A Response of Repentance: A Healthy Distrust of Our Heart That Inspires A Humble Distrust Of Our Innocence

In reaction to a tragic and willful blindness to abuse, we have unfortunately landed in a ditch on the opposite side of the cultural trivialization of injury. Trivialization because real wounding and real oppression is now being increasingly supplanted by the cries of those who claim victimization over even the most superficial scrapes of disagreement, disappointment and disadvantage. We may not have imagined that our dream for a more civil society would include activists protesting against the "abusive discrimination" endured by those unfortunate enough to have been born left-handed, but it's where the cultural pendulum has taken us. Regardless of how strongly human dignity is desired to be upheld, the trivialization of heart wounds in this fallen world will always be with us.   

The swing of cultural change is in constant motion, and this ongoing trivialization of wounding is one of the reasons the Church will never find health in having its responses shaped by cultural shifting. While it's true that the winds of our current climate are coming with an ever-expanding definition of abuse that is proving problematic, it's equally problematic if the Church allows its responses to wounding be informed by this changing expression of the world instead of the unchanging expressions of the Word. For if we find ourselves convinced truth is being compromised by a "generation of snowflakes" requiring our intervention to gain a level of toughness, our culturally-shaped response will inevitably find us justifying a lack of tenderness. 

I can't trust my own heart not to proudly defend itself in the presence of error. I can't trust it not to overshadow humbling Spirit conviction with its sly rhythms of reason that lull me into the kind of slumber that sidesteps repentance. Because just like you (as Martin Lloyd Jones preached) I have an inner defense lawyer who is far too skilled not to retain—  especially when I'm being accused of causing hurt and harm, and I know the very essence of my character is to help and heal. Without intervening grace why would I terminate a strategic attorney assured of my innocence enough to uphold my righteousness, and instead turn to an Advocate aware of my guilt enough to uphold His righteousness? It would be irrational and unreasonable, let alone do nothing to help the swirl of thin-skinned snowflakes who need my tough love. 

It's this distrust of my own heart that God has used to hone a distrust of my own innocence when someone expresses to me that I've hurt them. And in bowing to this ongoing need, I have found that there is everything to gain and nothing to lose by leaning into sorrow over that hurt with a humble response of repentance. Sorrow because of a surrender to the reality that blindness to my own sin can taint even my most well-intentioned desire to care for others with kind compassion. Sorrow because of a surrender to the reality that, even on my best days, I fall short in loving others as I have been loved

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. John 13:34 

And when someone's expressed hurt comes in response to spoken words of truth? I have commited to not making prideful assumption that their wounding is an offense born out of a resistance to that truth alone. Because there's always the very real possibility that it could also be about a resistance to my impoverished representation of a loving Christ. A possibility that prompts me to lean in, listen, and learn how I can better communicate the heart of my Savior.

This isn't the posture of a theologically-anemic woman desiring acceptance enough to put truth on a compromising line, it's the posture of a woman anchored in Christ enough to be confident that truth is on an immovable line. It's the posture of one who has lived long enough to have witnessed God's immense power to changes hearts that are met with the humility of a Suffering Savior. It's the posture of a woman being grace-trained by a gentle Father who patiently keeps teaching her even when she miserably fails to appropriate his instruction. A woman whose struggle with sin can still have her messing up, but one whose Father has tenderly drawn her to his side in her failures enough to have convinced her that indeed it is his kindness that leads men to repentance. (Rom 2:4) 

While it is true that someone's expressed belief that I've hurt them doesn't automatically make me guilty, I oppose claiming any right to say I have not sinned. I also oppose claiming any right to suggest that their hurt carries no just cause. Because regardless of legitimacy or not, the hurt exists. And the reality is that each person enters my sphere of influence carrying a history replete with complexities and complications of which I am wholly unaware. Maybe the person is being too sensitive. Maybe the person is being manipulative. Maybe they are being selfish. But ignoring or undermining their expressed hurt isn't the response that's going to be effective in moving them humbly forward, and it isn't the response that's going to be effective in moving me humbly forward. 

If you have ever poured out your heart and delineated what has harmed you to someone who has met you with silence or strong defense because of deeming that hurt unjustified, then you know the frustration that can come from being thrust into an emotional darkness that finds you fighting for joy. Frustration because it's a fierce fight of the soul that could have been avoided if you were met with a humble friend who valued you enough to meet you with a warm reach, a spirit of repentance, and a heart for restoration.

There is an abundance of joyful peace to be savored when we commit ourselves to not being the one who steals (intentionally or not) that peace from the heart of another without a humble willingness to reconcile and restore. Sin has rendered us all thieves who find it difficult to own our own cavernous misunderstandings and see our own breaches of justice. Remembering our natural bent as a prideful relational robber is essential to the process of humbly reaching for reconciling grace. Beautiful reconciliation that allows us to feast on the sweet fruit of the Spirit for the glory of God.

The ruination of relationships between Christians always deeply grieves me, for we best shine the love of our Savior by shining his love to each other. But regardless of how deeply we are grieved by the ruins, we can still find ourselves caught in the clutches of its destruction. Even when we refuse to retain our internal defense attorney and humbly surrender to our own indwelling sin, it isn't always going to be enough. Sadly, sometimes no matter which way we turn it can prove insufficient in bringing relational healing.

However, we need to walk very circumspectly in determining that our efforts are in vain since this maneuver is one of the most sneaky protections of pride. It's far easier to retreat with claims that "nothing will ever make them happy" than it is to advance in the hard work of learning to love. The discomfort of conflict makes it a very soothing prospect to pridefully deify us as the giver and demean them as the taker; to laud us as the reasonable one and label them as the irrational one.  

But what are we to do when we're met with someone who is unwilling to lay down their arms of protection even when we've humbly chosen to lay down our own? How are we to wisely respond when they bear those arms with a sly self-preservation that declines to surrender to any possibility of their having sinned? What are we to do when a prideful grip on that self-preservation binds them to self enough to blind them to their own blindness? And even more challenging, how do we respond when the slickest of prideful protections is engaged— the one that comes with denial any problem exists even as others are warmly pulled in and we're coldly pushed out? 

First, it's important to understand just how strongly our own heart is bent to the idolatrous maintenance of kingship. We resist being dethroned, and only the humbling grace of the Cross can supplant that desiring. If our sense of worth has in any way become tied to the sense of personal power we enjoy because of our position or prestige, our wealth or wisdom, our insight or intelligence— difficult disagreement is often what God mercifully uses to expose that idolatry. Not any 'ole disagreement, but disagreement that comes with perceived threat to that personal power. Threat that comes with strong temptation to take the stand as a proud defender instead of to take a seat as a humble learner. Threat that causes our inner attorney to salivate over the possibility of sidestepping humiliation, even if it means promoting ourselves as a rich caretaker of truth to avoid being penalized as a poor caretaker of people. 

I'm a maximizer who thrives on helping people to be the best version of themselves. When I see misalignment between words and actions, I'm driven to challenge those I love just as I'm driven to continually challenge myself. Through the years I've been confronted with my own dire need of learning to rightly respond when this desire to help is thwarted because of being received as a threat. I'm gifted at sniffing out the pride in these cold receptions of self-preservation, because I have much experience snuffing out my own. It's taken much sanctifying grace to be shaped into a better snuffer than a sniffer. But like a dog on a bone, my flesh can hunger to stand up for relational honesty enough to keep pushing long after it's been made clear a person has no intention to humbly stand down. Confessing my own sinfulness in this pressing, God keeps graciously growing me in the process of learning to enjoy respectful retreats with a restful trusting in his power instead of a restless turning to my own. 

But practically, what do we do if we're met with someone whose threat against their identity and personal power has sent them into protective lockdown? The most effective steps are first and foremost found in embracing the relational instruction of Romans 12:10 that tells us to "love one another with brotherly affection and outdo one another in showing honor." That means taking the lead in living out love by showing a pattern of warmly reaching out, kindly requesting hearings, and humbly repenting when we err in the process. That means taking the lead in showing kindness with a determination to be proactive more than reactive.  

But beyond proactively taking the lead in matters of humble love, the reality is that we have no ability to force someone to see what they either can’t see or don't desire to see. And we certainly can’t increase vision for God’s glory by engaging cold calculations of our own that often equally sinful or more graceless. So sadly, sometimes this means that the most loving thing we can do is retreat even if it feels like failure. Sometimes our dream for relational health is going to be fulfilled best by our taking the heart posture of an acquiescing courtier who, twirling his hand in a circling motion while bowing low, slowly backs out of the room with head-saving mutterings of assurance that can sound strangely like “I bow to Your Rightness.” And after calmly exiting this room of chilly reception that has rendered us powerless, confidently enter that prayer room of warm reception where mountains are moved with the power of a single word. 

One of my deepest sorrows with the current relational havoc within the Church is witnessing how we’ve become increasingly prone not to privately pray even as we’ve become increasingly prone to publicly prey. While there are certainly situations where public rebuke is deserving of priority, it's a sorrow when its spirit has it hardening hearts more than humbling them. And it's a sorrow when its staging sends those convinced of their own innocence into a deeper lockdown and those convinced of the other's guilt into a darker showdown. There's a reason we're becoming increasingly dissatisfied with narrowing circles of conflict and increasingly satisfied with widening them. The pendulum swing of cultural shift has reacted against egregious private assaults against human dignity, and the ride has shaped a growing willingness to wield public assaults. 

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Ephesian 4:32

Relational challenge comes with far too much complexity to address this subject in a way that adequatly honors the circumstances of each reader. While there isn't room for assurance that my words will rightly mesh with your reality, there is room for disagreement. My only desire in writing this is to inspire humble response in the face of relational wounding. To encourage surrender to the sacrificial love of a Savior who gave us life when we deserved death— love we are called to hold out for others in both glory and grief. A desire to encourage a humble bowing of the knee in prayer, trusting Christ to wash away our insecurites and idolatrous identities that seek protection and shun repentance. 

“l can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, though it may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner. This is a happy discovery for the Christian who begins to pray for others. There is no dislike, no personal tension, no estrangement that cannot be overcome by intercession as far as our side of it is concerned. Intercessory prayer is the purifying bath into which the individual and the fellowship must enter every day. The struggle we undergo with our brother in intercession may be a hard one, but that struggle has the promise that it will gain its goal.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community