Monday, May 5, 2014

Live in Peace.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

- Romans 12:17-21 (NIV; Emphasis added)

Most of us have encountered this situation. We’ve encountered someone in our lives that we want to reconcile with and make things work, but either the other person isn’t interested, or for some unknown reason the issues, hurts, or problems are irreparable.

In the summer of 2010 between my Junior and Senior years of college, I was an intern for a youth group.  It was a large youth group, so there were 3 male and 2 female interns. Upon meeting my fellow leaders, I was excited about what the summer could bring and what we could accomplish as a team. However, I was mistaken in my excitement. Instead of a great relationship and teamwork with the other female intern, it turned into almost a competition. At one point during the summer when I told her I would like to be a team, she said, “You do whatever you want. I’m going to do everything I can to learn as much as possible, and I’m going to do things on my own.”

At that point, I knew nothing could be done. Even though I tried to invite her to events such as sleepovers with some of the students, she wouldn’t show up and neglected to invite me to things she did. Let me be clear, though. As hurt as I was by many things during the summer, I wasn’t perfect either. I talked about her to people (including students, which was a terrible decision), I lashed out at her in anger one day, and by the end of the summer I simply refused to talk to her. I was so angry that she didn’t want to work together, because that was something I had so desired. I was angry that I heard from other students that she had talked about me (even though I had done the same thing), and I left for school bitter and resentful.

A couple weeks went by, and I realized that my actions were wrong - I needed to apologize and attempt to reconcile. Without giving much detail, I sent her a message that was left unresponded to, and when I tried to talk to her, I instead received threatening emails from her brother and her best friend. At that point, I wanted reconciliation so much, or at least a chance to talk through things. But she wasn’t interested. I was so frustrated, because I couldn’t understand why a Christian would want to live in bitterness or resentment toward another person instead of at least moving to a place of closure.

I began to see things as my fault. I began to blame myself for the entire situation, and I felt as though I was a horrible person. It was then that Eric (my boyfriend at the time, now husband), grabbed me by the shoulders and said,

“Bethany. It’s okay. Were you perfect? No. Did you make mistakes and hurt her? Absolutely. Does that matter now? No. Why? Because you’ve done everything you can to correct things. And that’s all you’re responsible for.

I was floored by this. Really? I’m not defined by my mistakes, but rather what I do to make things right? That made so much sense, and yet it was so difficult for me to grasp. I always believed that I was defined by my faults - I was constantly looking for places to “start over” or have a “clean slate,” because I didn’t want to be around anyone who knew how flawed I was or what kind of mistakes I made in my past. But that’s not how it works - while there are those who don’t want to admit it, we’ve all made mistakes we wish to move on from.

“As far is it depends on you, live in peace with everyone.”

I tried to work things out with the other female intern - I had done everything I could think of (including calling her, asking our boss to mediate between us, etc), and nothing had worked. At that point, I had a decision to make: I could either keep on trying to no avail (and making things worse for myself emotionally in the process), or I could let go and move on.

It took about 3 years to fully let go, simply because I was so rocked by the situation. But as I began to heal, I realized the freedom that letting go brings - it allowed me not to blame myself. I was able to forgive the other female intern for the way she treated me, to forgive myself for the things I had done, and most importantly, I was able to accept that I was forgiven by God. I knew God didn’t look down on me with anger or judgment - He knows exactly what I’ve done to make the situation right, and that’s all the matters.

If you’re facing a situation of this sort now, or if you have in the past, there is hope. God doesn’t view you in light of your past mistakes or failings. You are forgiven. You are loved. Your mistakes don’t define you, nor does the other person’s refusal to work through things. It’ll take time to push through. It’ll take time to heal. But in the end, you’ll be a stronger person. You’ll be a better person, because you won’t allow yourself to do the same things that were done to you. It’s a journey, and it’s a difficult one. But with faith, hope, and Love, you can make it through.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

There's Room for Questions.

It's okay to ask questions.

It's okay not to know the answer to everything.

It's okay to sit in the gray for a while.

It's simply okay.

Since my most recent post about stating publicly that I'm a feminist, I've had quite a different response than the one I was expecting. I admitted that while I would label myself as a feminist because I believe women should be equal to men, I still have questions about some other things that would follow in being a feminist. Because of this, I received a lot of backlash from a few people. Granted, most people supported me and understood where I'm at, and I'm thankful for those people. But there were still many others who said rude and hurtful things.

I stated that I don't know where I stand on whether women should be lead pastors or not. A lot of this has to do with the fact that my upbringing has that belief, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that I haven't done a ton of research on it. Is that my fault? Absolutely. But the bottom line remains -- I still have questions. 

I won't apologize for having questions. I won't apologize for being forthright in what I'm struggling with. I would much rather be honest about my difficulties in faith than hide it and become bitter, resentful and end up walking away altogether.

Whether we want to admit it or not, there are gatekeepers on both ends of the spectrum of faith. If you ask too many questions (or the "wrong" questions) on either side, you're tossed out and told, "You don't belong here," or, "You're not like us," or, "Come back when you agree with us."

When did this become an accepted way to do things? As my pastor said during service on Easter, "When did it become okay for us to be bouncers for Jesus and faith? When did it become okay for us to decide who gets to be admitted?"

I don't take feminism lightly. I firmly believe that women deserve equal rights. I firmly believe that Jesus was very countercultural in the way he viewed women, and he saw them as equals. I firmly believe that sexism and misogyny are still very real in our society, and that while we've come a long way from the past, we still have a long way to go. I firmly believe that women are not only mistreated in society, but in the church as well.

I also firmly believe in respecting one another. I firmly believe that relationships with people are far more important than any defense of my ideology. If anything I say or do causes someone I care about to feel alienated, rejected, or hurt, I've done something wrong and I've lost focus.

We were never called to be gatekeepers. We were never called to injure anyone, much less one of our own. We were never called to let anger and bitterness reign over love and forgiveness. We were never meant to expect that people must believe everything we do in order to be acceptable. We were never called to push people out.

There is (or should be) room at the table for everyone, regardless of the questions they have or the struggles they face. There should be inclusion, love, understanding, and care for those who simply don't know.

I pray that we can be Christians who love, respect, and include those asking questions instead of being exclusive and only letting a "select few" in.