Yesterday a couple of things happened that bought challenges, or were they opportunities? Neither of them turned out to be worth fretting about, but neither were they inconsequential. They won’t fade out of memory any time soon.
The first was a planned reunion where aged relatives saw each other for the first time in decades. What do you say to each other after 40 years of estrangement? Nice weather? You look just like your brother? Remember when we used to . . . Yes, you say those things but much more remains unsaid, perhaps because it is safer. Why did we let this happen? I am sorry. I really missed you. None of those things were said out loud, but I’m sure they were hanging in the air nonetheless.
It was a lovely thing to witness. People in their late eighties shaking hands and smiling with one another as if the years in between hadn’t happened, or didn’t matter. In lots of small ways hurts were salved, regrets were turned away, fears dissolved, and a section of life and memories, long tucked and hidden away, was freed to bloom again, even if as a seedling.
It led me to realise, again, in a very clear way, that forgiveness is a sweet wonderful gift. Naturally the years in between did happen and they can’t be taken back. The hurts were carried, the regret and the fears were real. They were not the sum of a family however. Forgiveness, even a controlled and very polite forgiveness, had the final word. Brothers and sisters could feel at least some of the barriers pushed aside and that was a life affirming experience to see.
As my father said at least twice before the reunion: “It’s too long ago for all that (happened) to matter any more. I just want to see them again”. Afterwards he said: “That was great. I didn’t realise just how much I missed them”. Not that he said that when his sister and brother were with him, but . . . small steps . . . and lovely grace.
Which brings me to yesterday’s second challenge. A younger relative at the reunion heard that I had been principal of a Christian school and she confided that she planned to enrol her daughter at such a school. She was concerned though that maybe the ‘religion’ would be an issue. She had grown up in a Jehovah’s Witness environment and told me how she now had a very strong reservation about the guilt and the judgement peddled by churches. Well, as you may imagine this was the opening of a fairly intense conversation about what Lutheran schools were like and should she be worried about what would be ‘done’ to her child. Apart from being taken by surprise and feeling unequal to the task, I did my best. I’m not sure she was hearing me. But maybe I managed to reassure her that her child would be respected and loved at her school.
What a heavy burden some churches and groups place on the shoulders of their members. How very tragic when the Christian Gospel, authentically encountered, is a means of freedom and life for people such as this young lady and her daughter. I thought afterwards how inadequate my response and reassurance had been, and I also thought, how often the Gospel message is invisible to people because of the way certain ‘Christians’ have treated them.
Then again, I am one of those ‘Christians’. How does my life speak the Gospel to people who do not understand it?
I’m still thinking about that.

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