I went out to eat the other night and the people I went with pointed out to me a young lady who was working at the place we were eating. They said that she had recently excitedly married a young man who was a youth minister and worship leader. A short few months later they had asked her how she liked married life and she said that she was getting a divorce. Her husband come home one day and just said that he didn’t want to be married any more. She’d asked if he wanted to try counseling and he said “no”—he just didn’t want to be married anymore. (I will share more about this young lady at the end, but first I want to share some reflections this led me to.)
As I sat there distractedly visiting, I couldn’t get past the pain this young lady must have felt, and been feeling. I found myself watching her as she walked back and forth, and thinking about, and feeling, the pain people who carry the name of Jesus have caused others. I know that I have let down and hurt so many people. In fact, it seems that the longer I go on the more people I disappoint and hurt. As God’s children, trusted by God to carry His image in the world and show the world who He is, we so badly, so often, fall so short, sometimes knowingly, sometimes without any intention. What a tremendous responsibility and privilege we have to guard our actions and words, as what we say and do is not just a reflection of us, but it also reflects on the One whose name we carry.
I also thought about how the flip side of this is when WE are the ones who are hurt or betrayed by ones carrying the name of Jesus. Just as, the longer I go on the more it seems like I hurt and let people down, the longer I go on the more hurts and disappointments I inevitably collect from people who carry Christ’s name and who I have opened my heart to as well in one form or another. When this happens I have a responsibility on the receiving side, as well, to carry the image of Christ faithfully. Just like He forgave those in the act of wounding Him, and reached out in love to those betraying Him, I must choose to reflect His heart and image here as well—and to offer to others the grace and love and forgiveness and gentleness and mercy I so desperately, daily need others to offer me. Again, how I choose to respond when I am the one wounded and betrayed doesn’t just reflect me, but also reflects on the One whose name I carry. I am learning something that I can never afford to forget if I want to faithfully serve and reflect Jesus: When we join the body of Christ we become inseparably linked to Him the head and our brothers and sisters—the rest of the body—and our actions from that moment forward are never, ever, anymore just about us—they always reflect on and affect the Head and the body we are now a part of, linked to, and mutually dependent on.
As I sat there, watching her efficiently go by and work, I found myself thinking about the challenge to not reject or harden our heart toward God because of those carrying His name who aren’t reflecting His image. I wondered what she (and maybe her friends and family as well?) thought about God after having been betrayed by a man of God she trusted her heart with. Unfortunately, the world is filled with people who have rejected God because those representing God have failed to do so correctly. We can argue until we are blue in the face about how this isn’t right and how we shouldn’t judge God by Christians, but the reality is that Christians are the ones Jesus has trusted to represent Him to the world, and they are often the closest encounter a person may have with Christ, and the first step they will take of judging Christ. As someone once said, “Every Christian is the strongest Christian at least one person knows.”
I know that everything I have posted here could be criticized, critiqued, expanded on, and picked apart with a thousand “what ifs”—“What if the person isn’t repentant? What if the person is hurting you? What if the person refuses to look at God and only looks at Christians?” etc. I know that there are a million “what ifs” and caveats to what I have said—and that we could discuss the theology and accuracy of it forever—but, at the most basic, “walking out our faith in a broken world” level where theology and theory and classroom discussion meet real life, there was the simple fact that my heart broke for that young lady who had been so betrayed by a man carrying God’s name and representing God to others. All correct theology and arguments aside—in front of me was a fragile, broken, hurting heart that desperately needed God and His tender love. And isn’t that what Jesus did?—He found His time to teach in the synagogue, but spent most of His time representing the Father’s heart in the lives of everyday people struggling to find love and meaning and healing in a broken, hurting, wounding world.
So, what did I do about it? It wasn’t much, but it was all I had. As I left the restaurant I found a rare moment when the young lady was alone. I told her, “I know it isn’t my business, but I am a pastor and _____ told me what recently happened to you in your marriage. I just wanted to say that I am so sorry. Please don’t reject God because of the people who carry His name. God loves you so very much. Please don’t harden your heart to Him.”
She guardedly thanked me and quickly moved away and back to her work. I don’t know what will happen to her, or whether she will draw closer to God or farther away through this experience. I don’t know if her heart will grow harder or softer through this. I don’t know if she will experience the joy of forgiveness and being set free, or become entangled in the roots of bitterness. I don’t know anything about the future of this young lady, but I do know this—God deeply loves her, He knows and shares the pain of betrayal and tears, and He will always be there for her—and maybe, just maybe, she was brought to my attention so God could use me to tell her that.