Over the last few months, Grace has become good friends with four other girls who live in our neighborhood. The other day was the first time she was invited to play in a home, so I found myself sitting in the front room of the grandparents of two of the girls, their daughter, and another neighbor. The grandparents have lived there for at least 40-50 years. The grandpa actually grew up on the road four lots down.
Our conversation began with an impending birth, but soon it changed to a minor incident that involved a dog getting loose a day or two before. This brought up another incident, which brought up another incident, and so on and so forth. Eventually we were being told by the grandmother about things that happened years and decades ago. Some of it was quite dark, I won’t go into the details, but suffice to say that there has been more than one death on our little road.
At first it made me question our living here a bit, but as I reflected, I realized that this shouldn’t be surprising. The neighborhood is less than a century old, my home is about 70 years old. But in the life of a neighborhood, that is enough time for hundreds of people to come and go. People who do great things and people who do terrible things. Any place that I go will have similar stories if I just scratch at the surface just hard enough. It isn’t only the places we live, we find surprising stories in our work places, our churches, and even in our family trees. No place is truly untouched. The lawn may look perfect, the hair flawlessly quaffed, but take a moment to inquire and you will find tragedy and malfeasance just beneath the surface.
I am not saying that everyone has a deep dark secret, that we are all covertly evil beings. I am simply stating that the pictures that we are often presented with have a lot more happening just out of frame.
So what shall we do with this knowledge? We have a choice, we can let it rule us or we can over come it. What happened years ago in my neighborhood could spoil my walks, keep me from relaxing under the spreading arms of our trees, or push me to avoid the homes of my neighbors. But what is in the past is in the past, it may shape the land and we can acknowledge that, but we choose how it shapes ourselves. As that history creeps closer to ourselves, it becomes even more problematic. History in our families and our own lives are far impactful. They change how we think about ourselves and those around us.
This can be especially difficult in congregations, where we have the mix of family, friends, traditions, and faith. Yes, even in our congregations, among fellow Christians, we still find painful history. Sometimes it was an unkind word or a conflict that pushed people to take sides. Sometimes it was something far worse. There is no standard answer as every situation requires its own solution. However there are a few things that we can draw from the Bible as guidelines that should lead us to healthier relationships.
Forgive & “Forget” - We are told over and over again to forgive (Matt. 6:14, Eph. 4:32), that we owe to others the grace that we are given by God. This does not mean to actually forget that you were harmed, but rather to treat the offender kindly. In other words, if you forgive them, act like it. Remember, when God forgives us we are treated as if our past actions didn’t happen. (Heb. 8:12, Rom. 8:9)
Be Prudent -Set up boundaries that keep yourself and others safe. God tells us to be aware that we don’t place ourselves into danger. (Pro. 22:3, Matt. 10:16)
Be Vocal - There is a time to be quiet and there is a time to be vocal. Tell your brother or sister if they hurt you. This isn’t always easy, often emotions are high and no one likes to be accused of doing something wrong. Bring a mediator if needed. But to allow a division to exist is good for no one! (Matt. 18:15-17)
Be Proactive - If you realize that your actions may have harmed another, be proactive and seek forgiveness, make amends now and don’t let negativity fester. (Matt. 5:23-24)
Offer Grace - We do not know what lies below the surface in the lives of others. We don’t know their failures or triumphs, nor do we know what scars they carry. Be kind to all you meet, quick to forgive and slow to anger, and open with one another. (Rom. 12:21, Pro. 15:1)
Peace and blessing to all of you, Pastor Andrew