This sabbatical has been good. Good for my soul. For the first time in a very long time, I feel like I am intentionally doing something to benefit me. Just writing that stirs feelings that I am being selfish. But knowing the Lord has been leading and teaching me to find rest for my soul puts things in proper perspective. It has been nice to begin feeling more refreshed. It has only taken me 2 months to get there! But, I am learning it’s all about the journey, about what I learn along the way, as much as getting to the end. And there is so much to learn. That has probably been at the heart of this sabbatical. Like Dale Wolyniak wrote, “A ministry sabbatical is ideally quite different from a traditional academic sabbatical or a sabbatical practiced in business. It is about the spirit and soul being refreshed, renewed, and redirected.”
I am learning to rest and allow God to bring refreshment in my spirit and soul. In surprising ways, maybe just to me, He is bringing renewal to my spirit and soul. I say it’s surprising because He is revealing areas I thought I was doing okay in. Letting the Son shine in on my life has been painfully beneficial. I see God identifying, dealing and bringing renewal in my spirit and soul. One dictionary lists as one of the definitions of renewal as “the repair of something that is worn out, run-down, or broken.” What a perfect way to describe what God is doing in my life.
re·new·al (rəˈn(y)ooəl)–“replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run-down, or broken.”
Out of God’s great love for me, and for those around me, He has been revealing and bringing repair to areas that have been worn out, run-down or broken in my life. The irony is I didn’t think those were areas that needed repair. Don’t get me wrong, there are a multitude of areas that worn out, run-down or broken in my life. I just didn’t think the areas God has been revealing were among those. (Yup, the joke is on me!)
Here’s an example: I have always thought of myself as a pretty forgiving person. Definitely not perfect but overall I find it easy to forgive. I don’t hold grudges. I don’t stay angry for very long. But alas there’s that influence of self-delusion in my life. Very recently, I found myself in the presence of someone I have known for years but haven’t seen in awhile. Instead of being happy to see that person, it felt like there was a dark cloud hanging over me. With the risk of appearing to defend myself and my “attitude,” I did try reaching out a couple of times. Both attempts were met with what I interpreted as being brushed off. I let those thoughts cloud my mind and reinforce all the times I felt offended and hurt by them and all that resulted was being in a funk. My attitude was lousy. I didn’t have much to say that was positive. I just felt like removing myself from that situation. All I could think about was “poor me.” So what did I do? I removed myself from the situation. It felt pretty good!
Then resting in the comfort of my bad attitude and my good old friend, my bed, I sighed and smiled, feeling so good to be there where I felt I wasn’t welcomed. It was nice. Until God felt it was a good time to do some renewing in my life. As I laid there, I could sense the Holy Spirit poking at my heart. In moments like that, my favorite phrase is “but God.” “But God, I tried! I reached out. I was nice. I was cordial.” “But God, I didn’t really say anything bad or nasty or mean.” “But God, I didn’t really do anything to warrant being rebuffed or brushed off.” And a part of that is true. I did reach out. I didn’t say anything bad. I didn’t do anything, I don’t think, to warrant being brushed off.
But it didn’t really matter because there were feelings of unforgiveness in my heart. God began to reveal how those feelings were there and how they surfaced even before that encounter. How those feelings were there for probably years. I just was pretty good at stuffing them. Unforgiveness was there affecting my heart, my spirit and soul and needed to be renewed. Time doesn’t heal unforgiveness. It’s just that over time, unforgiveness gets pushed to the back by all the other stuff going on. But it’s there. And with it, came the negative results.
“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. Hebrews 12:14-15
Unforgiveness can lead to bitterness which messes up our lives and our relationships with others. The Holy Spirit gently opened my eyes to see how my unforgiveness led to me being grumpy with those around me, especially my wife. Friendly fire. Not a good thing. Lying there in my self pity and self righteousness, God reminded me of the antidote for the poison of unforgiveness:
“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” Colossians 3:13
Renewal means repairing. God wants to renew areas in my life. I must open my heart and allow God to renew me. So I took Paul’s words in Colossians to heart. Familiar words. I have read them before. I have studied them before. I have shared them before. But it was time to apply these words of renewal to a broken part of my life. I made a decision to make allowance for the faults of others. I chose to forgive others who offended me. I chose to remember God’s love and example to me. This was about me. About my unforgiveness. It wasn’t about a person who offended or hurt me. No “but God,” no finger pointing, no trying to justify or defend myself. My heart needed renewing. So I spent some time praying, forgiving and asking God to forgive me. It was a good time. It reminded me of a picture my son John took of his sister in Niigata. There my daughter was, looking out in the darkness of the night with hope and wonder in her eyes. In the midst of the darkness that unforgiveness brought, there is hope because God is there. There is hope because He is renewing in me what needs to be renewed.
After awhile, I opened my eyes and something was different. There were no dark clouds. There wasn’t a heaviness in my heart. God had begun to renew me, His loyal and stubborn love, repairing my heart and soul. What a difference! With God leading and supplying the grace needed, it was remarkably easy. Am I a new person with a new heart? Not exactly. I’m a person under construction, being refreshed, renewed and redirected (that’s a story for another day) by the love and power of my Father heaven.
I am learning how true the words written by my buddy, Andrew Murray, really are:
“As bread is the first need of the body, so forgiveness is for the soul.”
Thank you Father for your love for me. You love me enough not to let me wallow in my unforgiveness and suffer the consequences of a bitter root. How wonderful You are. Thank you!!!