By Dan Flynn
At the beginning of April my 89-year-old Aunt Janice died after a lengthy illness. Aunt Janice was my mom’s oldest sister. In the 1950’s at a very young age my aunt married an abusive husband, divorcing him after having a daughter, Cheryl.
I guess the situation was so bad that she made a decision to move to California from eastern Wisconsin. At that time, this was going to the very end of the earth. She wanted change and made a dramatic decision. She stayed in California until her death this last April.
My aunt’s marriage was really a reflection of a broken family. I grew up watching much hurt and pain among the four children of my grandparents.
It just seemed that none of them could get along, and then they did things that intentionally hurt each other. There came a point when they all just stopped talking and this lasted years.
I often saw my mom grieve over this brokenness, but no one seemed to know how to fix any of this nor had the desire to make a kind gesture. There was just too much hurt.
I don’t think my family is alone in wrestling with deep-seated pain. Those closest to us are often the receivers as well as givers of anger. The issue is that anger unchecked evolves and festers.
In fact, unchecked anger evolves into bitterness, which evolves into hatred. Hatred has a hardened heart that refuses to receive or offer any forgiveness.
There was just too much hurt.
An embittered heart cannot forgive. Grace cannot penetrate through the hard wall of hatred. It is sad to watch because no one can sustain intimate relationships with family or friends or fellow employees.
Hatred is a terrible poison. Think of Jesus’ words in the Lord’s Prayer, “…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…” Forgiveness does not come easily.
Maybe you have observed this same hardness in your own families or in the people around you. It is a terrible and sad thing to witness. This is why anger has to be addressed in the very beginning so it is not allowed to evolve.
To my disappointment, this did not happen between my aunts and my uncle.
Forgiveness does not come easily.
But this last December my Aunt Janice made a gesture of kindness that changed everything between my mom and her oldest sister. After years of silence, my aunt sent my mom a case of hand-picked oranges from her California backyard. My mom was caught by complete surprise.
Oftentimes reconciliation does not happen in the extraordinary gesture but rather in the ordinary. A simple orange, an ordinary fruit, opened up doors of conversation and placed a crack in the wall of bitterness and hatred.
My aunt wanted to stop the brokenness and hurt and sent a hand-picked gift. I am struck by Paul’s words from II Corinthians 5:14-20: “The love of Christ compels us … that we regard no one from a worldly point of view … we have a ministry of reconciliation.…”
Oftentimes reconciliation does not happen in the extraordinary gesture but rather in the ordinary.
My aunt and my mom were both believers and yet they struggled with the calling to be ministers of reconciliation. Reconciliation is not easy. Forgiveness can only happen through death. Paul is clear that Christ died and rose from the dead so we might be reconcilers because we are forgiven.
It is this love that destroys the wall of hatred and makes the heart tender. It is Love that compels us. Of course, God is Love. Yes, it takes God’s intervention.
Neither my aunt nor my mom understood that within five months both of them would die of their extended illnesses. You see, God gives us opportunities even to the very end to destroy the crazy cycle of hurt that repeats even to the next generation.
There was healing between them. When my aunt died in early April, my mom called me, grieving deeply. Her heart was soft.
A few weeks after my aunt’s death, on May 1, my mom died. God granted my mom a gift–an unexpected one–of forgiveness, starting with a gesture of oranges. This gesture of forgiveness is not just about my mom, because the crazy cycle gets passed on to the next generation.
You see, hatred needs to consume so the sin goes onto the 3rd and 4th generation. In the eating of an orange that cycle was broken, forgiveness offered, and hope restored.
My friends, we all bump into these angry relationships. It is the way of a broken world. In fact, a broken world wants us to think this bitterness and hatred are acceptable. Grace confronts this evil and speaks to forgiveness and renewal in the relationships around us.
So, what gesture are you willing to make to move past all of your stuff? What simple ordinary thing can you do to stop the hurting, crazy cycle? Who can you forgive a little more today?
Grace confronts this evil and speaks to forgiveness and renewal in the relationships around us.
It doesn’t take a heroic action, just the willingness to do something, anything, to move ahead. Sometime an olive branch looks like a case of handpicked California oranges.