I have scar on my leg. I earned that scar. I was awarded the permanent reminder when I was about ten years old. I was riding my bike with reckless abandon on the rough and rocky alley way behind my house in Oak Harbor, Ohio. In my mind, I was my favorite driver, Harold McGilton. Driving a race car at Fremont Speedway and I was on the last turn, of the last lap getting ready to pass Jim Linder to win the race. I had been there before. I had made that pass a hundred times a day in my mind on that rocky road. Then the unthinkable happened, I lost control and suddenly I was thrown from the bike, flying through the air. I landed on the sharp, jagged pieces of stone and rocks that paved that gravel road.
Besides a few scrapes and bruises, I had one nasty cut on my leg. Nothing that needed anything more than some tender loving care from my mother and a good band-aid. However, I carry a scar on my leg to this very day. Every so often, I look at it and it reminds me of different time, a time of innocence and wonder. I also look at it to remind me that this was a result of thinking I was invincible and over-confident in my abilities. It was the start of a lesson that I have learned over the years. I have learned that almost all the scars I carry on my body were the result of my own doing. So when I use the term “earned“, I do not use that word as a way of indicating that I am proud of them. I use that word, in short to say, I am to blame for the damage done to my body. I deserved them.
The same can be said of the scars I carry in my heart and in my spiritual life. Those scars are mostly self-inflected. I “earned” them as well. The result of losing focus and being over-confident in my own abilities. Yes, my scars, physical or spiritual are almost all the result of my own doing. Permanent reminders of my failures.
The physical body is very resilient. With some tender loving care from your mother, a good dose of Neosporin and good band-aid most cuts, bruises and scrapes will disappear. Nothing permanent except for a bad memory. Unfortunately, in some situations physical scars will remain. The cut was just too deep or too wide for the tender care of your mother and the extra dose of medicine to take care of it. Those scars will remain. For the most part, over time, those same scars will fade and at times they are hard to see.
The spiritual body is not so resilient. The self-inflected scars that we incur on our spiritual body cannot be fixed by a band-aid and a heavy dose of Neosporin. All of the bumps, scrapes, bruises and cuts we experience in our spiritual life can indeed be fixed by the tender loving care of our God and the heavy dose of forgiveness that He provides. When we ask God to forgive us for our sin and our transgressions, He does just that. He forgives and He heals. He no longer sees the scars of our spiritual life. They are covered in forgiveness and love.
However, the scars that God no longer sees are still in clear view for those around us on this earth. Most times the only time I am reminded of the scars of my spiritual life are when other Christian’s point them out to me. Which has happened more times than I care to remember. God is faithful to always truly forgive, man is not. It has been my experience that most Christian’s never really forgive other believers for the failures in their life. It has been said that Christian’s are the only one to shoot and kill their own when someone fails in their spiritual walk.
This week I was reading from Matthew 18:21-35. I have read this passage many times over the years. I never really ever got past the “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me? How many times shall I forgive him? Seven times? and the Lord said, “I do not say to you seven times…but seventy times seven.”
But this week was different…I continued to read and really for the first time I saw something I have never really paid attention to. As I continued to read the parable that Jesus told about a servant who had an extraordinary debt to pay his master. There was no way this servant was going to be able to repay that debt. The master was forced to consider selling the servant, his wife, his kids, and all his stuff to help pay off what debt the servant owed.
This servant was pretty much in deep trouble, and he knew it. He broke down, pleading with his master to have mercy and to have patience with him, and the master “took pity on the servant, canceled the debt, and let him go.”
But almost immediately, that servant went out, found his own servant who owed him money, and demanded that it be repaid. That servant, too, pleaded for mercy and asked for patience, except that the servant who had been forgiven DID NOT grant him forgiveness; instead, the servant threw his servant into prison until he could pay the debt.
Word got back to the master that the servant he “forgave” did not pass on the same forgiveness that was granted, and the master wasn’t happy. He was so angry in fact, that he took back the forgiveness that he had given to that servant… “In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.” Then Jesus offers these heavy words: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
The message made me feel guilty. That’s right…GUILTY. That’s exactly what it should have done.
A long time ago, I was in the ministry. I was an ordained minister, but I was not a pastor. I believe that a man is “called” to be a pastor. I never felt that “call” from the Lord to be a pastor. But I was in the ministry as a Christian School Administrator and I loved the opportunity to teach from God’s Word when given the chance.
I was in full-time service for over 12 years. On the outside I was serving the Lord, but on the inside I was struggling and I lost focus on my priorities. I was busy “doing” what I was supposed to do, but was not “being” what I needed to be. My focus was on me and not on the Lord.
From the start, I would beat myself up because of how I let God down. I let down my family, especially my children. Not to mention the fact that I had let the church and school down. All of the students and people I had influence on during those years in the ministry watched as I fell apart before their eyes. In a matter of days, I became deeply bitter and distant towards God.
I paid a heavy price for my failure. Other Christians just could not understand how a man in my position could fail. Surely something sinister would be the cause. They did not take kindly to a failed former leader in the church. Within days, I had people call me and say the most hateful things to me. I was accused of just about everything under the sun. There were rumors of me having affairs and inappropriate behavior. I was a certified drug addict and alcoholic according to some. None of these accusations were true, but that did not stop the rumor mill. I have often said, “Christians don’t gossip…they just use you as a prayer request.”
For those of you read this post that may remember that time in my life, I am sorry to disappoint you. Regardless of what you may believe or may have heard, the stories and rumors are not true. I admit I wasn’t perfect, but affairs and inappropriate behavior, drug addition or drinking were not my problems. God knows the truth and I will be accountable for my actions. The bottom line is that the temper of a man whose world was crashing down around him by his own hand was his own fault. I guess because I chose not to defend myself, I became a bigger target.
I shut down and kept everyone and everything at a very safe distance. There was a period of time, that besides going to work, I would not go out until after 1 :00 AM so that I would not (by chance) run into anyone I knew. I simply withdrew and disappeared from the life I had known. No one noticed.
They say time changes everything. I guess in a way it does. Slowly things got better. I started a new career in business management and have been working for a very successful company for over 20 years. Yes, time has dulled some of the sting of my failures.
In certain ways I had never been more successful, but I was still on a long journey away from God. I simply could not ask God to forgive me. I had asked my church, my Pastor and former co-workers to forgive me. I even asked some of my friends, some former students and others to forgive me. However, I could not even consider asking God to forgive me when I could not forgive myself. I could not find any peace in my soul.
2009 was a life changing year for me. Two of my closest friends died and I experienced some serious health issues. It was time to settled some things in my head and in my heart. I knew I could not change the past. I knew that there would always be permanent scars that would be a constant reminder of my failures. But it was time to get on with life and finally put the burden that I had been carrying for a long, long time down. After a lot of prayer, I finally forgave myself and I have asked God to forgive me as well. I now have comfort in knowing that He has forgiven me. But I can’t help but to feel that there is something more to be said about the idea – the reality – of forgiveness.
I am learning that forgiveness doesn’t necessarily make things all better.When we are forgiven by God, it cancels our sin debt. True. But does it restore us to a fully right relationship? I don’t think so. I understand that because I was a leader in the church, my failure was more profound. My failure was public and when a leader falls there is more public scrutiny than if I had been an occasional or non-church goer. The standard upon which you are held is higher because of the position in the church. I get it…“to much is given, much is required”. I think that’s reflective of the way my Christian life is now: I am forgiven by God, and forgiven fully. I have that guarantee. But I recognize that all is not well.
My life wasn’t made ‘all better’ when I forgave myself or when I was forgiven by God. People around me, brothers and sister’s in Christ are still dealing with me as a failed man. Many of them to this very day have not forgiven me. I have men who are serving as pastors, deacons and leaders in their respective churches that still will not talk to me to this very day. I have tried to re-establish relationships with those who were my friends all those years ago and for the most part it has been to no avail. There is tension. There is pain. There are scars. Forgiveness is not a band-aid you slap on an open wound. And though forgiveness is something profound, it is not everything. Healing is a broader process in which forgiveness is a stage.
I mentioned earlier that the message from the parable made me feel guilty. Here is why. I have to be honest and say that I struggle with my pride. I still struggle with bitterness towards those that turned their back on me. I want to convince myself that they are not worth it. If they don’t offer forgiveness then maybe I should just let God deal with them when they have to face Him in eternity. But in my heart, I know that I will not truly be free from this burden until I forgive them for the things I feel that they have done unfairly towards me.
My hope is that one day I can be restored and accepted so that I can begin to be used by God again. If healing is the broader process in which forgiveness is a stage, then I am asking for forgiveness and giving forgiveness so that the healing may begin soon. I have something left to give. I long to teach a Sunday School class again. But that is up to God’s timing.
Spiritual scars… I will always have them. Some have faded with time, most still are as deep and evident as the day I earned them. But after a long journey on the path of forgiveness, finally, I am at peace knowing that when God looks at me, He doesn’t see those scars anymore.