It is very difficult for me to write this, and even harder to know that it’s going public. Yet I know some of the most encouraging things I have read have been the experiences of other Christians who have messed up (sometimes very badly), and recovered. They remind me that the gospel is in fact for sinners, not for those who are righteous. It is not the healthy that need a doctor, but those who are sick (Luke 5:31-32). I am one of the sick. And this is a story of my illness.
I was on the verge of falling into a deep sleep when I was jolted awake by the sound of my son trundling down the corridor in his wheelchair, talking to his sister in a loud voice. Here he comes again. Can’t he ever be quiet? I heard the door of the kitchen slam open, the cupboard doors banging open and shut and the sound of the microwave buttons being pushed. Microwave, I thought. I bet he hasn’t covered his plate again. And guess who gets to clean it up?
I got out of bed – dozy and grumpy (my first mistake). I walked into the kitchen (second mistake – don’t confront people when you’re tired or cranky). I saw the plate of food in the microwave – uncovered, and heard the buzzing on full reheat. “I couldn’t find anything to cover it,” he said. “That’s pathetic” I replied.
And then I exploded.
I won’t go into detail what I said. It was my tone, my anger and my rage and my countenance that did all the talking. My son Mark didn’t see a man who has been wonderfully and miraculously transformed by the gospel. He saw a monster.
I walked out of the room and put my face in my hands. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t pray – I couldn’t even think. I stumbled back into the bedroom and crawled under the blankets. “Do you think that helped?” my wife asked. How was I supposed to answer that? Of course it didn’t help. I lay there for – how many hours? Two? Three? I lost count. Sleep did not treat me kindly that night.
Before I knew it the alarm started beeping. I awoke having to face the dreaded task of preparing to preach. What a joke. I spent extended time in the Psalms confessing my wretched behaviour and asking God’s forgiveness. But I found no peace, no solace, and no comfort. Of all mornings I had to speak publically. If I could call in sick I would. But pastors can’t do that sort of thing.
I happened to be the guest speaker at another church that morning. I stood there trying to sing my way through the worship songs. But worship eluded me. It’s difficult to sing from a troubled, guilt-ridden heart. A communion tray was passed to me. I picked up the cup with red liquid – a symbol of Christ’s blood, staring up at me. I held the cup so tightly I almost crushed it in my hand. I don’t know how long I sat there gazing at it. Someone nudged me – it was the basket to collect the empty cups. Already? I thought. I’m not ready to take it. I’m not ready for anything.
As the minutes drew closer to get up and speak my heart beat increased. My hands were clammy. I looked down at the floor. I heard my name spoken – “We come now to the end of our series on relationships. And we have a guest speaker. We’ve saved the best part for now.” Really? If only they all knew. I wanted to throw up. How I made it through that message I do not know. People afterwards told me it was a great message and God really spoke to them. A picture of Balaam’s ass went through my mind. It was time to go home.
It is very bad for a believer in Jesus to wallow in guilt and despair – I knew that. I had to take the counsel I had so often given to others and preach it to myself. I am a sinner. I will never meet God’s perfect standards. But there is one who did meet the standard: Jesus Christ. He suffered sin’s penalty (death) on the cross in my place. He did this in order to bring me to God (1 Peter 3:18). I am completely forgiven. And the perfect righteousness of Christ has been credited to my account. In don’t need to punish myself for my outbursts of sinful anger. Jesus bore that punishment already.
That’s all well and good. My relationship with God is taken care of. But what about my relationship with my son? I needed to put things right with him – but how? How empty a verbal apology will seem – especially considering this was not the first time. What could I do that he would appreciate? I’ll go and buy him some beer. So I did – his favourite, in fact, with a bag of BBQ crisps. The door of his cabin was closed. I slid it partially open and waved a 12 pack of Corona inside. “Dad,” he said “Come on in.” I guess he was expecting me.
I was able to put things right with Mark that afternoon and he did forgive me. But I knew this was going to be a turning point for me. I didn’t want to do this anymore. I was determined to change. I hated getting angry like that. I hated what it was doing to my relationship with Mark. I wanted desperately to change.
How does change occur for a truly repentant heart? Change is process that takes place by a number of small steps where you do things differently. The first step is the hardest and most difficult. It’s not enough just to say you’re sorry. Words must be backed by actions. I was determined to do things differently.
I will start behaving differently to my son
By thinking differently about my son
By being thankful to God for my son
Starting with today
So far it’s working. Each time I see Mark I think how thankful I am that he is alive and we have the privilege of looking after him. When he talks to me I work on giving him eye contact and responding lovingly and authentically. Slowly, little by little gospel grace is having an effect upon my heart, as I yield to the Spirit’s transforming power which as at work in me.
This is why Christ came – to save and redeem
This is why he died on the cross – to take care of the monster in me
This is why he rose from the dead – to give me power to be a new me
By God’s grace, I want to be that new me.