Thursday, August 11, 2011

Getting Used and Giving Grace

Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I ran out of money. Could I borrow some more? Maybe I could have my brother's inheritance too?"

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I need more money. You didn't give me enough the first time. I'll take whatever you've got and be on my way.’"

How would the father respond in this version of the story? Would he still throw the party for the prodigal, knowing that the son has returned to use him? What if you were the father? What would you do?

In the world of youth ministry and the church, the tragic reality is that leaders will get used. From the mundane (a free meal, ride, movie, etc.) to the profound (weeks of counseling, free housing, significant sums of money, years of discipleship, etc.), people may have ulterior motives for why they're spending time with us. The idealist in me wants to believe that relationally investing in people automatically means that they'll love me and love Jesus. But it's just not true. Both congregations and church leadership can chew people up and spit 'em out. Thanks for all your time and energy and patience and prayers, but we're done with you now.

There are some unhealthy ways to respond to being used. One is becoming a doormat, allowing others to walk all over you and throwing private pity parties for yourself. Another is becoming a bully, telling people off when they abuse you and making it abundantly clear that you won't be pushed around. A third is becoming a hermit, keeping everyone at a safe relational distance under the mantra, "if they can't get close, they can't hurt me." I'll be honest, I've been all three at some point in my brief ministry experience.

Remember Jesus. This seems so simple, yet it must be the foundation for any healthy response. How many people followed Jesus just for the free food and healings? How many went from worshiping him to calling for his crucifixion in less than a week? Even one of his own disciples--Judas--sold out the relationship to make a quick buck. If anyone was used, it was Jesus. How did he respond? What example did he set for us?

Give grace. Jesus talks about forgiveness and grace so often, it's a wonder we forget to actually do it. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Forgive up to seventy times sevenForgive them, for they don't know what they're doing. Forgiveness doesn't require an apology on the part of the offending party. It does require a personal sacrifice for the offended, an absorbing of the blow inflicted upon them. Thankfully, through his grace for us, Jesus will take that blow upon himself and offer us healing. If I'm left to my own devices, forgiveness is my last option behind revenge and bitterness. Only in recognizing Christ's grace for me can I extend that grace to those who use me, recognizing that I've used Christ first and he has forgiven me.

Speak truth. If someone has genuinely used and hurt you, I think it can be incredibly healing to honestly voice your feelings about that pain. This isn't to make them feel guilty or cut them down, but to be honest about your own emotions and allow them the opportunity to respond with repentance, making statements that begin with, "I feel..." about the circumstances. To say, "I forgive you" can be transformational for both the speaker and the hearer.

Don't allow wounds to become infected. The wounds inflicted on leaders cause pain; not allowing Christ to heal those wounds only breeds more pain. Don't allow the root of bitterness to sprout and grow, but instead pray for those who've used you. Choose to embrace instead of exclude.

If you've ever been used and tossed out, you need to know that you're not alone. Jesus doesn't use us. His love is vast and his grace is lavish. Find healing in his open arms.

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