I enjoy weddings, especially receptions. There’s so much fun going on with food and happy people. Years ago I officiated a particularly fun wedding. At the reception the bride stopped by my table to thank me for doing the ceremony. Apparently I was AWESOME (her words, which I share here with great humility…mostly). As we were speaking, her very happy husband came up to join her. As he put his arm around her he spilled red wine down the back of her dress. It all seemed to unfold in slow motion. The groom gasped, horrified, turning pale as he stammered his apologies. The bride, after the initial shock, looked up at him and with a smile said it was ok, no worries. Seeing what had happened, the mother-of-the-bride intervened with a 2 liter bottle of club soda and trip to the ladies room. A short while later the bride was on the dance floor with her husband and no visible trace of wine on her beautiful dress.
The spilled wine is a perfect picture of how we impact the people with whom we come in contact. What is in us spills out when we are bumped, jostled or distracted. A driver takes liberties that we think are unfair or someone fails to understand our point of view. There are countless things, large and small, that can trigger an emotional response. Our reactions come from what is inside us: fear or peace, anger or kindness, generosity or selfishness, grace or retaliation. Had the groom’s glass been filled with club soda the event would be much less memorable. The wine, in all of its deep red glory, made a lasting impression.
At the wedding, the bride was so clearly filled with grace, patience and sanity. This became obvious when she was spilled upon. Who she truly is spilled onto her new husband. It could have turned out so differently.
What is it that spills on others when you are offended, hurt or confronted? Sadly, the people who most often bump into us are those in our closest circle – spouse, children, close friends and parents. The very people we have committed to love and protect can be scarred by our toxic spill. No one chooses to do this to the people they love but it happens anyway. The answer is not just to keep the anger inside and swallow our toxic emotions. Rather, it is to deal with what is in our cup…our glass…our heart. That is not an easy assignment but it is one that can change the quality of your life as well as the lives of those around you.
We all carry the scars of pain, disappointment and loss in life. We fail others and we fail ourselves. I’m not saying we are awful. I know too many great people to ever say that. But life has touched most of us with pain and loss that in our adult life breeds fear, resentment, insecurity, pride and so much more. It’s not a pretty list. We don’t always get to choose what happens to us but we do choose how we will respond, and those responses define what fills our heart, mind and attitudes.
For example: I grew up in great poverty. My father, an alcoholic, was gone as much as present. My grandfather was an alcoholic who was an abuser (physical, emotional and sexual). My mom worked at least two jobs at a time to raise her three daughters (I’m pretty sure I was her favorite though she never actually said that). It was a very difficult life for her but Mom is not bitter, hard or angry. She is a gentle, caring, kind person approaching her 90th birthday. How did she do that? When I was 3, Mom was invited to church by a neighbor, found Jesus’ love and compassion, and has lived her life choosing to love and forgive. She couldn’t control what happened to her but she chose, and continues to choose, to live out of the love of God that is in her heart. When you bump into my mom, love spills out.
The stuff of life, our culture and even our very nature can scream at us that we are not enough: not attractive enough, not smart enough, not successful enough, not married enough… Too often we grow up with a deeper sense of what we are not than of what we are. The best news I ever heard and the most powerful love I have ever felt come from God: perfect, holy, gracious, merciful, kind, forgiving…God. His acceptance, grace, healing and help have changed everything for me. His grace changes everything.
It comes down to three important truths:
- We are a mess. I am a mess. Most of you know the story of Adam and Eve, the first people. God made them with a free will – they could choose the life they wanted, they were not robots. God also told them how to live their best life but they decided to do life their way (this is where they ate the forbidden fruit). We humans have done the same thing for thousands of years. Our world is broken, filled with war, hate, disease, poverty, hunger, mental illness…the list is endless. The human race left to its own resources, has created quite a mess.
- God loves broken, hurting, clueless people. Always has, always will. How does perfection partner with such brokenness? It’s not about ignoring our brokenness, nor is it about us becoming more perfect so God will like us better. I tried it. Ain’t gonna happen. God bridged the great chasm between himself and us by his grace. He paid the price for our great brokenness (Bible calls it sin) so that He could come close. That’s the story of Jesus. If you don’t know the story, check out some of the suggested reading. It is truly the greatest story ever told, and lived.
- God’s plan isn’t just to get us cleaned up enough to get us into heaven. He wants us to have “abundant life.” That means a full life with purpose, love, acceptance and goodness. (This doesn’t mean we will never face suffering or pain. Sorry, peeps, that’s just what it means to be human.) In essence, it is about what is growing in us…what is filling our cup. God offers us new life and new ways of living. A full and overflowing cup of grace.
There is much we can do every day to shape what is inside us, choices that lead to life and health rather than bitterness and hurt. God offers us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, what the Bible calls the fruit or result of God’s Spirit in us (Galatians 5:22-23). My experience and my belief is that our very best life, our sweetest and fullest cup, comes only through relationship with Jesus. We can never be grace-givers until we begin to grasp the grace that has come to us.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
So, what fills your heart, mind and soul? What spills on people when they bump into you? Will they remember the encounter with a sense of hope and peace? Or will you be the story of the worst part of their day. We get to choose.
Romans 3:23-24 Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.
Titus 3:3-7 Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other.4 But when God our Savior revealed his kindness and love,5 he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.[a] 6 He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.
John 10:10 The thief’s [Enemy] purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.
Ezekiel 36:26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.
Worth reading by Brennan Manning:
The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out
Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging