And like the rest of America during the Covid-19 crisis, we’re stuck at home.
And if you’re my wife, that means it’s time for Spring cleaning!
I’ve resisted the urge, but Jeanie’s whirlwind of cleaning ambitions motivated me to clean out my file cabinet.
I came to a file overflowing with various oddly shaped items marked “Memorabilia.” Almost all of it consisted of encouraging cards and letters from friends, church members, my wife and my daughters. It included precious sticky notes from their childhood with their names scrawled on them, next to drawings of hearts full of love for their daddy. Some of the cards, from pastor appreciation days past, were so complimentary about the impact I’d had on the writers’ lives that I had great difficulty believing them.
Then I came across a letter that, at first, seemed to have been misfiled. But it certainly qualified as “Memorabilia” all right, but for all the wrong reasons.
I had received it so long ago that I had forgotten the risk involved in rereading it.
Of all the letters I have ever received, it was one of the two most devastating. Together with the threats made and their resulting consequences, it undoubtedly takes the prize.
The writers—there had been two—were careful to couch their words in an attitude of prayer and care. However, the ideas expressed could hardly have been more discouraging. It came from Christian men to whom I had entrusted my ministry and even my family’s welfare. Now they were marshalling the testimony of the “hundreds” who had already left our church, and the “dozens” more who would soon follow, to forcefully and utterly reject both me and my ministry. No, they admitted, there was no sin on my part. My ministry was just so obviously and terribly ineffective that they were willing to put teeth behind their words.
I recalled reading the letter over the phone to Jeanie the day it had come. Its insult upon my psyche had been so brutal that I felt as though I could not fully absorb its impact all at once. As it turned out, I was terribly wounded for years.
As I finished the reading, a late phone call mercifully spared me from pondering its words at the time.
However, when I awakened at 2 a.m., the darkness of self-doubt and self-rejection that had plagued me for years began to descend upon me once again. Could what they had said really be true? After all, there is ample evidence of my failures. I am besought with many weaknesses and imperfections—perhaps too many, even yet.
As I pondered those bleak questions, an odd thing happened. A side bar appeared off to the right in my mind. It was the content of another memory, as if summoned by the Holy Spirit.
As the crisis that had produced the letter had begun to brew years earlier, I had had an encounter with God unlike any other in my life. I had been cascading down the bottomless pit of self-rejection for days when the devastation had come to a head. Another memory of a childhood hazing incident that left me feeling worthless had also come to mind.
Tears flowed as the combined impact of past and present experiences hit me. Suddenly, I became aware that the Lord might be ready to speak. And He did, as He had done regularly with Moses, “mouth to mouth” (see Numbers 12:8). He permitted me to ask questions, and then He ever so gently answered.
“Lord, why am I so unacceptable?”
“I love you.”
This statement was met with total skepticism. It seemed so trite. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks that if it were true, and if God loved me, it didn’t matter what anyone else thought. More tears.
My questions continued: “Why am I even here, in ministry?”
“I have called you”.
Why did you make me this way?
“I made you just the way I wanted you to be.”
So why am I being rejected?
“You are a respectable man.”
But what about all the other more successful pastors I know?
“You don’t have to be better.”
Another childhood memory ensued. I had abandoned a playground basketball game when the leader of our childhood peer group obviously had begun officiating it corruptly, bending the rules for his own team’s benefit at the expense of ours. Despite my protests, everyone else had played on, regardless. It was as though God were saying, continue to stand your ground.
As I reviewed the Lord’s answers and compared them to the letter’s cruel accusations, I recognized I had a choice. I could believe the enemy, or my God.
Fortunately, this time, for once, the choice was easy. I chose to believe God.
And where peace had fled, it now returned and triumphed.
Several Scriptures came immediately to mind:
First, the power of words, for good or for ill: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21).
Second, regarding our fragile nature and the words we employ toward each other: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).
And finally, the importance of finding our identity and self-worth in what God says about us:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3a).
O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are intimately acquainted with all my ways . . .
For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well . . .
How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.
When I awake, I am still with You.
(Psalm 139:1-2; 13-14; 17-18).
Ultimately, this is what I concluded: “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).
I’m choosing life and peace.
How about you?
Maybe it’s time for some Spring cleaning… of your mind.