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Monday, May 25, 2015

Considering Thyself. . . .

Touching this topic with any length pole is crazy, but that's what we writers do - launch out into shark-infested waters. I know what I say will be controversial to everyone and probably offensive to some. So, like a coward, I will post this disclaimer: read at your own risk. But maybe I can offer a word of hope, a reminder that not every foundation is shaken. 

First, please note that the only one who "wins" in the trauma caused by sin is Satan. He is the gleeful one who delights in the terror, the horror, the agony, the scandal, degradation, the evil, the dishonor, the despair. Surveying the broken remains of lives and the shattered shards of human emotions, he is delighted to have wrought pain on the ones created in God's image. His sadistic nature gorges on the cycle of temptation - sin - consequences - calamity. He is the Enemy, the one who hopes to gain from the grief of so many. 

Now, I am not qualified to speak on the subject of abuse, either from experience or from education. But I am a woman, and I have daughters. I can't imagine the dark pain that would explode into me had I experienced this or if I discovered my daughters had. The anger, the violation would be too deep to handle on my own, and I am sure the residual emotions would seep into every corner of my psyche and probably always be there to some degree. That's what that kind of trauma does. It damages, permanently.

And, I am not qualified to speak on the topic of child-rearing; my own are not yet raised. But I have teens who have been raised in a Christian environment, and yet, who make their own choices and who sometimes do the wrong thing. I can't imagine the crushing pain of a revelation of wrongdoing by my child on this kind of scale. The horror, the panic, the rage, the hurt would be too much for me to handle on my own, and I am sure that the resulting distrust and uncertainty would hang around in our relationship for a long time. That's what sin does. It has consequences. 

So, the only thing I am qualified to speak on is . . . grace. Because I've experienced it. Because I've built my life on it and dedicated myself to the ministry of it. Because I've trusted my eternal destiny to it's power. Because I have faith that Jesus' words are true.

Grace is from God, and it is for all - the violated and the violator. It doesn't diminish the wrong, but it doesn't forsake the repentant. It doesn't remove the consequences, but it doesn't close the door on hope. It is justice; it is forgiveness. It is healing; it is restoration. This is what we believe the Bible teaches - there is no situation too messy, no violation too horrible and no wound too painful for Him. 

 Does this mean it's easy, with no consequences? No, but it does mean that we, as people of God, know that there is always hope, always a way back to wholeness, both for those who sin and for those who are sinned against. Our God doesn't deal in disposables or recyclables; He is in the business of redemption.

And grace teaches me that I am to be about restoration - reaching out to everyone involved, the damaged and the dysfunctional, the victim and the perpetrator. And I reach out considering myself,  says Galatians 6:1. 

Considering myself as a human being, subject to temptation and with shame in my past.
Considering myself as a person who can be exploited by others and suffer deep pain.
Considering myself as a parent, with all the emotions and struggles entailed.
Considering myself as a member of the Body of Christ who is called to "weep with those who weep." (Romans 12:15)
Considering myself as a Christian who has been given grace and who must extend that grace to others.

Extending grace is not hiding or denying or glossing over or ignoring. Christians are grace-receivers; we know that redemption cost a dear price - God's very own Son. We would never agree that grace is cheap. We know that sin exacts a terrible penalty, and there is always suffering involved. But the good news of the Gospel tells us that God's grace is sufficient for even the darkest sin, the deepest pain. If we don't believe that, then grace is not true and our religion is vain, a fatal deception, an unreliable prop with which to face eternity.

It was Betsie ten Boom who, after suffering the horrors of a Nazi camp, said to her sister Corrie, "There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still."

We know that sin has infected every part of our human expression, and that it lies in wait for each of us. So, when sin is discovered among us, we do not give up hope, we do not ignore the pain of the victims (as did the religious leaders in the parable of the Good Samaritan), we do not throw up our hands and declare the situation too awful to be fixed.  We do not condemn others who have tried to right their wrongs, we do not pretend to know what the hurting have experienced, we do not assume that we have the answer. We extend grace. And grace guides us to discernment and compassion and mercy, it leads us to restitution and due process and rehabilitation. Grace is the antidote for sin and its consequences. This is not a "pat" answer.  This is what we as Christians have consecrated our lives to. And it is in the hard times when we prove whether our testimonies have any validity, whether our beliefs can work in real life situations. Do we believe in "amazing grace" that really changes and saves  "a wretch like me?" Do we believe that that grace can lead us "through many dangers, toils and snares" and take us "safely home?" And do we believe that that grace can work in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ and deliver them and heal them? This is our hour to prove that Christianity is not a farce, that it works both for those who abuse and for those who have been abused. This is the moment when we react with a different agenda than the culture. This is the time when we remember that God's grace is the only way any of us can deal with our tragedies, and with our shame.

Galatians 6:2 commands us to bear other's burdens. This is also the mission of grace, and it probably goes beyond saying "I'm sorry" and moving on. It may require sacrifice and a willingness to embrace the pain of others. It may demand a loss of innocence and an acceptance of difficult truths or inconvenient realizations. It might require commitment to shouldering the grief of another and helping to carry their terrible load. But this is what Jesus calls us to; it is what He did for us. 

 We need to be the burden-bearers and the grace-extenders. To those carrying painful memories, may we enter into their suffering as much as we can, listening, caring, praying and walking with them toward healing. To those bearing terrible guilt, may we offer the mercy that we would wish to receive if it were us or one of our children.  And may we always remember that we have been and continue to be grace-receivers. Let grace, God's grace, be our first word and our last word, our rallying cry and our hymn of comfort, our hope and our sure foundation. For while other words may falter and other efforts fail, grace, the redemptive gift of God, will never lose it's power. 



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