What’s the difference in a decision? Everything.
I realized this last night after driving home from my ladies’ group after telling my story. My mother played a vital part in my story. When I was sixteen years old, a relative tried to take advantage of having me alone in the room. It didn’t go very far, since I ran away once I knew what was going on. My wonderful mother quickly figured out something wasn’t right, and in tears I told her what had happened. Last night I realized my story could have gone several ways, and each would have had a dramatic impact.
She could have denied anything happened. She could have swept it under the rug and covered it up. She could have insisted we not talk about it or deal with it. What would the result have been? I would have carried that shame and blame around for years, possibly decades. I could still be dealing with the fallout today, having unexpressed and unprocessed rage, shame, and guilt. But that’s not the turn the story took.
She could have blamed me. She could have said that even to the slightest degree it was my fault. She could have said I deserved it. After all, isn’t this the culture we live in? Isn’t that the “defense” society gives for most of its bad and dreadful behavior – we say the girl deserved what she got because of the amount of makeup or type of clothing she was wearing or because of how she acted. She could have chastised me and said I wasn’t paying attention or I wasn’t careful enough. Even in what was supposed to be a safe situation. But that’s not the turn the story took.
Instead, I think the story has the happiest ending. Not for a second did she doubt what happened or question the validity of my statements. She immediately took action to make sure I was safe and healthy. She got me into counseling to talk about it, and she confronted the abuser. The truth of the long and sordid history of family abuse came to light, a fact that none of us was aware of. It was confronted head on and stopped immediately. When she had to make the choice between me and this person, she chose me. Without hesitation. And today I am the better person for it.
And today we have a relationship. We are actually friends. If the story had gone either the first or second way, we may not be on speaking terms today. I would resent her, for sure. There would be anger and probably hatred in having to suppress the pain and hurt. I realized in telling my story last night my life would be totally different if she had acted or reacted differently.
One action. One decision. Many lives impacted.
That’s what Jesus did. Romans 5:12-21 describes the impact of two men, both of whose individual actions impacted all the generations to come. Paul starts talking about Adam, who helped introduce sin into the world. Sin which touches all man, whether they believe or not in God. But then Paul contrasts him with Jesus, who brought the “gift” of grace to all man, again whether they believe or not. Through the first man’s choice we were condemned to live apart from God, separated by spiritual death. But through the Savior’s choice, we were given “God’s abundant provision of grace and the gift of righteousness” to be able to enter into relationship with Him. It’s the difference between judgment and justification, distance and relationship, life and death, sinfulness and salvation.
Yesterday I had an opportunity to make such a decision. I had a coworker accidentally call me and blast me. He meant to call someone else and rant about me, only he speed-dialed me instead. About the time I figured out what was going on, he quickly hung up. I was mortified. If he really felt about me what he said and had never said anything, I wasn’t sure how I was going to react. He immediately regretted everything, and he wanted to apologize. So now the choice was mine – do I extend the grace described in Romans 5 and let him off the hook? Or do I rub his nose in the all the names he called me? Do I allow God to flow through me to restore the relationship? Or do I hold him hostage to his mistake and punish him for it? I knew almost immediately I was going to forgive him, whether he was sorry or not. Whether he meant it or not. Because that what we as Jesus followers are called to do. My flesh took over for a few minutes and I let him sweat it out; I admit this was for my entertainment, mostly. But I used those moments to really think about God’s expectations of me. How would God treat me? I’m to do no less for my fellow man. And I’m to do it sincerely, honestly, purely. And I did. I texted him to let him know I was sorry for the part I had played to make him so upset, and I let him know there were no hard feelings. And as I honestly thought about what happened later that night, I laughed. No “oh my goodness, why did I forgive him?” giggle. A pure, heartwarming belly laugh. Because I realized several things. He was mad, and I had contributed to that. Not intentionally, but I was careless in my thinking. And how often this year alone have I gotten that mad and lashed out (yeah, we’re not keeping count, OK)? But the most important reason surfaced immediately – this is a great opportunity to show grace in action to someone who doesn’t believe in God. To have someone who was wronged apologize – and mean it. To have someone who should be slashing your tires forgive you – and mean it. To have someone not hold it over your head or beat you over the head with it at every opportunity. And yes, now it’s funny. I am still laughing at how it all played out. Of all the people he could have called, God dialed me. God was testing me, and I pretty sure I passed.
So do you want to make a difference? What difference can you make? Can you smile more? Laugh more? Listen more? Pray more? Love at all times?
I’m praying God will continue to give me opportunities to make a difference and react better than the world expects. Are you willing to get in the boat with me?
Marie Fremin, 10/8/15