Yesterday afternoon I joyfully embraced my husband (and then promptly took a nap) as I returned home from our church's annual women's retreat. I went last year as well, and really wasn't planning on going this year (finances, other circumstances and a desire to self-protect kept me hesitant to attend), but a generous friend helped with the cost and I felt the Holy Spirit pull at my heart to go.
It was an interesting weekend. The speaker gave me a lot to think about and I'm still processing the things I heard. One of the things that stuck in my head the most (after it hit me upside the head) was being confronted with the reality that we all 'paint' pictures of others after just one or two encounters with them. After an unfavorable encounter, we make big sweeping brush strokes with harsh colors that paint not-so-flattering pictures of people we really know nothing about. We tend to be stingy with grace and assume the worst after one bad (or maybe even a few) conversation(s). Are we willing to assume the best about someone? Are we willing to leave the canvas blank instead of filling it up with unflattering colors and markings? This is specifically addressing how we relate to others in the church.
And yes, I was convicted too.
How often I've held onto things that people have said in passing to me or assumed the worst from people's intentions and character after a bad experience trying to be open with them!
I admit that there are people I intentionally walk in the opposite direction from. I've had a few bad conversations with these people (some I've talked with more than others), but really I am, in my heart of hearts, assuming the worst and avoiding community with them because:
a. I think they're idiots
b. They can't possibly understand and will just say something insensitive
c. I'm tried of and not very good at putting on a 'happy face' and pretending that I'm fine because I simply cannot take the time to explain myself to them
I am a sinner. Oh, yes I am.
I do all of the above because I've painted a picture of them in my head that is less than beautiful and certainly not grace-filled. I continue to see them as one dimensional without taking the time to see anything but what I assume is there.
The speaker went on to say that not all personalities click. We can't all 'get' each other and we don't have to bear our souls to everyone we meet. I'm not very good at putting on a 'happy face' and hiding my emotions. I don't like to do it and I feel uncomfortable lying to people when I'm asked the dreaded 'how are you doing' question. But being reminded that we all can't possibly understand each other or click intimately with everyone was very freeing.
In light of the Gospel, I can leave someone's canvas blank and walk away from a conversation knowing that though they may not understand me or my circumstances, they are not ugly people (this is such a Southern thing to say). They are not intentionally trying to hurt me. I don't have to bear my soul to everyone I meet, but living in community means loving those around me. Even the people who have very different lives from me, people who struggle with very different things than I do.
I realized this weekend that I can't walk away from everyone who hasn't experienced the same things I've experienced. I can't write them off. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ and I need to love them.
No, I'm still not going to bear my soul and get down and dirty with people I have come to realize aren't living with the same realities I am and whose personalities are different from mine; but you are never going to know who someone is unless you live in community with them. I can no longer ignore people who have hurt me in the past. A woman who I've known for years shared some pretty personal struggles with me this weekend and I realized as the tears rolled down her face that I had been painting a very unbecoming and inaccurate picture of her.
The grace of God is bigger and better than we can imagine. It is perfect and unbelievably generous.
I walked away from this weekend with the precious gift of seeing my sin and was reminded what an awesome God we serve; one who really does understand us. He 'gets' us. Love really does cover a multitude of sins.