“How did you get to be so wise?” he asked.
The question startled me. Wise? I don’t think of myself as wise. If anything, I’m so aware of my flaws and inner ignorance about what really matters that I often wonder what I really have to offer anyone that’s worthwhile.
Through the course of life, I’ve come to understand that anything good in me has been grown by God himself and that only when I cooperate with God and allow him to mold me and make me into the vessel He has envisioned, am I really beautiful and useful. So what flowed from my mouth in answer to the question seemed natural . . .
“At the foot of the cross,” I said without much thinking. At the foot of the cross is where wisdom begins because wisdom begins with humility. Wisdom comes from a source outside us. Wisdom comes from God. And at the foot of the cross is where any journey worth taking begins.
If you want to summit a mountain, you must start at the base.
If you want to reach high, you must stay low.
I explained to him how King Solomon sought wisdom above all things. Not human wisdom, which really isn’t all that wise most of the time. Solomon sought God’s wisdom, which is always above and beyond our thoughts and ways (Isaiah 55:8). And if we really want to be wise, we must be humble. We must recognize who we really are—created by the Creator—fearfully and wonderfully made—but not God.
We were talking about forgiveness—the need to forgive—God’s command to forgive. Oh, we can talk about forgiveness all day long, for years, and have all the right Biblical answers in our heads, and yet keep the act of forgiving quite far removed from our hearts and our will. We know we’re supposed to forgive and we say we do—we say we have—and then, the worm that rots the apple and eats our soul alive is exposed again—and again—and again. Our flesh wants revenge. We want to do unto others what we believe they have done unto us—because they DESERVE it for causing our suffering. We want RIGHTEOUSNESS! And we think we’re ENTITLED to it. We think we’re ENTITLED to seek RIGHTEOUSNESS with REVENGE. And, oh, how twisted and dark our ways can become when we TWIST and TURN God’s word, God’s way.
I know. I’ve done it. I DO it. Especially when someone who I think should KNOW better—a professing CHRISTIAN—goes about spewing hateful, slanderous words and purposely inflicting pain because they think they are entitled to do so because of how they’ve been treated—I’ve fallen into temptation of returning the same evil thoughts and behaviors. Sometimes I’ve fallen right into the pit of this hell. Sometimes I’ve indulged in chew ‘em up and spit ‘em out thoughts and behaviors that make my soul hide it’s ugly face in shame shortly thereafter. And I have to repent. I have to turn and change my ways, by God’s grace, because I want to please God and I want to LIVE FREE. And we can’t LIVE FREE when we’re tangled in a net of unforgiving violence against another, regardless of what another has done to us. We can’t LIVE FREE when we’re so obsessed with another’s sin that we can’t see our own.
So I told him a story, a true story. I told him about the time when our neighbor decided to steal something from my husband and me and he used the court system to approve of his evil act. He wanted land—more land—land he thought he was ENTITLED to have. So he concocted some story about how he had tended the strip of land for so many years that now he could legally claim it as his own. Problem was, if we just let him have the land, our land would become substandard to the point where if our house were to burn, we couldn’t rebuild and our real estate value would diminish considerably if we were to sell. So, we hired an attorney, at our own expense, because our neighbor had already filed a suit and would not reason with us in a neighborly fashion. He was dragging us into court and we had to go.
One discovers what’s in their heart when they are crossed and confronted with injustice. Honestly, I found myself hating this man and his wife. Every time I saw him—every time I drove past his house, which was every day—I seethed. And I found my soul withering while my vengeful thoughts raged. But being a Christian, the weight of conviction began to fall heavy and I found myself in a quandary. I knew I was supposed to forgive, but how could I? I didn’t FEEL like forgiving. I felt like STRANGLING!
One day, driving down our road all by myself, I started screaming in the car, face bright red, tears streaming down mad, vocal cords strained to the max. Yes, I was a wild woman. My fury went something like this . . .
God, I KNOW I’m supposed to forgive them, but I can’t. No, I don’t WANT to! I don’t WANT to forgive them because they are WRONG! Stealing and lying is WRONG and You KNOW it! (I’m sure God was waiting for me to remind Him of what He already knows.) So, just HOW am I supposed to forgive someone when they’re WRONG and I don’t FEEL like it and they are making our life MISERABLE just when I don’t have any energy left over and we’ve spent all this money because we’ve been doing Your will and went ALL the way to RUSSIA and adopted these two ORPHANS and now you want me to FORGIVE on top of it all?!!!!!!! (That’s exactly SEVEN exclamation points because SEVEN is the holy number of completion. And did you notice the excellent case I presented to God about how I was ENTITLED to justice because I was being such a GOOD girl?) NO! I won’t do it because I CAN’T!
Hmmmmm. When I finally had to stop my rant to take a breath, a small still voice entered.
“You can’t forgive because you won’t.”
I was zapped by the Holy Spirit with a zinger.
I can’t forgive because I won’t.
Forgiveness is a matter of the will, not the feelings.
God was asking me quietly, after my wild rant, if I would consider forgiving, even if I felt I couldn’t.
“Why, yes. I think I can do that.” I wished I had said it so plain and calm to Him but it was more like a sassy five-year-old saying . . .
“Just see if you can MAKE me!”
And then I started laughing at my own ridiculousness and I could actually picture our loving God looking at me with kind eyes, knowing the pain under my rant, and telling me that the journey to the top of any mountain starts at the base. Did I have the WILL to start and let Him lead the way, giving me the ability and strength to climb?
He told me I had already taken the first big step—I admitted to myself and to Him that I couldn’t. I couldn’t forgive. And once the ability issue was settled, we could move on to the next step—the will.
WOULD I forgive, if I COULD?
“Well,” I said out loud to God in my car, “if you can help me forgive, I’d be willing.”
I darn near saw Him smile.
All hikes to the top, start with the first step—at the bottom—humility—the foot of the cross.
What we can’t do for ourselves, Christ does for us.
All that’s required to start toward the summit is a willing spirit, a spirit of cooperation with the Holy. That’s all.
So that day, in that car, on that road, as I passed THAT neighbor, I said a prayer . . .
“God, I want you to be LORD of my life, to SAVE me from MYSELF because it’s my own flesh that is eating me alive, not something or someone outside of me. But I’ll be out loud honest because You know anyway. Right now, I’m still mad. But I don’t want to STAY mad. I will to forgive. I . . . WILL . . . TO . . . FORGIVE. I don’t feel it and I can’t DO it but I WILL it. I will for you to change my heart. But I don’t know what to do.”
Humility. Wisdom starts with humility. Always. Humility is admitting that we’re not God and can’t be. We can’t manufacture the things of God—the ways of God. We have to be INFUSED with God. And the only way to become INFUSED with God is to ALLOW God into our darkness, into our self-imposed prisons. Open the door where He stands knocking and He will come in and change hearts—but only if we WANT Him to—only if we LET Him. He waits for us to open the door. And even a little crack will do. Even the faintest invitation will suffice. He meets us where we are. Always. He knows our wounds. He knows our hearts. He wants to HEAL. He wants to FREE. Will we LET Him?
So I asked God . . .
“What’s the first step here?”
“Pray for him.”
Pray for him. Pray for my neighbor, the thief, the liar? Pray for him. And don’t pray, “Father, open his blind eyes and cold heart and help him realize how right I am and how wrong he is and how if he would just repent and turn to you then he would see how wrong he is and how right I am and . . .” Puke. Just pray for him blessing.
“OK. I can do that.” And so I began.
“Father, I pray for my neighbor that you would bless Him with your presence because obviously he needs You. And, while you’re at it, would you work on my heart and change me to be more like You?”
First steps. Might be kind of awkward and ugly to us but I suspect first steps are quite beautiful to our Father because it’s all about the WILL to walk. It’s all about taking the hand of the Holy and saying YES to the first step.
“Yes, I will walk with you and not away from you and I’m kind of sassy and vocal and fiery and thank you for putting me in my proper place so nicely, so gently, so lovingly. Thank you for helping me do what I can’t do but WANT to do. Thank you for showing me that you understand I CAN’T, but you CAN, if I just WILL.”
And so, from that day on, I prayed out loud a prayer of blessing upon our neighbor every single time I passed his house which was every single day.
And I noticed something happening inside my heart as I prayed blessing. I started FEELING blessed. I started FEELING free. I started FEELING safe and loved and wanting my neighbor to be set free too. I started feeling like—THE GRINCH WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS when his heart started growing big and throbbing love and who didn’t fall in love with that Grinch then?
I can’t say that our neighbor became my best friend. But I can say that I grew to the point where I was able to say hello to him and sincerely wish him well, not harboring any ill will. And it wasn’t about the court outcome. It was about the outcome in my heart. No court ruling can bring satisfaction like the satisfaction of finding freedom in Christ—the freedom to love as we were created to love. There’s nothing like it.
My flesh still pulls when I’ve been wronged and I’m still tempted to seek revenge and harbor ill will. But now I know where to turn and HOW to turn. All I must do is turn my WILL and let God heal and free my own heart. He will. It’s His nature to heal and free.
Yesterday, home from the mountains, I saw the first pumpkin seed sprout in my garden. I thought about how God loves beginnings—first steps. Just the first step in the right direction, two leaves spreading and lifting toward heaven, so fragile, yet headed in the right direction. God will grow my pumpkins this year, as He does every year. And He will grow me, if I will humble myself and let Him. Pumpkins start from little seeds. And mountain tops are reached by taking first steps at the base.
So I prayed with him who asked me how I got so wise, after telling him my story. And there was a softening. Not because my ways are so wise, but because God’s ways are so wise. All we must do is decide . . .
Do we want death?
Or do we want life?
The decision, every decision, is that simple.
Choose life. Choose God. Be FREE.
He chose life that day. He chose to pray blessing and not curse.
He’s well on his way to the summit of wisdom now, starting at the base, with the first step—humility.
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. Proverbs 11:2
Jesus answered, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life . . .” Matthew 14:6
For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:13