I clasped my hands together as I sat in a busy Starbucks. The latte in my hand had no taste but I kept sipping in order to have something to do. A chill had sunk into my bones and the winter cold mingled with raw anxiety made my hands tremble. I struggled to take more than quick, shallow breaths as my eyes darted from the windows to the door. In a few short moments, I would be face to face with reminders of three years of wreckage and heartbreak so deep I'm not sure there will ever be words to describe it. Matthew 5 came to mind. Love your enemies...love your enemies.....
How, Lord? I thought to myself. How is love supposed to be displayed in a situation like this?
Alone, I sat. Usually, I rehearse what I plan to say but this time my mind was blank and my heart was numb. Pulling my coat tight around me and looking down at my trembling hands, I thought about my wedding day. I thought about the births of my children. I smiled a bittersweet smile to myself when I remembered the Christmas traditions we made and the family vacations we took. Then I thought about the day I realized my marriage was over. I thought about the years of weeping, the drives where I was screaming in the car, the nights of nightmares and the days I walked around in a fog. My mind shifted from joy to sorrow in a split second as I thought about all the events that had led me here.
Looking up, I watched the door open. With as much of a deep breath as I could manage, I stood to my feet. Extending my hand, I greeted her for the first time. I motioned for the young woman to sit and for the next thirty minutes we talked quietly. Looking into her dark eyes, I saw hesitancy and apprehension she tried to hide behind a polite smile, but I also saw something else. For over three years, she had been the nightmare in my dreams and the reason I could no longer eat certain foods or listen to certain songs. Hers was the name he had mumbled in his sleep. For years I had hated her, competed with her, envied her and, when at the end of myself, I had prayed for her. Now sitting across from her and watching her nervously touch her hair and struggle to keep eye contact, I saw with my eyes what I knew was true in my heart. I saw her as a soul.
She was a person. She was a sinner.
Just like me.
Ezekiel 16 gives us a powerful visual of our wretched state before the cross.
There in the passage, a woman is described as having no beauty, no worth and no desirability. Verse 3 says that she was born in enemy territory and that her mother was an adversary of God. The day she was born, her umbilical cord was not cut, she wasn't washed or swaddled or held tenderly like babies always are. Instead, she was thrown into an open field.
Then we see something remarkable. God Himself passes by and sees her. His eyes take in the woman wallowing in her own blood and afterbirth and instead of turning away with disgust, as anyone would understandably do, He has compassion on her and says one word: Live. Then He covers the woman's shame by spreading His robe over her and making a covenant with her, claiming her as His. What an astounding portrait of the amazing love and grace of God!
Sitting there in that Starbucks I thought about Ezekiel 16 and the heart of God became real to me all over again. You see...
I grew up on a church pew. The woman sitting in front of me did not.
I was saved at an early age. The woman sitting across from me was not.
I had lived my life pursuing purity and not willfully partaking in sin. Obviously, she had not.
My flesh wanted to yell in anger as anyone wrongfully hurt would want to do. My flesh wanted to go into detail and paint a vivid picture of all the destruction, and then heap it onto her lap for her to carry for the rest of her life instead of me. But my earthly attempts can never produce what only the Holy Spirit can accomplish. The law has already condemned mankind and because of it, we are all undesirable and worthless without Jesus. But when Christ stretched out His arms to take every painful blow of the hammer into His hands, He took sin far more repulsive than adultery and far more disgusting than a baby's afterbirth upon Himself. He took all condemnation upon Himself with a matchless love that covers nakedness and shame with His own righteousness. His love is a faithful, covenant love that tells us the same thing He told the woman in Ezekiel 16 - live. As a sinner saved, it's better to walk as one resurrected than to make all of hell cheer by living with the nature of a dead man. The same rescuing love that God had when He passed by me at age five, wallowing in my own blood, enabled me to extend grace that night. When I could have wallowed, I walked out of Starbucks worshiping.
Demonstrating God's loving nature does not mean that we call evil good. The way to be a picture of God's grace does not mean we bury our heads in the sand and pretend all is well when sin has brought death, like it always does. The Gospel must be lived and taught in its entirety and the way to demonstrate God's love is to remember that you are also the woman in Ezekiel 16. Though I grew up making good, moral choices, I was undesirable before God made a covenant with me. Though I spent my life going on mission trips, doing devotions with teenagers and teaching kids at summer camp, I was worthless before He covered me. Without the cross, we are all exactly like the woman described in Ezekiel 16.
When you are sitting in your own proverbial Starbucks struggling to demonstrate the heart and nature of the God you love, let me encourage you to simply dwell on Ezekiel 16 and live accordingly.
What can reflect the undeserved grace that God offers to the humble and repentant? A heart in awe of the redemption given through Jesus.
What can mirror the power of salvation? A woman who stands firm in the transforming work that salvation accomplished for her.
What can echo heaven's call to show kindness when hurt and to glorify the Savior? An obedient life of faithful love towards the God who loves sinners.
For more on this topic, study: John 13:34; John 13:35; Romans 12:10; 1 Thessalonians 3:12;
1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 3:9;
Luke 6:35; 1 Corinthians 13:4; Ephesians 4:32; Ephesians 5:2;
Luke 6:32; Colossians 3:12; Ezekiel 33; 1 Thessalonians 5:14;
1 Timothy 5:20; Mark 6:12; Luke 5:22; Luke 13:3; Luke 24:47;
Acts 3:19; Luke 17:3; Proverbs 29:17; 2 Timothy 3:16;
1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 10:24; Galatians 6:2.