I was excited to go to church this past Sunday morning. We’re enjoying being in church again and hearing solid preaching. And, I had new clothes to wear!
After delivering the youngest two children to their classes, I tried to sneak into the sanctuary fifteen minutes late. A tall gentleman was showing slides of Haitian children opening shoe boxes. No luck sliding in unnoticed while everyone was standing and singing. You could have heard a pin drop in there, and that door I came through was a lot louder than a pin.
I caught the last half of his presentation and pondered how I might come up with the money to let J do a shoe box for a 7 year old boy and D do one up for a 5 year old little girl. It would be good for them to learn to be on the other end of charity.
Our former youth pastor from our last church attends this church, too, and he and his wife were leading worship this week. She sings like an angelic little bird. The musical worship was great, and I found myself lost in it, tossing my head back, swaying side to side, and raising my arms up to my Lord.
But, the pastor wasn’t there.
The youth pastor stepped away from the drum set and took his place, center stage.
He asked us to open to the book of Jonah, and he began to expound on its message. Using literary comparisons, he gave us the main idea. Jonah denied his calling, and God pursues and does not give up on His people. He discussed the elements of the story and outlined the main characters. In the course of explaining that Jonah is the antagonist, he shared that Ninevah literally means fish town, and it is ironic that Jonah was swallowed by the very thing, a fish, that he was running from, the fish town.
His main idea seemed to be that we should not deny our calling. This young pastor stated that if the Lord has called us to do something, to preach to someone, we should follow the Lord’s prompting.
I’ve been “given words from the Lord” from a number of people recently. None of these individuals are connected to each other, so I’ve accepted that the Lord does indeed have a “job” for me to do. However, I have been denying it. I find a million reasons to set it aside. I’m just too busy these days. So, I felt pricked in my heart as I listened to his opening words.
I was drawn in by his literary connection. At first. Then, the theology was brought forth, and I found my shoulders drawing forward as I winced at his words.
“Like the pagan sailors, find out who Yahweh is, and then the storms will cease.”
No wonder they seek the hidden, unrepented of sin in my life when I turn to them for help. Using their Greek logic, his statement could be turned around to: I would not suffer these storms if I’d just get right with God.
He continued, “The world says, ‘Burn that bridge!’ but God says, ‘Reconcile with one another.”
He asked who it is that we are bitter against. The drunk driver that killed a child? A child molester? Who is it that we deem to be unworthy of forgiveness? We were told to “remember where you came from.” We were instructed to “remember you were once lost.” “A child molester is just someone who needs Jesus.” We were advised to “enter into a dialogue with those you deem unworthy.”
The amens were going up all around the room while I wanted to bolt for the door.
I spent my entire life trying to dialogue with my mother. She was hard in her heart and refused my love and my words. I spent 16 years trying to dialogue with my now ex-husband. My love and kindness only worsened the beatings. Once, in a moment of transparency, R admitted that my kindness only enraged him more because he knew he didn’t deserve it. It made him feel like I was better than he because I was able to show love and kindness to him no matter what he did to me.
I never deemed them unworthy. Nor did I desire revenge. As a child, I prayed my mother would die. And, I began praying for R’s death shortly after we married and the choking and beatings began. I only longed for their deaths because I saw no escape from their hell. It was out of self-preservation that I desired their harm, not out of revenge or hatred. Even David, a man after God’s own heart, prayed for the deaths of his enemies.
Sitting there, I tried to remind myself that this young man is indeed young. His life experiences must be fairly limited. He’d made a comment that no one sitting in that room knew what it’s like to be tortured. Hmmmmm………
He is just naive. He truly doesn’t know any better.
An older pastor once told me to remember the three Rs: There can be no Restoration of Relationship without Repentance. He said to remember that God Himself freely offers us His forgiveness, but we can’t receive it until we repent. We should follow His lead in our relationships with each other by standing ready to forgive while eagerly waiting for the offender to repent.
Jesus instructed his disciples to shake the dust off their feet when they departed from those who would not receive them or their message. And, He described terrible punishment for those who hurt a child.
Yet, this very young pastor says that we are to view them as we view ourselves, we are no better than they.
I thought of the pastor who told my 6 year old son he needed to repent for “allowing” himself to be sexually abused. I recalled the pastor who became concerned for my marriage and stated that he was going to be praying that I did NOT follow through on my safety plan to escape my abuser in an attempt to save my life and the lives of my children. I remembered the well meaning older women who tried to teach me to submit, submit, submit, which I was already doing to the point that I was bowing before a false idol.
Then, the youth pastor turned another direction and began talking about not foolishly sleeping, as Jonah did in the boat, but to be awake and alert.
Isn’t that what he and all those crying, “Amen!” are doing? Foolishly sleeping? They are not awake and alert to the violence toward women and children. They are sleeping and dreaming that it isn’t happening. It isn’t happening in their worlds. When it is forced in their faces, they require the women and children to forgive and remember that they are not better than those they are accusing. And, they are told their God is a God of reconciliation, so reconcile!
At that moment, as I became aware that my shoulders were curled forward and I was slumped in my chair, eyes squinting against his painful words, I realized why I’ve been denying my calling.
People repeatedly tell me, “Every time I pray for you, I get a strong message that you are to speak for abused women.”
I want to minister to them someday. I want to put my arms around them and tell them I understand. I want to publicly share my story, so others will know they are not alone. I want to tell them they didn’t deserve that. They are loved by God, and He never wanted that for them. Their husbands’ actions were evil and wicked in the eyes of our loving Father.
I don’t want to speak for them.
Statistics say that one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. There were more than four women in that sanctuary. That means I wasn’t the only one sitting there that morning. That means those other women were also being told to quit looking at themselves as better than their abusers (which is ridiculous because battered women see themselves as unworthy) and to reconcile with those evil men.
If I were to speak for abused women, who would I speak to?
Ahhhhh, therein lies the secret to why I’ve been denying my calling.
I fear, as Jonah did, the wrath of those to whom I would speak. I fear my message will not be received well. And, they, like the Ninevites, have a history of violence and persecution.
But, if Jonah was swallowed by a fish as he tried to run from the fish town, how would the church swallow me? I don’t want to sit in the bowels of that beast with the stench of the heresy that turns away the brokenhearted and winks at the sins of the wicked who abuse children.
The book of Jonah closes with a conversation between God and Jonah. God has the last word:
Then said the Lord, “Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not labored, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: and should not I spare Ninevah, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?”
That’s a question I’d like to pose to the pastors like the young man I listened to on Sunday. They’ve had pity for child molesters and wife beaters, men they haven’t labored over nor have they helped these men grow in Christ. These men will perish. Scripture tells us their end will be bad. Yet, should God not spare the great multitude of battered women and abused children who can’t discern between their right hand and their left hand for reason of the tremendous emotional abuse they’ve suffered?
Perhaps that’s the question, the word, the Lord wants me to bring before these men.
I guess I’m reluctantly going to Ninevah.