It was a filthy penny, scarred from wear, and blackened from who knows what, but my friend was inexplicably exuberant about finding it on our way from class through the parking lot. It wasn’t even facing heads up, but she grabbed it with excitement, then quickly found another about which she was no less overjoyed. Without owning that little penny for more than a moment, she handed it to me. Charmed by the luck she believed it represented, which I would never protest out loud, she gave me part of what she found. I was dumbstruck. As I held that crappy old coin in my hand on the way home, I puzzled over my classmate’s reaction to what I and many others might have ignored as insignificant. It would take at least two dozen of them to buy even a stick of gum anymore. Still, she found value in it.
How selfish and myopic is my sense of value! That little penny reminded me that the way I see things is not the only perspective. My estimate is not the authoritative value. This is undeniably most evident in my self evaluation. The Deceiver slithers around my ego and puts on the squeeze several times a day, and the chronic visitation has taken an erosive effect over the years. “Inadequate!” and “Unacceptable!” have taken various forms through the decades, but today it was “tarnished,” “blackened,” and, “scarred.” The effervescent cheer displayed by my friend told me I was wrong about the penny, and I might just be wrong about many other things as well. After all, God found me worth dying for, and His appraisal authority is beyond question. Why then, do I waste so much energy punishing those close to me for loving me?
God found me worth dying for...
For several months, I’ve been growing through some observations, not the least of which is this. I recognized I live with an angry undercurrent that expresses itself as a nearly perpetual state of discontent bordering on unrest. When agitated, this fragile substrate bubbles over with bitterness from an unidentified source until it pours its caustic toxin onto those around me in the form of wrath. I’ve looked back over the past forty-eight years and recognized that I’ve kept most of my relationships conveniently shallow, guarding my noxious core from exposure by isolation and distance. Those nearest to me know it doesn’t work at close range. Any scratch of the surface during times of pressure and the hissing fissure becomes a geyser of boiling rage. I remember being prompted by our marriage counselor years ago to discover the cause of all that anger, and being more than a little disappointed that he didn’t reveal what it was. I guess, in his wisdom, maybe he knew it was for me to discover.
I have tried burying my anger, medicating it with nicotine, alcohol, junk food, isolation, and debt-producing purchases just exercising my will on the world. Each of these I have addressed in one fashion or another, but the worst of my defects of character is that I wield judgment like a battle-axe and wrath like a flame thrower.
The most destructive judgment comes with the optional tactical add-on called “religious superiority.” Any weapon fitted with it becomes infinitely more deadly, bearing eternal, rather than merely mortal consequences. Instead of turning people against the assailant, they respond with enmity toward the bearer's religion and the deity s/he allegedly represents. For years I’ve been hacking and slashing others with my judgment and swapping out my religious superiority which interchangeably fits my wrath-thrower. Imagine all the damage I’ve done to terrestrial souls and the Kingdom of Heaven.
The hardest ones to forgive are those who “know not what they do,” but Jesus found it possible, and called me to do likewise. I may have been one of those who knew not what he was doing, but I know it now. I'm left to figure out how to bathe in grace enough to get all this tarnished, blackened, scarred copper off me.
Before I began writing this post I got a call from a very dear friend I’ve known for decades. He has been my aunt’s best friend since I was a kid. For reasons regarding religious judgment I was not permitted to approve of his "alternate lifestyle" choice as it was called back then, so I stood stripped of his companionship but never his encouraging support. He’s like the uncle who never visits. He just called me to say how much he values my writing and misses it. He wanted to encourage me and to ensure he was still on my publication list. I haven’t stopped crying since. I couldn’t even tell him how much his encouragement meant to me because I was so choked up. The imposition of prejudiced devaluation goes back many generations.
How can a dirty old penny be so valuable? What would make someone giddy over what I would just walk over? The right question is: why would I walk so carelessly over something that was created for the expressed purpose of its value?
God save us from ourselves, and give us the eyes of Your Spirit, the self-sacrificing love of Your Son. Forgive me, a sinner of the worst kind, a slayer of souls, and make me walk so permeated in Your grace that it splashes over on anyone who meets me so that You are all they see. Fill me to assuage the emptiness that comes from recognizing what I am, and make me useful toward Your purposes. In Christ Jesus’ name, by whose life I was purchased, amen!
Postscript: The truth made trivial in light of these other revelations is that I placed a low value on my writing. I author other blogs published anonymously, and have all but quit blogging because I felt I was just dropping pennies that no one would ever pick up. It turns out one of my favorite gems has been missing my discarded trinkets. This one’s for you, John.
Believe it or not, every one of these verses came from today’s Bible reading devotion. Want to know how I can tell God talks to me through Scripture? I know because these are the ones I excerpted for my journal this morning:
““Therefore, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will surely judge between the fat sheep and the scrawny sheep. For you fat sheep pushed and butted and crowded my sick and hungry flock until you scattered them to distant lands. So I will rescue my flock, and they will no longer be abused. I will judge between one animal of the flock and another.” Ezekiel 34:20-22 NLT, http://bible.com/116/ezk.34.20-22.nlt
“So we can say with confidence, “The LORD is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?”” Hebrews 13:6 NLT, http://bible.com/116/heb.13.6.nlt
““Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. “…You will be my people, and I will be your God. I will cleanse you of your filthy behavior. … Then you will remember your past sins and despise yourselves for all the detestable things you did. But remember, says the Sovereign LORD, I am not doing this because you deserve it. O my people of Israel, you should be utterly ashamed of all you have done!” Ezekiel 36:25-32 NLT, http://bible.com/116/ezk.36.25-32.nlt
“What can I offer the LORD for all he has done for me?
…O LORD, I am your servant; yes, I am your servant, born into your household; you have freed me from my chains.” Psalms 116:12, 16 NLT, http://bible.com/116/psa.116.12,16.nlt