Most of us have people in our lives with whom relationships frequently feel more like work than love. My friend Priscilla refers to people like this as "heavenly sandpaper." I love this description because the truth is that relationships with heavenly sandpaper people are one of the great sanctifiers of life on this Earth. They expose the places in our heart that still need to be surrendered to His healing. They remind us of our need for Him.
It is easy to love people that love us back and bring out the best in us. It is another thing entirely to enter into relationship with someone where it doesn't always feel good. We don't understand them. We feel misunderstood. Every word and action is heavily scrutinized and analyzed. We try. We fail. It's so exhausting that sometimes we simply give up.
We are broken sinful people who bring our hurts and histories into every relationship. When our stuff bangs against someone elses' stuff, we often hit a nerve and life gets interesting.
As we consider who the hevenly sandpaper may be in our lives, it is humbling to remember we are almost certainly being used in that role in someone else's life. Ugh!
I have a person in my life/family who is on the run and in a season of utter rebellion. As I have tried to pursue this person, rejection has come in many forms. (Enough that I am certain it is not all just in my head :-) Although I am aware of pain and struggle in this particular person's life, and that I am not the only family member feeling jilted, I am still hurt by their rebuff. Due to distance and other factors, I am usually only in their presence during holidays--and their appearance even then is spotty.
Ugly confession time: Last year I felt like their behavior was so unnecessarily rude towards me that I actually contemplated not buying them a Christmas gift. (Sigh, I know. UGLY.) Because of the relationship it would have been an obvious omission that would have made a statement. While licking my wounds and indulging in a pity party of self, I mentally listed all the reasons why I could be excused for ommitting them from my list: Their track record proved they wouldn't be appreciative. They likely wouldn't even show up for the family event. If they don't want me in their life, I will grant their request! I huffed to myself. I may have even briefly contemplated a big letter airing my grievances and a Bible with passages highlighted about love and kindness. Yikes.
Of course, I knew in my spirit this was not at all a godly response. So after prayer, God led me to do just the opposite. It was a decision to be loving when my wounded pride wanted to pout. It became my mission to find a gift that this person would really like--something that indicated I wanted to 'know' them and care for them as they are, not just as I wished they would be. I left my comfort zone and entered stores I had never visited to buy something they would really like. It wasn't about the expense (less than $35), it was the attention paid to knowing them.
Christmas started the way I expected. No eye contact. No acknowledgement of my greeting. When the gifts were exchanged, however, I saw a smile. Ice melted considerably. I even got a one armed hug and genuine thank you. I rejoiced in the precious lesson. I was reminded that putting yourself out there is risky. You aren't guaranteed that your pursuit won't be rejected. Pride has to be checked. Love has to win.
I wish I could say this is where the story ends...but one year later, the relationship is even more distant. As this prodigal has pursued their wild living, many of us have been literally blocked from their life. So, when time came to make my Christmas list this year I stared at the name and found myself again contemplating what and why to gift. And in the quiet of my heart I felt the Lord whisper, "Jennifer, don't you get it? The unmerritted gift from the pursuer to the prodigal...THIS is the grace of Christmas."
God gave a priceless gift in His pursuit of us.
It wasn't based on our good behavior, our gratitude or our response.
The baby in the manger was the ultimate gift of grace and love to a prodigal people.
I confess my gift this year isn't nearly as personal, but it will be given in humility. I know I will not receive a wrapped gift in response, but THIS lesson is a gift I won't soon forget.