In the Light of God’s Mercy and Grace

I was a very good student in elementary school. I was smart and I made good grades. I was afraid of breaking the rules and disappointing my teachers so I was very careful to always listen to instructions. I was kind to most of the kids, although I’m sure someone somewhere has a story of a time when I wasn’t. I imagine, if I thought really hard about it, I could come up with a story of my own. But for the most part, I was a good kid and I was well liked.

However, one year, in my elementary years, when I was still sweet and kind and studious and a rule follower, I had a teacher who did not particularly like me. It wasn’t just that I wasn’t the favorite; she was often annoyed with me. She would snap at my questions, rarely smiled at me, and was very harsh in her judgement of my art projects (I was excellent at coloring!). I know I didn’t imagine this behavior and she didn’t treat everyone in the class the same way. It was very obvious who she liked and who she didn’t.

I never figured out why she didn’t like me. It was hard for me back then but I really have let it go. I have come to accept that I am an acquirred taste and not everyone wants to take the time or energy to learn to love me. I get it and I’m fine with it.

When I was in high school, there was a man who volunteered with our church youth group who didn’t like me. He liked the kids who came to all the events and lived their lives the same at church as they did at school and in the community. I was not very authentic as a teenager. I didn’t always make the right choices and this man knew it. He liked to call me out on some of those choices and, since the only time I ever saw him was at Sunday School, he would do the calling out in front of all the other kids.

As an adult I find this sort of behavior appalling. Shaming a teenager in front of their peers is not the ideal way to help them grow a vibrant relationship with Jesus. But I’ve forgiven him because I like to imagine he didn’t know better. And frankly, I only have so much energy to get me through each day and I don’t want to waste an ounce on holding anger at someone like that.

When I was a young married woman I took a job as a receptionist and book keeper for a small business. My job was to answer the phones, take messages, and record receipts in a big ledger book. The owner of the business was always looking at me in a creepy way and then, after only two weeks there, he ran his hand up my leg. I punched him and walked out. He was an old fool and I refused to be disrespected or abused in that way.

These three people all have something in common in my life. All three were terrible at their job. All three showed disrespect. All three could have caused emotional damage. But none of them had the power to change my view of all the other people in their position. I don’t think all teachers are mean. I don’t think all church workers are shaming. And I don’t think all old men are perverts.

In my lifetime I have had bad doctors, bad waiters, bad contractors, bad dentists, bad hairdressers, bad… You name it. But I’ve also had good ones. I could make a list of hundreds of teachers and professors I have had or my children have had who are kind and loving and genuinely care about their students. I have known youth pastors and senior pastors and music leaders and Sunday School teachers who offer grace and show love and point people to Jesus. And I have had bosses who are respectful and kind and have taught me much about leadership.

As a rule, I try to assume that other people are doing the very best they can with the resources they have at hand in that moment. Are there exceptions? Absolutely. Are there people who should be fired from their position because they’ve done such a terrible job or caused harm to others? Of course. Are there people who, despite being told of an unacceptable behavior many times, refuse to stop that behavior? Yes. Do I need to keep those people in my life? No.

Our country is going through some crazy times. Actually, the entire world feels sort of mad this year. When I heard of the police officer who murdered a man in Minnesota a few weeks back while other police officers stood and watched, I was completely heart broken. No human being should be treated that way-criminal or free person -no one deserves the treatmant that man received. I have to wonder what those officers have gone through and seen in their lives and careers that calloused their hearts. I am curious where they went off the rails of empathy and compassion for their fellow man and landed in the ditch of hate. I hope those officers are never allowed to work in any position of authority ever again. I hope they are put away. And I hope they find remorse in their hearts and repent.

I also hope that police officers everywhere are taught the proper procedures to handle criminals. I hope they are given resources to manage the stress of their job – counseling and therapy – so they can learn how to process some of the horrors they see in their daily grind without causing horrors for others. I hope there are systems put into place to decipher ones mental capacity to handle the taxing job of being a police officer. But all of these things take funding and will never happen if we defund police.

Last week we watched a dear friend, who is a police officer, work to form teams who would work at local protests of all that is happening in our country. He spent hours on the phone and on his computer, carefully placing structure around what everyone hoped would be a peaceful situation. His desire was to keep the peace but he knew he had to be prepared for the worst.

As he put on his uniform with his bullet-proof vest and his gun in holster and prepared to leave the house, his wife kissed him good-bye. I felt my heart cracking wide open but couldn’t show emotion or fear for him because his teenage children and mine were watching wide-eyed. As he pulled out of the driveway they asked lots of questions about the protests and we all did the best we could to answer those questions. The reality though was that we all knew he was going into a situation where there could be people who see him as the enemy; people who carry so much hate for the police officers in Minnesota, and for other police officers who have been bad at their job, that their hate spills over to all police. We knew that there could be people there who are not capable of seeing past the badge on his chest because, in their minds, all badges are the same and all badges are evil. The irony of the situation was lost on none of us.

I don’t have answers for the system. I don’t claim to be an expert in anything other than Friends and The Office. I know a little bit about a lot of things but not a lot about many things. What I do know is that I pray every day for Jesus to come back and take us all home. I also know Jesus rarely does things according to my time frame or my plan. So in the meantime, I have to guard my heart. I have to guard against fear and anger. I have to guard against judgement and hatred. I have to guard against idolatry and pride. And I have to remind myself over and over and over that God created each of us in His image. I am an image bearer of God. My husband and children bear the image of God. My neighbors bear His image. My boss, my doctor, my dentist, my exterminator…all image bearers. My teacher from elementary school who didn’t like me? Yep. God created her in His image as well. And the youth guy and the perve boss? Also, created in God’s image.

The problem is that this world is full of sin. So the image we were designed to reflect can get smudged and distorted and messed up. But God knew that! So He sent His only child, His Son, to take the punishment for all that sin. When we are baptised in Christ, we take on the pure and holy image we were meant to reflect. We don’t reflect it here on Earth but when God looks at us, all He sees is His own reflection. God sees Jesus in us.

I have hurt people and I have helped people. I have made poor choices and I have shown wisdom. I have judged people and I have trusted people. I have been the target of hate and disrespect and I have been the benefactor of undeserved privilege. I pray no one ever looks at me and sees all or nothing; one or the other. And I pray I never look at others in any light but the light of God’s mercy and grace.