Have you ever had your heart broken? A type of broken that truly burdened your heart and mind ... perhaps for years. You aren't alone in your hurt, and you don't have to stay there any longer. You can find hope and healing with the Gift of Kindness. Learn more in today's blog post.
It was a cold and rainy November Sunday in the northeast when my alarm clock went off in my head, waking me from sleep. I reluctantly tossed back the warm covers and checked my phone alarm in the other room. Yes, I had turned it off before going to bed. I was visiting my mother for an early Thanksgiving and arrived to the place I was staying tired, late Saturday night. Yet, before I drifted to sleep, I prayed that The Lord would wake me if I was meant to go to church. So, I poured a cup of coffee and settled onto the couch with a soft blanket for my quiet time. As I read and prayed, I felt strongly that I was to attend church.
After getting ready and gathering a change of clothes, I drove the 45 minutes to the church where my nieces attend. Service had already started when I arrived, so I sat in the closest seat to the door I entered, on the opposite side of where my nieces sat with their friends.
The message was on Thanksgiving Miracles and the passage was John 6:1-14 – the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 (15-20,000 with women and children). Jesus asked Philip a question to test him, because Jesus already knew what He was going to do. The point of the message was that when we are tested, we can trust and experience a miracle, or we can doubt and experience a mess. Miracle or Mess – our choice. Through timing and circumstances, I could never have foreseen, or orchestrated God showed Himself in the details and moved in a miraculous way.
Shortly after arriving I left the sanctuary to use the Ladies’ Room – only I could not find the one on the side where I was sitting, even though I knew there was one nearby. All I saw was a wall, not a door. So, I walked all the way around the foyer to the restrooms on the other side. When I walked in, I just “happened” to see my 17-year-old niece! She didn’t know I was there and asked if I’d invited her mom (my sister) to church. I replied I had not spoken to her mom in a long time. She asked if it would be awkward seeing my sister. I hesitantly answered, “I don’t know.”
As I walked all the way back around the other side of the foyer to my seat, I realized the timing of seeing my niece was no coincidence and I was at church that morning for a reason. I listened to the message and prayed for wisdom to know what to do.
My younger sister and I are the only siblings in our family, and we were close at one time. But we had not seen each other in 9 years and had not spoken in 5. Difficult circumstances and misunderstandings, combined with years of hurt, disappointments, anger, unmet expectations, competing for parental attention and approval, and changes in each of our lives strained our relationship and one day, cumulated in such a way that I cut off her access to me. In the beginning it was because I was deeply hurt and would not continue to tolerate what I considered unacceptable behavior. But over time, I remembered all the times I had felt hurt in our relationship and continued to justify no communication. One month turned to twelve and one year to five.
Yet there were indications in my own life - and other family relationships that had been strained or severed - that God was doing a work of healing in my heart, setting me free from the deep wounds of rejection, betrayal, abandonment, lies, false accusations, abuse and shame. As I surrendered my pride, anger, judgments, and pain to Jesus, He was filling my heart with forgiveness, compassion, grace, mercy, kindness, love, His truth, hope, courage and freedom.
“Hurting people hurt people” is a reality that is hard to remember when we are hurt by someone close to us. The pain can be too intense, and we tend to take what was done or said personally, often not realizing or understanding what is going on inside of them. Even though I continued to pray for my sister every day and loved her from a distance, I did not trust that I could be close to her again.
I have a tendency to self-protect when I’ve been deeply hurt or misunderstood. Perhaps, to some degree, we all do. It’s only natural to want to avoid pain. To avoid getting too close to the fire after we’ve been burned a time or two. Yet, what I have realized in my own life, is that pain surrendered to God can be transformed. Through His redeeming love, He gives beauty for ashes and wholeness for brokenness.
Isaiah 61:1-3 says of Jesus, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; …. To comfort all who mourn, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” (NKJ)
As I listened to the message, I knew that instead of sneaking out the side door and pretending I didn’t know my sister was there, I just wanted to embrace her. As the message ended, the pastor asked all who wanted a Thanksgiving miracle to raise their hand as he prayed. I raised my hand. Then I walked to the other side of the sanctuary and greeted my sister with open arms. She held me tight as I wept. In a voice filled with love and gentleness, she said, “I’ve been waiting for this moment for a very long time.”
We talked for nearly an hour after service. Later, at my mother’s house, I shared what had happened. My mother broke down and cried. She had been praying for our reconciliation every day for years. In that moment I realized just how much my parents had been hurt too. Our desire to self-protect or defend our decisions doesn’t only affect the person who has hurt us, it affects everyone else in the family and changes the dynamics of the family.
Pain handled in God's way produces a turning from sin to God which leads to salvation, and there is nothing to regret in that! But pain handled the world's way produces only death. 2 Corinthians 7:10
My sister called and I invited her to our mother’s for another Thanksgiving meal and cake to celebrate our mother’s December birthday early. Mom said it was the best birthday gift she could have ever asked for! Encircled in the warmth of our mother’s dining table during dinner and late into the evening, we began to catch up about our lives. My sister had struggled to survive and endured more loss and pain over the past five years than I could have imagined. As she shared, I noticed the changes in her. Where she could easily have become bitter, she was forgiving. In her brokenness, God had brought forth beauty and redeeming transformation – just as He had in my own life.
In place of pride, entitlement or hostility was genuine humility, gratitude and kindness. She was forgiving, gentle, generous, and loving. The way I remembered her as a child.
Another change that brought to me to tears many times over the following weeks was her sincere apology. For 30 years I had received non-apology apologies. The kind that don’t take personal responsibility. The apologies that sound like, “I’m sorry you feel…I’m sorry you think…I’m sorry you took it that way…” But she gave a heartfelt sincere apology. In owning her part, she opened the door for me to own mine and apologize as well.
Honestly, it was her kindness and forgiving spirit that reached deep into my soul. I was so humbled. I had grown and changed in the past five years also and was overcome with sadness that I had ignored her attempts to reconcile sooner. There was an ache in my heart from the void that only my sister filled. I found that by opening my heart to receive her back into my life, I have a piece of myself back as well as vital part of my family. I have missed her so much! I am profoundly grateful for God’s grace, perfect timing and for the gift of kindness.
This is the season of giving gifts and for miracles. Is there someone in your life who needs to be the recipient of your gifts of grace and forgiveness? Perhaps someone who needs to hear, “I’m sorry.” And “I love you.”? If so, what is getting in the way? What would it look like to let the past go and give the hurt to God to heal? To give the gift of kindness – not necessarily because they deserve it, but because that’s who God is. Loving, merciful, compassionate and kind. Have any of us ever really deserved such from Him? I know I haven’t. It is purely His extravagant grace and lavish love that I am a recipient of.
Almighty God, Creator of the Universe, clothed Himself in human flesh and came as a baby, wrapped in swaddling cloth in the humblest of places – the feeding trough in a stable in Bethlehem. It is the season of miracles and wonder. What if the greatest miracle is just on the other side of the gift of kindness?
This Devotional blog is by Freedom to Flourish Life Coaching Founder and Christian Life Coach, Jen Stone-Sexton. She is currently accepting new clients. You can learn more about Jen here.
Jennifer Stone-Sexton © 2022 Freedom to Flourish Life Coaching All Rights Reserved.
Photo Credits: Cover Photo and Photo 4 by Yuri Levin on Unsplash | Photo 1 by Oliver Hihn on Unsplash | Photo 2 by Ben White on Unsplash | Photo 3 by Caleb Frith on Unsplash |
Photo 5 by fa-barboza on Unsplash