of personal pain I really didn’t want to face. Doing this has taken a lot out of me emotionally, but the result is proving to be positive growth in me spiritually.

My time with the Lord has been so much more enriched and intense as I’ve pleaded on their behalf as well as my own. My spirit has been truly broken as I’ve wept for them and gained an increased sensitivity to the hurts of others. The Book of Psalms has come to life for me like never before, and the words of songs have ministered to me like only a few other times in my life.

The pain is deep and real; the temptation is to hide and avoid it. I’m learning a lot about just how much one’s heart can hurt and how much one can draw closer to Jesus through the pain. I also know I’m not alone. So many of us mask deep hurts every day as we weave through the many activities of life.

Share your stories and how a psalm or a song ministered to you during your time of need by emailing me at jrash@thealabamabaptist.org. I would love to share your stories as well as the specific Scriptures and words of songs in an upcoming Rashional Extras.