We’re both soldiers at arms. We both enlisted in the same army. We do differ by rank but we report to the same commanding officer. The rules of engagement lie safely in our battle packs, our hearts, and our minds. We are one army with one battle plan.
Suddenly, my chest contracts and I’m struggling to breath. The pain is intense. My head is throbbing and my eyes blur. I’ve been hit⎼but not by the enemy. This is friendly fire and the person before me I know well. It’s my familiar friend with whom I enjoy sweet fellowship at church as we worship together (Psalm 55:13-14).
Have you ever been hurt by a Christian friend? Deeply hurt? Maybe you went to them, shared a need or asked their counsel, and instead of help they gave you a figurative kick in the stomach. At that moment, wounded and hurting, you enter a battlefield not of your own choosing but a battlefield nonetheless. A war is raging within you, and it’s so real that you feel it in every fiber of your being.
How could they do this to me? How could they say such a thing? I’ve always been there for them! Real Christians don’t act like that. I thought they were my friend.
As anger and self-pity ignite, there’s a voice telling you that you shouldn’t be feeling these emotions and you shouldn’t be thinking these thoughts. God appears distant or He may even seem to have abandoned you altogether.
Your Desperate Need
In this fog-of-war state, what should you do? Equally important, what shouldn’t you do? You know your emotions are patently out of control and you’ve lost your spiritual equilibrium. You sense your desperate need of spiritual rescue, but where will it come from?
The above scenario isn’t something I dreamed up but a reality I’ve experienced. The pain can be palpable, and I doubt I’m the only one who has staggered through the emotional debris an encounter such as this engenders. But in the midst of the pain, one truth always breaks through and holds firm in my mind—God is at work. I know that I need to open my eyes and look up.
So what do I do? I take a deep breath and ask the Holy Spirit to apply truth to my heart. When we are in emotional or spiritual turmoil, there are thoughts and intentions in our hearts that need immediate discerning (Hebrews 4:12) or else they will quickly spin out of control and take us down the path of bitterness, resentment, and revenge. Only the word and Spirit can open our eyes to ourselves and begin the process of repentance, forgiveness, and healing. This is supernatural work, and although it doesn’t feel like it at the moment, it will be accompanied by the joy of the Holy Spirit. (1Thessalonians 1:5-6)
Remember that we were called to take up a cross and follow Jesus. To this call we replied, “Yes, Lord.” Remember this and think about it. God is calling us to die to some things⎼things like trusting in people more than in Him for our security, comfort, love, counsel, encouragement, friendship, and resources. When we set our expectations on people, they will fail us because they are sinners just as we are sinners. God is training us to set our expectations higher, on the living hope that He has promised (1 Peter 1:3-6).
Next, we need to guard our hearts diligently. We are fallen, broken creatures. Our hearts like to keep a tally of wrongs done against us. We desire vengeance when someone hurts us, which often displays itself in gossip, criticism, a cold shoulder, indifference, sarcasm, or even privately rooting for them to fail. All of these flashing-light sins indicate that bitterness has taken root, a deadly sin that is poison to the soul and to the church. Bitterness blinds us to God and to ourselves.
While avoiding bitterness, we must remember that it’s okay to lament the pain and suffering one encounters in this upside-down, out-of-joint world where we must pitch our tents for a time. Our Savior was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and every saint in the Bible testifies to the same experience. But they also testify that they never walked the Calvary Road alone. Also, they knew that the God that walked with them was the Author as well as the Healer of their afflictions. Would we really want to take another path?
God neither owes us nor gives us a pain-exempt life. To complicate matters, there isn’t always a one-to-one correlation between our present suffering and subsequent lessons to be learned. Much of our suffering may never be understood in this life, but we are assured that only goodness and mercy envelope us on the journey. God has called us to trust and obey Him, and in that we bring Him glory. That is the end to which we were created. We haven’t read the final chapter; we just know the Author of the story.
Seek peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation. There are some sins against us that love can cover. We absorb the debt and move on. There are others that take the difficult work of forgiveness and reconciliation. As far as it is possible with us, we must seek healing of our broken relationships. Don’t apply a Band Aid when surgery is required.
Remember, remember, remember that God is always at work in our lives making us more like Jesus. That means that every hurtful thing said to us or done to us serves as a gift that reveals what is in our hearts. All those sinful, displeasing things stirring around inside our hearts become evident when we are offended or sinned against. As the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to ourselves, we can repent, fix our eyes on Jesus, and be transformed. That is sanctification.
There is a saying that can be true both positively and negatively—a heart knows a heart. When others hurt us, it provides an opportunity to honestly examine ourselves and reflect on how we have done the very same thing to others. We are all guilty of offending others, of slighting them, of drawing false assumptions, of pre-judging, of dishonoring our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Whenever we feel the sting, we should be quick to do some necessary heart work rather than judging the person who offended us. It will prove to be time well spent.
Finally, grab on to the promises of God and don’t let go. Live on them and pray them and memorize them and meditate on them. God always keeps His word.
Scriptures that have helped me through the painful process of forgiveness and reconciliation are listed below. Start by meditating on the forgiveness Christians have received from God in Christ. Once you’ve cultivated your heart with the truth of what Christ has done on your behalf while you were still His enemy, then meditate on what He has called you to do in regard to your sinning brother, sister, church member, family member, neighbor, or friend.
Remember, the Christian life is supernatural or it isn’t the Christian life.
But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,
In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 2:12
I am writing you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
Helpful Scriptures when a friend or family member posture themselves as an “enemy.”
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
1 Corinthians 13:7
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Peter 3:9
Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
O Father you are sovereign, the Lord of human pain,
transmuting earthly sorrows, to gold of heavenly gain.
All evil overruling, as none but Conqueror could,
your love pursues its purpose—our souls eternal good.