This July 4th marked a strange independence for me. For years I have struggled with the indecencies of a sordid sibling relationship from my youth. It was painful to be with the family, to know that I was perceived as the trouble maker upon speaking the truth and seeking support. It was always my understanding that I was the outsider although I knew that I was the victim.
Years of struggling with this have shaped my being. For ordination, it was Jacob wrestling with God, seeking the blessing, naming God as my best opponent, my greatest champion, who led me to receive the laying on of hands. The example of Jacob is not synonymous with my life path, but I certainly understand his trepidation and his fears of rejection for past actions, blameless or not. He wrestled with the stranger as I have wrestled with my own understandings, fears, and misgivings. He would not back down, knowing that his own self was at stake and yet, knowing that there had to be an exchange in order for things to move forward.
God doesn’t give up, and yet, God does not always overtake us, but reshapes us even as we live into and drag along our painful selves on the road as servants of Christ. This year, another of the blessings of wrestling were received. The instigator of my struggles has had a complicated few years of body failure due to alcohol and drugs. This sibling, now a man with family and vocation, has all but destroyed the blessings of his life through chemicals and carousing. He bottomed out.
Like Jacob, there was a call for reconciliation lest there be a death with out forgiveness, a loss of comprehension without first recognition that the hip has been put back into place, although the pain remains—stronger at some times than others. So a call was made into the darkness of one person’s hell from the brilliance of freedom and a recognition was made of two selves, scarred, matured. The ability of Christ to empower words is phenomenal.
From my memory came two images, unbidden, of times of innocence in a chaotic world where this sibling and I were correctly related and powerfully free from the constraints of our lives. I shared these in that phone call to the hospital ward. Two simple images, granted from my memory of times uncomplicated between two young children.
I heard from his daughter that, although our conversation was never publicly acknowledged, that there was a change in demeanor, hope was sparked from somewhere that day, and a slow rekindling of the chemically free father had begun.
As we approached Independence Day, for the first time in years, I felt the compulsion (from the Holy Spirit?) to extend an invitation to the family of my sibling, including my sibling. I was somewhat chicken, and like Jacob sending the women and children before me, I asked neighbors to come and share the festivities as well. Wanting a cushion that was all but unnecessary, I called to God for blessings and good favor, for fruitful conversation and uncomplicated emotions, and for plenty of food.
God blessed me. God gave me a sense of independence from this wrestling and this power-sucking history. I don’t speak of this history often, nor do I share it lightly. And yet, the question is begged, how do we come to believe if we have not heard, and how can we hear if it is not spoken? God does heal all things. God can take any situation and restore order, lighten pain, heal all things because God bears all things.
Independence? It is discovered in the freedom we receive from Christ alone! In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul writes,
“3and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ towards God. 5Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, 6who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
“ 12Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that* was being set aside. 14But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. 15Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”
I cannot forgive, I cannot even look in the eye of someone who has caused me such life-altering emotions and fears and misgivings. But Christ can. I cling to the freedom I have in Christ, through the Spirit that moves me, to continue to free me from the past I have in this world and grow me into the future that calls me to open my heart and my soul to the beauty, the blessing of God, in all people.
I’ve been told that this forgiveness is ludicrous. That there is no need to forgive, that there is no rationale for letting go and losing the anxiety being in this person’s presence has given me for decades; that self-preservation is far more important than letting go. But I discovered that the events of more than thirty-five years ago are not today’s events and I am a new person, growing out of the fertilizer those events give my branch on the tree of life. to remain stunted and unreceiving of that which God has given me, a blessing, a name, independent of all that has been, yet restored and made new through those very traumas is to deny God’s power and to allow the prince of darkness to continue to dwell deeply in this part of my being.
For freedom, Christ has set me free. 🙂 May everyone know this freedom we have in Christ Jesus our Lord. Let us stand firm, therefore, and never again submit to the yoke of slavery! (Galatians 5:1) Happy Independence Day to you!