First, let me give you a little background about this situation. I am not now, nor have I ever been or ever will be perfect. I'm not a pastor, or a preacher, or anything of the sort. I do, however, have a strong faith in God and in His power and mercy. I have experienced firsthand what it's like to live a life on my own terms - partying, drinking, gossiping, fornicating and whatever else gave me pleasure. I've also seen the truth: that those things were only temporary fixes and false shelters. After I finished doing what I felt like doing, I still felt a void. The same problems that existed before I did those things remained long after I was finished having my fun. I wasn't feeling fulfilled. Something was missing.
I started going to church years ago, but got discouraged after I realized that everyone in church ain't saved. In my mind, I thought that if people spent decades of their lives getting up and going to church, singing on the choir, sitting in the pulpit, teaching Sunday school, working on the usher board, being missionaries, etc. that they must be real Christians. It soon became clear that I was very wrong. Many of the people I was worshiping with were sincere. But many of them were phonies. They were shouting "Hallelujah" and then whispering about, backstabbing, and hating on others right there under God's own nose. It turned me off. I figured if I was gonna be surrounded by haters, I might as well do it while enjoying a drink and a two step rather than surrounded by pretenders in a church setting. So I left. I went back out into the world and figured that I could make it on my own.
I was wrong. I wasn't able to remain righteous and still blend in with the rest of the world. There was no righteousness in getting drunk, in gossiping about and demeaning others, in sleeping around without the commitment of marriage. Eventually, I realized that if I wanted to do more than just exist, I had to make some changes. Don't get me wrong, I was still thriving. I was blessed with a great career that I never in my wildest dreams thought possible. But, there was something missing. I was happy with my blessings, but I still knew that there was more that He wanted me to do. So, hesitantly, I slowly drifted back to church, armed this time with the knowledge that I couldn't put my faith in people, but only in God Himself. "Eyes on God," my girl friend urged me on. "Focus on Him." I did, and this time things are better. I'm not perfect. But each day I do the best that I can to walk according to my Father's will. As the Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas famously said, "All the glory goes to Him and all the blessings fall on me."
One of the biggest lessons I've learned as a Christian is the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness is one of the hardest things in life. Someone hurts you, at times intentionally, and they may or may not even be sorry for it. But we're asked to forgive them, just as we've been forgiven for all the wrong that we've done.
So now back to my story about yesterday. I had gone to visit this person as part of my resolution to forgive the pain they had caused me - not to forget it, but to forgive it.
My objective was to spend an afternoon with them, check to ensure that they were doing alright physically, and to do some research for a book I'm currently writing. Those were my intentions. But there's a saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. That was certainly true for me on this day, as I entered the apartment (I should tell you that I prayed during the elevator ride up there) and sat down on the sofa.
The afternoon began well enough. We chatted about the weather, about the current events in the news, discussed the person's recent trips to the doctor for check-ups, that kind of thing. Soon, however, the conversation moved to more treacherous waters. And that was when what started out as an easy conversation turned into a battle of Biblical proportions.
We began to discuss some people we both knew. One in particular was clearly not in the person's good graces. One negative comment was made, and I ignored it, steering the conversation to safer territory. Later another derogatory comment was made and I chose not to laugh, even though this person clearly found it hysterical to laugh at another's expense. Again, minutes later a very hurtful and downright mean-spirited remark was made about the same individual - who, if I may be honest, is the person's own daughter - a remark that was so hateful and so cruel that I could no longer remain silent. I gently reminded them that they, too, had done things wrong in their lifetime; that they, too, needed to seek forgiveness for the ill treatment they had dished out to others over the years.
As I pointed this out, I glanced at my tape recorder, which I had brought with me in order to capture our conversation as part of my preparation for the book I'm writing. It was soon clear to me that this would be no easy discussion about the journey that this person had taken through life. Instead, the tape recorder didn't work - even though the batteries were fresh and the tape was brand new out of the package. God had other plans for our discussion that afternoon. I realized that this conversation was not destined to be recorded on tape, but would be forever etched into my memory. The malfunction of my tape recorder made it clear to me that my job on this day was not to worry myself over technical difficulties. Instead, I was there to go toe to toe with the enemy once and for all. I tossed my little recorder back into my bag, looked up, and locked eyes with the devil himself.
The person stared at me with such contempt and hatred that it stunned me at first. I kept my game face on, though. After all, I had put on the whole armor of God before arriving there that afternoon (Ephesians 6:11-17). To be honest, I'm not even sure why I was surprised. After all, this was not the first time that I had been on the receiving end of this person's wrath. Over the years, I've had some unbelievably disturbing interactions with this person, and been the recipient of more verbal assaults from them than many people can even imagine. In fact, I battled for a long time with low self esteem as a result of the things that had been said to me by the person I sat with on this day. It was one of the things I had forgiven them for, among many other things.
The conversation grew increasingly heated. Although I was familiar with the person's cruel and hateful nature, I still marveled at how uncaring they seemed! The more I defended the person's daughter, the more the person became enraged. Soon, the daughter was no longer the focus of the person's rage, I was. But I was ready for that. As the person angrily called me all sorts of evil things, I simply stated, "I still love you." As they got puffed up with hatred and belligerence, I simply shook my head and smiled and said, "I forgive you." As they venomously stated that I'm destined for hell, that I've done things wrong as well, I quoted the Word. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) While the person carried on an on I just smiled, and kept repeating words of love and of forgiveness and of peace.
Now I've come a very long way because the old me would have used my penchant for words and torn them apart. (Please don't get it twisted. My knack for wordplay can be both a gift and a curse.) The old me might have even kicked the person's ass. After all, I had been in a physical altercation with the person before, and the evil that spouted from their lips yesterday could have easily escalated had I not been prayed up before I got there. This back and forth of evil words and cruel put-downs versus "I still love you." "I forgive you." "You should repent before it's too late." went on for about an hour. I didn't raise my voice, didn't wave my fists around. I didn't have to. I realized that it wasn't the person who sat before me who was the REAL problem. It was the devil within them that I was warring with.
Ephesians 6:12 ~ For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Demons take up residence within some people. You have surely come into contact with examples of this in your lifetime. People who are so consumed with hate that they resist all acts of love. (In fact the person I was with yesterday told me, "I don't have an ounce of love inside me. F&@# you!" How's THAT for spiritual forces of evil?) It wasn't my first time facing off with the devil within this person. But it was the first time that I recognized who I was really sparring with. I used to hate this person long ago. I used to long for the day when they would be held accountable for their evildoing and pay the ultimate price. I used to vow that I wouldn't even spit on them if they were on fire. But now I honestly feel sorry for them. As I watched the battle for the person's soul being waged right before my eyes I felt pity where anger had once been. The person was fighting a one-sided verbal war with me. The hate, anger, and venomous rage wasn't being greeted with more of the same. Instead, I spoke love and peace and joy to them. And I was victorious.
Did the person stop being evil? No. Did the person weep and ask forgiveness for the terrible things they said? No. My victory wasn't won in that way. Instead, I was triumphant because THIS TIME, I hadn't fallen into the trap the enemy had laid. I didn't repay evil for evil. I had held onto my faith and the piercing darts of the cruel words didn't penetrate me. They bounced off of my armor. And as I left the apartment that afternoon, I didn't feel hurt, angry, bitter, or any negative emotions whatsoever. I felt at peace. I had done my part. I had given them the truth, and suggested that they set aside their negativity and seek God before it was too late. I had demonstrated faith in action. I had shown them what it really means to have love in your heart - the kind of love that can look someone in the face and tell them "I forgive you", even as the person wished them a lifetime in hell.
God is AWESOME.
You would have to know who the old me was to truly grasp the miracle that took place yesterday. But trust me when I tell you that He has brought me a mighty long way!
I can tell that some of my Twitter comments, Facebook posts, and blog posts get on some people's nerves. All the references to God and to church and the Bible irritate many people - the same people who were quick to 'like' my posts about negative and salacious things. I recognize that some may wonder why I share my personal business with the world, when they would rather hear me talk about other things - anything but God. I don't mind. Just as I was aware of who I was really sparring with yesterday, I'm aware of what spirit within them is resisting the goodness in my life that I speak about. Perhaps it's not their season to 'get it'. But for those who needed to read this, for those who do 'get it', I'm laying my own journey out for you to take some comfort from it. Maybe there are cruel and evil people in your life, in your family, at your job or in your community who you have reason to hate. I hope this helps you to turn that hate into love, as crazy as that may sound. After all, the battle isn't really with the person. Instead it's with what lies within them. And the only way to WIN, is to put on the whole armor of God and forgive them.