April 2011 was an interesting month for me. For starters, it included the second anniversary of when I lost my job in Houston (April 21st); but besides the significance of that event which still affects my life today, there were other things that happened. The most traumatic event occurred on April 22nd, when my stepmother suddenly died ten days after surgery and her death was totally unexpected. She and my dad had been married almost 32 years and she was as much a mother to me as my own mother who died 28 years ago. But there were other things that happened during that month and it was an odd month, to be sure. It tested my relationships with people–some very new relationships and some relationships that have been a part of my life for a very long time.
Without going into details I can say that I reached a point by the end of April where I felt mostly alone. As if the preceding two years had not been difficult enough to navigate since losing my job in Houston, I was now faced with the fact that I had become inconsequential, a nonentity, a joke without a punch line. The hurt from that was crushing, and then came the totally unexpected death of my stepmother to add grief on top of it all, and I couldn’t fly back to Iowa for the funeral due to an ankle injury. By the end of that disastrous month, I just wanted to get rid of the few items I still owned, get in my car, and drive off into the horizon, not really caring where I ended up. Hey, I was (and still am) unemployed with no job prospects, so what did it matter?
I had spent the better part of 2010 working through the incredible anger I had at my former boss in Houston. Just when I had finally reached the point where I had forgiven him regarding what he had done to me, this other stuff happened in rapid succession in April. I didn’t know which emotion was stronger—devastating hurt or anger. Maybe both were in play. I remember going for a drive and listening to music (music always makes me feel better), and crying so hard I could hardly see out the windshield. I was angry, hurt, and felt totally alone as if there was no one I could really depend on in this life (not to mention I was also grieving over the death of my stepmother). As I was driving I came to a red light, and as I slowed my car to stop I noticed the street sign…
And it hit me like a ton of bricks. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7). And I knew instantly what I had to do. While I didn’t view these people as enemies they certainly weren’t acting as friends nor did they particularly seem to care about my welfare.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talked about the need for those of us who follow Him to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, and do good to those who spitefully use you” (Matt. 5:38-48). In short, we are to extend love to those who have hurt us, even those who have tried to take unfair advantage of us. As “The Message” Bible states, “No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.” (Matt. 38-42 MSG). We are to let our enemies bring out the best in us, not the worst. In short, we are to grow up and not live small lives by holding on to grudges or hurts.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy…” If we call ourselves Christians then we can live no other way. There is no excuse big enough or hurt deep enough that we can’t extend mercy and forgiveness, even if the recipient couldn’t care less or doesn’t even know that we have forgiven them (as in the case of my former boss whom I never saw again after I was fired). In fact, even more so in that case, because if we don’t, bitterness can take root and end up destroying the rest of our own lives.
I wish I could say that in a flash I was able to extend mercy and forgiveness to those involved in the circumstances in April after I saw that street sign; but in fact, it took a couple of months to reach the other side. It wasn’t until I resurrected this blog in early July (after deleting it in April along with all of the previous blog posts) that I realized I had finally reached the other side. And I found that by finally being able to extend mercy, I also found mercy, and a genuine love for others that is not dependent on the way they treat me.
A quote on a sign I had posted on my office door at the job I lost in Houston stated, “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” While it didn’t appear to have any effect on my former boss (and yes, there are people like that in this world—probably more than I care to think about), it reminded me every day when I read it that this life is not just about us.
No, it’s not…
Photo taken by author (negative of the original photo)