For two and a half hours they kept coming; the people who were there to pay last respects for this man lined up around the front of the funeral home and across the parking lot. The family were about to drop with exhaustion from greeting each new face as they approached in the line. The funeral staff said they had never seen so many visitors for a visitation since their doors had been open for the first time.
I listened to the comments the people were making, “He was a good man… He was so generous and loving…He always gave my young daughters bubble gum when they came into his business…He had a heart of gold…He did so many things for others that he never told about.” His children and grandchildren paid beautiful tribute to him in song and picture slides.
I knew he was generous with children and was very friendly, but I also knew the other side of him. He was a hard man, opinionated, and very territorial. I have been fond of him, but was also hurt by some of his actions, and as a result, had shielded myself from further opportunity to be hurt. I put up a wall, and left it there for the last few years, although I was still friendly and civil to him.
It is interesting to observe the end of a person’s life, how people saw and felt about them and what they accomplished. It’s kinda like getting a life review, similar to getting a job performance review. After watching the visitation and the next-day funeral, I learned some things. This man knew about hospitality, and perhaps had a gift of such. He gave of himself, recognized the value and needs of others, spent time with his family, and was generous. His wife shared in this hospitality and caring. Their house was a busy place, with lots of music and food. The world beat a path to their door in saying goodbye to him and to console his widow. He was flawed, but love covered a multitude of sins. In spite of his imperfections, he was still loved.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) (NIV)
The next thing I learned was about myself. I wondered if I held on to grudges? Even though I had just cause to not be hurt again, did I hold an offense against him and miss out on a good relationship? 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, “It (love) does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.” I knew of other people who had not spoken to him in years because of offenses between them. But do I want to be in that category?
I did a quick check list of my overview. I don’t think I hold a grudge. I think I have forgiven. Forgiveness is such a powerful act. And to go beyond forgiveness and to cultivate goodwill is even more difficult. I think that is where the unconditional joy comes into our life, for that is when we act like Christ. But I have allowed the wall to remain in place between us. Why? I have been afraid that hurt would crush my soul. But I have learned something else. Leaving an ace-in-the-hole to fall back on in case the worse-case scenario happens means not trusting God to catch me. The daring and risky action would be to say to God, “If the worse happens, I am believing You will catch me from falling, from being crushed (in my soul). I am relying on You only, and not my own actions.”
So where does that leave me on my check list? I believe it would be at reconciliation. And that is hard. To have someone to hurt you and still come to them in love and see if there is anything can be done to keep an open and interactive friendship alive takes more than we can accomplish on our own. But with God all things are possible. “Blessed are the peacemaker, for they will be called children of God.”
To ponder what the unity of the Body of Christ means, a person would have to imagine connections between many people, each individual, but still connected in the spirit and being at peace with one another. This world doesn’t know how to do that. There are divisions (walls) all over the place. “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)
As we were leaving a meeting place later, I saw a woman with whom I once had conflict, and we were doing the same “being friendly and civil” routine. I went up to her, hugged her, told her I loved her, and that I was glad she came. It wasn’t a full fledged overture, but she looked up in surprise. Perhaps it is a start in me changing my ways, and being open to forgiveness and reconciliation.