Justifying Ourselves

Today I’ve been listening to the song of Valjean from the musical Les Miserables. I’ve felt incredibly challenged by the lyrics and how easily they challenge self-justification.

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You can listen to it here.

Here are the lyrics:

He thinks that man is me
He knew him at a glance!
That stranger he has found
This man could be my chance!
 
Why should I save his hide?
Why should I right this wrong
When I have come so far
And struggled for so long?
 
If I speak, I am condemned.
If I stay silent, I am damned!
 
I am the master of hundreds of workers.
They all look to me.
Can I abandon them?
How would they live
If I am not free?
 
If I speak, I am condemned.
If I stay silent, I am damned!
 
Who am I?
Can I condemn this man to slavery
Pretend I do not see his agony
This innocent who bears my face
Who goes to judgement in my place
Who am I?
Can I conceal myself forevermore?
Pretend I’m not the man I was before?
And must my name until I die
Be no more than an alibi?
Must I lie?
How can I ever face my fellow men?
How can I ever face myself again?
My soul belongs to God, I know
I made that bargain long ago
He gave me hope when hope was gone
He gave me strength to journey on
 
[He appears in front of the court]
 
Who am I? Who am I?
I am Jean Valjean!
 
[He unbuttons his shirt to reveal the number tattooed to his chest]
 
And so Javert, you see it’s true
That man bears no more guilt than you!
Who am I?
24601!
Valjean is suddenly presented with this wonderful opportunity to be truly free. A life no longer pursued by Javert. How easy it would be for him to think, ‘oh great. God has seen my hard work and he’s freeing me.’
But the one who knows God, who knows redemption and forgiveness must deeply know that our freedom is never at the expense of another.
Paul and Silas knew this in the dark of a prison cell, beaten and put in stocks – that earthquake that loosen their shackles seemed like a freedom gift from heaven.
But their freedom in this instance would have cost the jailer his life.
We want to think we are more important, the rules don’t really apply to us the way they apply to everyone else, our rights are worth defending at all costs. It is so easy to justify ourselves, to think about what we are doing and why it is so good/right/justified.
Slavery, racism, division, oppression…. these things cannot belong to the person who truly knows that every life is of equal value.
It’s easy for Valjean to justify this circumstance – he is a factory owner, the mayor, people rely on him – he has campaigned to be a light in his community. He is making a difference. This other person is probably poor and has no power or title.
Justice comes at a price.
We can live free but it will cost us – it might cost us financially missing out because we’re not prepared to compromise on things that come at the expense of others or dishonest business practice, it might cost us friendships, it might mean we are marginalised with the marginalised…
Yet in this story we also see the bright light of redemption. Because we have an

This innocent who bears my face
Who goes to judgement in my place
The truth is that we are condemned, we are broken, we have damaged others, we have been complicit in silence or in action and we deserve the sentence.
But Jesus.
The innocent who bears our face – whose full humanity allowed him to go to judgement in our place.
And so we are faced with the great irony
But the one who knows God, who knows redemption and forgiveness must deeply know that our freedom is never at the expense of another.
because
our redemption and forgiveness has come at the expense of another
May we all have courage to confront our own desires to justify the behaviours in us that come at the expense of others. Maybe it’s the way we purchase (ouch), the way we make friends with some people and leave others out (ouch) maybe it’s the protective boundaries we put around ourselves, our families, our communities to keep ourselves in and ‘others’ out (ouch).
As I say, these are things that challenge me deeply. As a dear friend puts it, ‘I am a hypocrite in transition.’
Do we have the courage to not allow our freedoms, our comfort to be at the expense of others?
May we know what it is to have been loved so deeply that an innocent went to judgement in our place, and may we see that value in every other.
May we be brave and may we be agents of justice and freedom.
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The Tiring Work of Restoration

Over five years ago the city where we live was taken beyond broken with earthquakes, one especially.

Recently I was driving down a road that is still in need of repair and I felt myself sighing inwardly, anticipating the months of cones and detours and single lanes and 30km p/hr signage. In that moment I said to myself, ‘I wish they’d just leave off the repairs and let us drive on it bumpy.’ Despite the innate joy I get driving down a perfectly smooth and sealed road (and there are some) I just couldn’t hold onto the vision for that end.

All I could see were the difficulties in the process of getting there.

cones1

At that moment I knew this was such a picture of God’s restoration work in my life too. Restoration work isn’t pretty. It’s time consuming, it derails and detours pathways you driven on for a long time. It forces you to negotiate new ways of getting to familiar places.

Restoration involves acknowledging the fact that small surface issues actually point to much deeper problems underneath. The odd pothole that sends me careening off into an angry outburst is evidence of something weak and failing beneath the surface.

Maybe I can drive carefully and avoid exposing the bumps on the road but is that really what I want to be long term? A busted up just functioning, ‘drive carefully around’ person? Even though I long for a perfect road I don’t long for the work to get it done.

I think this work needs time, it needs openness, it needs acknowledging that I might need to rethink how I’m travelling. It will need grace from the people who love me and I will need to trust a great deal in the Master of restoration.

There’s a beautiful quote I often come back to that says, ‘Grace loves us as it finds us, but it doesn’t leave us there.’

2 Corinthians 3 describes it this way,

They suddenly recognise that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognised as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.

Maybe there are back roads, or main roads, or even highways in your life today that need the tiring work of restoration begun on them.

Perhaps there are roads that have been cleared and closed ready for work to begin, but it’s been easier to turn away and drive on different places than deal with the tough and painful process of the work.

Maybe it feels like you’ve been on road cones and detours for ever and you just need to hear the words – not long now, nearly there.

Wherever you are right now may you have courage to bear the pain, strength to persevere, Hope and Trust that the future will be worth the current delays.

May you have all the grace you need today.

 

Bright Hope for Tomorrow

When all the worst stuff happens, and we are reminded that the rains do fall on all, we stand at a cross-road of decision.

Do we grieve without Hope or do we grieve as those whose Hope is sure?

Because we do grieve, we must grieve. Being a Christian doesn’t mean we live immune to the sorrows and sadnesses of the world. It shouldn’t mean that a platitude will clear away our grief. Our faith must sit with despair as much as it sits with rejoicing.

Jesus was described as someone familiar with suffering and sorrow. He stood at the tomb of a dear friend and wept.

As we acknowledge pain and disappointment, when prayers slip into a chasm of silence, we also have the opportunity to lean into Hope. To lean into the promise we are not alone and to remember again and again the promise that tells us we are never alone.

hope for tomorrow

I’ve been playing these old words over and over in my heart of late:

strength for today and bright Hope for tomorrow

Wherever you find yourself today may you have the strength of being able to do all things (big, small, mundane, magnificent, noticed and overlooked) through Christ. The One who strengthens you, the One who loves you and who even now lives to intercede for you.

May you have the ability today to rest in the love of the One who hovers over you, who never despises a broken heart.

May you find in today strength, and bright Hope for tomorrow. Beloved ones you are noticed, you are cared for, you are held and you are accompanied in your grief.

Be blessed, be held, be Hopeful.

In a desert land he found him,
    in a barren and howling waste.
He shielded him and cared for him;
    he guarded him as the apple of his eye,
like an eagle that stirs up its nest
    and hovers over its young,
that spreads its wings to catch them
    and carries them aloft.

Deuteronomy 23:10-11

Friday Six: When You Feel Small

Hello Dear Hearts,

Today I want to bless you for those times when you feel small. The times you inadvertently blurt out the wrong thing, when someone shames you, when you feel embarrassed by your own lack. The times you have no quick reply and you feel the shrinking of shame and the burn of hurt and anger.

For When You Feel Small:

May you know the solidarity of others who feel shame with you,

May you have grace to forgive the one who hurts and shames you, even when you are that person.

May you have courage to stand, head high, knowing all of us have been found wanting.

May your heart tell truth that this feeling shall too pass and this damage is not irrevocable.

And may God whisper encouragement that He specialises in choosing the weak to shame the wise.

friday 6

Today may we all be givers of grace and receivers of kindness, remembering we are all weak, imperfect and wonderfully made.

xxx

Friday Five: For the Wounded Heart

My heart has been whispering comfort to you this week. It’s been standing next to you wounded ones. Don’t we all become wounded on this journey? And aren’t we all guilty of the words that fly too soon from their quiver and damage another dear heart?

Blessing for the Unjustly Wounded:

When unjust words pierce deeper than skin,

when judgements come to you like torpedoes and leave emotional debris scattered across your heart,

May you know Jesus betrayed and denied by the ones he loved intimately.

May His love beat loud in your heart – accepted, justified, known, noticed.

May you have all the measure of grace you need to guard your heart, to forgive, to live free of bitterness,

and may you be increased in the pain – may your life song sing louder the sweet notes of grace and kindness when given to the ones who deserve them least.

friday 5 wounded

May we all live through the hurt – not above it, not sunken by it, but through it – feeling it’s sting yet secure that we are loved, that justice is real. And may we each be made stronger in the difficulty of choosing forgiveness.

In it all may we always remember the generous, undeserved forgiveness we have been so freely and lavishly served.

xx

The Gift of Grieving Well

I’ve been remembering today how as I child I determined not to cry at the raised voices, hurt exchanged and received in my house. How as a family broke down I held my grief tight and pushed it down stamping it firm, the effort leaving fingernail marks digging into my palms.

I reflect on the small things, small sadnesses years later that would leave me weeping in ways that were totally out of proportion to the things themselves.

There were tears that needed to be shed.

There was grief that needed to be expressed.

It strikes me that we fear grief sometimes, our own and others. Like it might overwhelm us and never let us go if we dare tread into its sacred, locked away spaces. Maybe we fear the grief of others, the rawness might unwittingly unleash something in us – like their pain might accidentally undo what we have worked so hard to keep reigned in.

So, we jolly along the grieving. We minimise their pain by telling them clichés of ‘more fish in the sea’, ‘God’s good plans’, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. That’s not to say there is no truth in these things, but

but

Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart. 

proverbs 25

we are doing a disservice to the person, and ourselves when we live like grief is not a gift to us. A journey that allows us to acknowledge pain, to honour the difficulty of rejection, hurt, disappointment.

Grief is a real state, and while we don’t want to build a city around it and set up permanent residence we have to go through it.

Sometimes it feels like the path is a maze and there is no clear way through. Sometimes we speed through only to find a seemingly insurmountable wall at the other end. Sometimes we feel like we have grieved well but we realise from time to time we have a pocket full of souvenirs from the city of sadness.

We are welcomed to journey with one another in a genuine way. We are invited, taught even to weep with those who weep. To sit on the step together and acknowledge together the feeling of another. To join them in their grief without minimising it, judging it, explaining it… just to sit.

romans 12

 

Not every grieving heart sheds seen tears but that doesn’t mean the heart is not struggling or even broken. I often think of those wise words

even in laughter the heart may ache or as another translation puts it sorrow may hide behind laughter.

If there is grief in your heart today may you find the peace and space to give yourself permission to shed the tears that need to be shed. May you find a safe place and a safe person to sit next to you in your grief and acknowledge with their presence that you are loved and worthy whatever the state of your heart.

And may we all of us know the Presence of the One who has never rejected the broken. Who has associated with us in our grief and who has walked the path of hurt, rejection, pain and taken it all up into Himself.

The One who promised he would not break a bruised reed.

May we all be brave enough to enter the sacred space of grief – our own and others. To show up and sit and weep as many tears as need to be wept and laugh if we need to do that too.

Sitting with you this moment in love and care and gentleness x

It is difficult for me to write about the pain of my parents divorcing because I know how their grief about the pain they caused is still carried by them, some 20 years on. I love my parents very much, I honour them for their loving commitment to me and for their continued inspiration in so, so many ways.

dear overwhelmed heart

It takes a great deal of grit to keep going in the face of things that feel like a fast closing tsunami on a flat plain with no higher ground in sight.

It takes courage to look past the comparison of your real life when you’re constantly thinking other people’s ‘show reels’ are their real life.

It take determination to face another day of the same challenges, the same demands, the same brokenness.

I’m thinking of you today and praying a safe space for you to lower your guard, to lay down this load of perfection, to come out from behind the screen and allow yourself to be really seen.

100 percent

The internet has its wonderful graces but it has helped us all to live under the sin of covetousness and comparison.

It’s made us look at our ‘neighbour’s’ (aren’t we all neighbours now?) parenting skills, slim thighs, attractive partner, exotic holiday locations, pin worthy bedroom makeover and let our hearts be dismayed.

Covetousness is a robber. God knew when we went down that path – the path that makes us focus on our flaws, our lack, our disappointments – we were never going to return healthier, more motivated, more gracious to ourselves, quicker to forgive the less than perfect people we share our lives with.

To a people just delivered from slavery we see God establishing a set of safeguards to keep them again from self-inflicted slavery.

Because, dear heart, when you start to focus on how everyone else is getting it right, how their load is easier, how their grass is greener you have entangled yourself again in slavery. You have become a slave to an ideal that not only is impossible to meet, but an ideal that isn’t true.

Your imagination is making more of the greener grass than reality would suggest.

Jesus says, come to me you who are burdened and I will give you rest.

He invites us to unburden ourselves and be clothed in something that doesn’t require us to get it right. It requires us to admit we can’t.

When we start living free we release others to do the same. When we lower our guard and admit friend to friend, heart to heart, face to face that we are struggling we will either find that we have freed someone else to admit the same, or, we will find a safe place to be loved despite it all. Surely either of those are a better offer than the struggle of trying so hard to be all we cannot be.

Today instead of looking at someone’s perfect life online how about taking time to connect with someone offline?

How about we all ask to be delivered from the trap of covetousness and instead see ourselves for what we are – the radically loved, forgiven, cherished children of the Most High. Because that is what we are.

belonging

See how safe you are to be imperfect? We are all imperfect and any who present as less than are probably drowning in a terrible tide of overwhelming pressure to continue the facade.

Let’s use our determination, our grit, our courage to hold onto our freedom in Christ and certainly not let ourselves be burdened with a yoke of slavery that demands perfection.

Instead, we rest in the Grace of the One who knows us as imperfect and loves us all the same.

Be loved beautiful ones.

Father let us rest today in your care, unburdened and free from comparison, covetousness, and perfectionism. Let us be found secure in you, becoming whole and fully rescued. Give us strength to face the battles in our lives knowing we are not alone, nor will we ever be. You have promised to be with us always, and you always deliver on your promises.

Why So Downcast Oh My Soul?

The Psalmist sings,

Day and night my tears

    are my only food,

    as everyone keeps asking,

    “Where is your God?”

Sorrow floods my heart,

    when I remember

leading the worshipers

    to your house.

    I can still hear them shout

    their joyful praises.

Why am I discouraged?

Why am I restless?

David sings –
anointed to be a king and inherit a kingdom and legacy,
loved by God
gifted by God
worshipper

yet broken hearted, downcast, distracted by the troubles that loomed large – how can that David be downcast?

Just the same way you are downcast

You
anointed to be a co-heir of a kingdom that will rule all kingdoms
loved by God
gifted by God
worshipper

just the way you too can be downcast.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how great the promises, we can still be all broken to pieces with nothing to fix us.

So do not be dismayed that you are downcast – because even those with the surest of promises wobble in the present from time to time.

Re-align your Hope and do not berate yourself. Being downcast by circumstance is not a sign you are a loser. You are in the company of King David and you dear one are loved just the same.

Put you Hope in Him for you will yet Praise.

God would you meet us at the intersect of our downcast soul and speak promises to the hopeless emotion, speak life to the broken dreams, speak truth to the passing circumstance.