Two and one-half years ago, on our Monday-morning walk together, my husband confessed to me that he had lied to the elders of our church. Later that day, he confessed to the elders. On the next Sunday evening, he lost his job.
He came home with tears in his eyes and said, “Honey, I’m so sorry. I lost my job.” I took his face in my hands and said, “Yes, but look at you. You’re clean.” In that moment, I believe God let me glimpse what he sees when we confess and repent of our sins, because I think there actually was a glow on my husband’s face, tears and all.
That was the beginning of this journey for us. Along the way we have learned more than I could possibly put into this short article. God has been faithful and has shown his great love for us. It has been very hard, and I would never want to repeat any of it, but I would not give up the lessons learned.
Miracles of Grace
I want to focus here on grace. I have always loved that word. It is our daughter’s middle name. It is the only reason we are where we are in this process today. C. H. Spurgeon said, “Miracles of grace must be the seals of our ministry; who can bestow them but the Spirit of God?” In the last two and one-half years, there have been many miracles of grace.
I have heard people say, “There is more grace in the local bar than in the local church.” I disagree. Don’t confuse grace with indifference toward sin. Grace is having the sin of someone hurt you, then forgiving them and loving them with your words and actions despite their sin against you. Christ is our example. Our sin nailed him to the cross, and yet he daily shows his love for us. He is the ultimate grace giver.
After my husband confessed, repented of his sin, and lost his job, many people in the congregation and elsewhere immediately showed us grace. “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
Many people sent cards or called us on the phone to see how we were. Sometimes they would see us in the store and stop to say hi and ask how we were doing. There were invitations to dinner or to go out for ice cream. Some people brought food. Some people even brought money. Many spoke kind words of forgiveness.
I have saved all of the cards and letters we received during that time. They are a reminder of God’s love for us through his local body, the hands and feet of Jesus in our everyday lives.
Betrayed by Sin
The church’s leaders felt especially betrayed by my husband’s sin, and as a result, a majority of them were unable to show grace at first. We asked all of them to come and pray with us before we left for our week at Blessing Ranch. Only one elder came. After our return from Blessing Ranch, only one elder came to hear about what we had learned.
If there is any posture that disturbs a suffering man or woman, it is aloofness. The tragedy of Christian ministry is that many who are in great need, many who seek an attentive ear, a word of support, a forgiving embrace, a firm hand, a tender smile, or even a stuttering confession of inability to do more, often find their ministers distant men who do not want to burn their fingers. They are unable or unwilling to express their feelings of affection, anger, hostility or sympathy (Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Wounded Healer).
We found that this saying is true, “Hurt people hurt people.” My husband’s sin brought deep pain to the elders, and in their pain, they didn’t know how to relate to us, and so they avoided us.
The pain of rejection and loss of relationships made me feel “thrown away” by my church. The deep longing of my heart was for grace. I wanted to be shown grace and I wanted to be able to show grace, even to those who were having trouble showing grace to me.
All of us had difficulty showing grace to each other, but God helped. It took many months, but God arranged an encounter with one of the elders. It happened when I was in the hospital recovering from surgery.
One of our older elders was at the hospital visiting another member of the congregation when he “accidentally” heard about my surgery. When he came into the room, he walked over to my bedside and said, “Oh Honey, it’s so good to see you.” I held out my hands and said, “It’s so good to see you too—18 months—what took you so long?”
We both cried. We cried for the time lost and the relationship that was broken. His response was “Oh Honey, I was scared.”
I believe that is true of many Christians going through traumatic situations like this. We are scared. We are hurt. We struggle with having empathy for the one who has sinned and caused us pain. This meeting came after too many months of silence, but praise God, it did come.
Currently, we are working on reestablishing relationships with some of those in leadership, and though it is difficult, it is getting better. We have had elders over for coffee, gone out to eat with some, and had friendly conversations with others. It is not perfect. True reconciliation on a personal level requires willingness on both sides to confess and repent of sins done against each other. There are always some who struggle with extending the grace that Jesus extends to us.
Accepting Our Brokenness
I believe our ability to extend grace corresponds with our acceptance of our own brokenness. The apostle John said, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). We each need to acknowledge our own need of God’s forgiveness so that when we are in a position of hearing a brother or sister’s confession of sin we do not respond in a sinful, judgmental, unloving way.
Some of the most hurtful words spoken to us throughout this ordeal were, “Mud on you means mud on me.” Those words made me feel unclean, unloved, unworthy, and without hope. I was a spiritual leper required to shout “unclean, unclean” around those more holy than myself.
When Todd and I visited our former church in the Chicago suburbs, we spent time with one of their elders and told him about the things that had happened over the last year. We told him the hurtful thing that was said and how it made us feel.
With tears in his eyes, he put his arms around us and said, “We all have mud on us, and it is our job as Christians to help get the mud off each other.”
Now that’s grace.
Pam Parmenter currently teaches at Lincoln (Illinois) Community High School.