You know that awkward moment when someone is telling you a story about a his or herself or another person that involves a bad habit and you realize that even though the individual with whom you are speaking is clearly not talking about you…you wonder if you can relate to the story better than you’d prefer or like to admit?
That moment smacked me in the face recently. It’s been an ongoing wonder in my own head after several conversations with a friend concerning a situation having nothing to do with me and playing out thousands of miles from where I live, but I couldn’t help but wonder if I have similar, even if muted or less significant, bad habits in my own life.
As we spoke, I wanted to be frustrated and annoyed with myself, wondering why I did what I did and wishing I could undo bad habits as easily as they are acquired, and it dawned on me that I had an incredible opportunity that the situation and people articulated that brought this to my attention did not have: I could learn from this awful, terrible, no-good situation before my own life spun out of control.
Without getting into details, know that the story being told was a sad one with lasting, dramatic consequence. Forgiveness and grace can heal relationships. Reconciliation is the hope and the goal, which is amazing, but it’s at a point that has included years of hurt and time lost. In my own life, this bad habit is merely a minuscule speck of dust tainting, perhaps, only a few relationships, not causing any significant problems. However, left unattended, it was simple to see how these things begin so small and grow out of control so easily.
It was in that moment that I thanked the Lord – literally – for his grace and mercy. What an opportunity it is to learn from the stories of others and alter our own course before getting too far off track!
I love sharing stories, watching lives collide and admiring the beautiful mosaic that is created when we live in community, share burdens and celebrate together. And it is not a surprise that this kind of lesson is an important part of that. When Jesus’ closest friends – Jewish men who were more familiar with prayers than most of us – asked him how to pray, he responded with a few, concise and poignant sentences, one of which included “lead me not into temptation” (Luke 11:4). I blogged about that once.
Jesus knew that we’d face temptation. He knew we’d be taunted and enticed to do and say things that we shouldn’t or not do and not say things that we should. We are sinful people who sometimes want to do sinful things. Actually, a lot of the time. But God’s grace is bigger than those temptations and those tauntings, and his Spirit living in us mercifully reminds us to live in a way Loves God, Loves Others beyond our own ability and avoiding the would-be consequences of our own sinful selves.
Part of this guiding is being honest enough with ourselves that when we hear stories, we are wise enough to see where we might need similar correction and humble enough to do something about it. And for that, I’m so thankful because that is were learning from the mistakes of others feels like an opportunity to live into the grace and love God is offering.