I’m honored to be blogging at Dauntless Grace Ministries today.
At Dauntless Grace Ministries, you will find women who are unafraid to be authentic and vulnerable. You will find a sanctuary of safety and belonging. But most importantly, you will find the Truth that brings healing and freedom.
If it’s meant to be, it will come back ‘round again.
I remember my Grandma saying this when I was in the throes of relationship angst. Her gnarled hands were wrapped around a cigarette; her weathered lips still bore the remains of her Poppysilk Red Revlon lipstick, although faded and worn except for a distinct ring around the edge of her mouth. She exhaled smoke like a supermodel, elegant and practiced. Her slipper-shod feet constantly tapped under the coffee table as Luke and Laura fought in General Hospital and ice danced in her bourbon.
This memory hits me as cold cubes clink in my iced tea. It looks remarkably like a tumbler of Jim Beam, I muse. Its amber hue is familiar and a wave of nostalgia washes over me. I thought to myself, did she see it then as it would be now?
Lunching alone at the counter of an upscale Italian restaurant, wasting time before a flight back home after an out of town conference, I thumbed through my Bible to the short book of Philemon. I was at the beginning of a lengthy journey to become an ordained minister and had completed my first course that morning online while in my hotel room. I knew the next course concentrated on the prison epistles, of which this book was one. I had no idea this short, personal letter from the Apostle Paul would make such an impact within me.
Paul wrote from his prison cell in Rome. His letter was to Philemon and his wife, Apphia, concerning their runaway slave, Onesimus, who made his way to Rome and ended up crossing paths with Paul who led him to Christ. While our 21st Century culture views slavery as both immoral and illegal, it was not so at this time. In his letter, Paul did not support the ownership of slaves, but suggested how Christian masters and slaves could work together and live out their faith within the established system.
It was this verse that struck a chord in my heart: “For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother” (Philemon 1: 15-16a). Paul was writing a letter of support for his friend, Onesimus, to return to the household as a brother in Christ rather than an escaped slave. Paul even offered to pay any debt incurred by Onesimus’ leaving and any loss caused by his absence.
I had just met with a former flame who was abusive during our relationship two decades prior. We’d lived together in the same city in which I was visiting for work; I’d always avoided it for this reason. Now, on this road to religious leadership, the Holy Spirit had roughed me up a bit about a reconciliation meal. Happily married now, I’d walked through considerable pain and self-destruction to process my part in the matter. Bottom line: I didn’t want this coming ‘round again. However, God had other plans.
After much prayer and deliberation (on my part), we met for dinner. Enough time had passed that I was no longer moved by his arrogance that I’d previously seen as attractive confidence. Gone was his self-assured demeanor, replaced by a broken and hurting man. His wife left him just five months prior. We’d all grown up together and I’d known her as a sweet and caring person. As he talked, I was not surprised that she’d grown weary and hardened by his unpredictable swings of anger and affection, remorse and restitution. He didn’t see it, but his rage and recompense had hollowed her out inside after nearly two decades married. I know because that’s how I felt after only four years together. Hollow. Empty. Withered.
I explained this to him and he did not understand. When I started to get irritated at his inability to understand how abusive behavior reduces one to a shadow of their former selves, Jesus reminded me to love His people. He was right beside me, the Comforter. Through our long dinner and subsequent walk through a neighboring outdoor shopping mall, I heard more pain and less arrogance. I felt more empathy and less self-righteous. He softened before my eyes, even though his demeanor never changed. My heart broke for him as my past with him ebbed.
Reflecting on our talk, reading Philemon and eating by myself in the same outdoor shopping complex we’d met in just a few days prior, I was struck dumb. So much so that I dropped my fork and it clattered to the ground under my feet.
In Paul’s words, “For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever.” We had been separated for nearly 20 years in order to gain space and grace as friends, not lovers. I had been kept at a protective arm’s length in order to now minister to this broken man, in the only way possible – through my experience with him and with Jesus’ words pouring out of my mouth. At no time in my life before would this have been possible. It is only now, as a person who Jesus returned to the world as whole, that I was able to give a fresh, albeit direct, perspective to a broken and hurting man.
On the return trip home, I felt a pull. A pull to what? To him? To us? No, a pull to write him words of comfort, hope, humility and to seek solace in Christ. All I could do now was pray for him and his family. As I relayed this to my husband the next day, his eyes welled with tears as he explained my “pull.” I experienced a pull to intercede for someone who desperately needs prayer. Someone who needs prayer on their behalf, but does not have the relationship with the Father to do so.
My Grandma’s words ricocheted through my head. Paul’s words to Philemon intertwined with hers. My experience shed new light on the mixture of secular sentiment and Holy Scripture. Let go in order to return whole. I forced myself out twenty years ago and had returned whole.I was now able to minister to the person who hurt me; the person who was now hurting.
Let go of your past. Spend time with the Holy Father. Let him soothe and heal your wounded soul, your tired heart, your bewildered mind. You will return whole.