Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor
When i was in second grade, i got into trouble at school.
I know some of you are thinking ‘what’s the big deal’ or ‘what took you so long,’ but you’ve got to understand this was a huge thing to me at the time.
The weather was hot and the top of the ground had cracked on the school playground. A bunch of kids over by the swings started throwing dirt clods at those of us by the blacktop, so we retaliated. It was so much fun! I was kinda sheltered by a tree, so my chances of getting hit were minimal, and the air was filled with projectiles for several minutes before some teacher yelled at us and told us to stop.
A little while later, back in the classroom, Mrs. Anders directed our attention to the front of the room, where a first grade teacher had brought in a sobbing little boy who had gotten hit near the eye by someone’s dirt clod. She asked all of the boys who had been involved to stand up, and a few of us nervously did, giving dirty looks to the others we knew were a party to it, but didn’t stand.
She told us how disappointed she was in us, and explained that we could have put this little boy’s eye out. The threat of life with an eyepatch made him cry even harder, imagining how close he’d come. (One of the biggest fears we had as kids in the 60s was losing an eye—well…that, and riots, Vietnam, assassinations and nuclear holocaust.) And since i grew up in church, i was ladled with a good degree of natural guilt from Sunday School, and felt horrible for the kid.
Those of us who ‘fessed up’ had to miss recess the next day, but i think that was the only consequence to our crime. I knew i deserved it, and it really affected my behavior in school from that point on…at least until Junior High rolled around.
I got in trouble for throwing dirt clods all those years ago, and it affected me. But after a while, the possibility that other people could be hurt by my actions rarely crossed my mind anymore.
In re:generation, Step 9 is called Amends. Amends is a time for participants to look back at the Inventories they’ve done of their lives and make restitution to the people they’ve hurt over the years…to find the people we’ve hit with things far worse than dirt clods and tell them how sorry we are, and ask them for forgiveness for the harm we’ve caused.
Sounds simple, right?
Now, i’m not saying i need to try to find the kid that i may or may not have bopped in the face with a dirt clod in 1969 and remind him of the awful scene he’s probably tried to blot out of his memory for all of these years. And to be honest, i don’t think i ever actually knew his name, and if i did bother to find it out back then, it’s been lost in the recesses of my mind.
But there are people in my life that i’ve caused harm to, that i have treated poorly, that i need to seek forgiveness from. I need to acknowledge the pain that i’ve caused in my selfishness and pride and innate desire to put my needs way before the needs of others.
Most of those people, i happen to be married to.
Matthew 5:23 says this:
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
What if the flip side is true—that someone has hurt you, maybe years ago, that altered the course of your life in ways that you feel you can’t forgive?
Colossians 3:12 tells us this:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 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. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
What would it look like if we came clean? Came clean with our spouses, our children, our neighbors, our families. What if we said ‘i’ve thrown hundreds of dirt clods at you over the years. I’m sorry. Will you please forgive me?’
What would a church of forgiven, forgiving people look like to the rest of Van Zandt County?
Look, we’ve all made mistakes. The Bible says we “all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23.) The way we react to those sins, the ones we’ve committed, as well as the ones that we’ve been on the receiving end of, sets us apart in a way the world can’t help but notice.
We’ve all lobbed a few dirt clods in our lives, and had them chunked at us. What’s your next move?