Note: As a writer, I seem to always have endless word documents pulled up with random illustrations on them, waiting for inspiration to hit me, turning it into full thoughts worthy of public consumption. Or at least not, too terrible. This is one of those that I’ve been tinkering with for a while and while knowing the caveat I needed to make, I couldn’t get the words to match. Until a few conversations took place via social media. I’m thankful for the community that shows up on my feed daily which encourages dialogue which prompts me to think deeply about important matters. So today, in lieu of a devotional, I’m just going to finish this piece. Thank you to the peeps on the Twitters who inspire me, especially those who added thoughts to this particular subject. *mwah*
I’ve been on a trip down memory lane, watching Party of Five for the past month or so. My inner teenage self can’t seem to make it through an episode without crying her eyes out, and the last episode I watched was nearly unbearable. It’s the wedding episode, where in the end, Charlie and Kirsten call off their wedding.
(PSA: It’s not technically a spoiler alert, when the show dates back to the 90’s.)
After the announcement has been made that no wedding will take place, the guests all leave, and in the final scene, Charlie is sitting alone outside. His younger brother Bailey, who usually rakes him over the coals, particularly over his failures with women, approaches.
Charlie: Go ahead and get it over with.
Bailey: Get what over with?
Charlie: You know, the lecture. Let me really have it, tear me apart, tell me I’ve lost her for good. Tell me how I’ve let you down, how I’ve let everyone down. Tell me how I’ve just ruined my life.
Bailey: Nah. You’re probably going to hear that from a lot of people so, you don’t need to hear it from me. I don’t always get you Charlie, sometimes you do things and well, I just don’t get you. But you know what? I’m gonna love you anyway, because you are my brother, and I think you could use someone on your side. So that’s me. I’m on your side. How about I just sit with you a little while, huh?
The scene ends with Charlie dropping his head to his hands and weeping, with Bailey just sitting next to him, one hand on his back. I sat there too, wiping tears away with Charlie and thinking about how I’ve been loved in the middle of failure and how Bailey got this one right.
Bailey, if you’re unaware, is the starry-eyed, dimple-faced, romantic younger brother. He can be a bit self-absorbed, but when it comes to love, he sacrifices without question and he’s often loyal to his own detriment. Charlie on the other hand, tends to be a womanizer who can’t seem to ever pass up a one-night stand. When he finally finds the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with, he freaks about tying himself down, and when he tries to fix it, finds that it’s too late.
Bailey has never been afraid to hit the man he looks up to with a good dose of law and on more than one occasion, calls Charlie out on his failure to be dedicated to one woman at a time. But not this time. Bailey knows (from a relational more than theological standpoint) that the law has already had its way with his big brother. After spending the day cleaning up his brother’s wedding mess, squaring away what was owed to the vendors, making apologies to both sides of the family, he’s had an all-day front row seat to the fall-out. Now seeing Charlie sitting alone in rented chairs that were never used, hearing him say he knows he deserves the lecture about how much pain he’s caused, Bailey withholds the word of the law and instead delivers gospel words. He sees that the one thing his brother needs now is someone who is “gonna love him anyway”. He chooses to sit with his brother in the literal mess he’s created and does not say a word.
I couldn’t help but take note of how much we need more of these kinds of responses in the body of Christ. Too often, we see someone confessing their failures and instead of being there with them in the pain they’ve brought upon themselves, we want to make sure that the consequences stick, so we hammer them again with a word of the law. You know what this is like, we’ve all had moments where we were kicked while we were down. It’s adding insult to injury and it’s the worst. I heard someone say the other day, “frankly, feeling like an unlovable loser has never helped anyone thrive in life.” That’s the absolute truth. Everyone on earth wants to get better, if they don’t, they probably need psychoanalyzing. But I’m pretty sure that no one has ever gotten better by being unloved.
Time. Out. One. Sec.
This is not to say that everyone in the situation can or should sit with Charlie the way that his younger brother chose to. His now ex-fiancé, crushed by Charlie’s issues, is not and should not be expected to have the same response that Bailey does. She’s clearly hurt by Charlie’s actions and is dismissed from the rest of the episode, and rightfully so. When we have been sinned against, it takes time to process, forgive, and reconcile with our offender, where it is possible, if it is appropriate. That is 100% on the victim’s time table, not the offender’s. It is in NO WAY a sign of faith or lack thereof, how the victim handles forgiveness on their end. Let’s too keep in mind that forgiveness and reconciliation are not synonymous. Forgiveness can occur without contact being made and in some cases, contact being made would do further harm to the victim.
Furthermore, it would be irresponsible to demand that everyone in every situation needs to respond in the same manner. Sometimes, our close proximity to the offender means delivering and upholding the law (confronting the offense and then allowing consequences to befall them) especially in the case where confession is not being made. By doing so, we simultaneously create safety for the one who’s been victimized, which is vital. Other times, when confession has been made and consequences rendered, it means sitting in the mess and “loving them anyway”.
Especially in cases of abuse, many are often concerned with “showing grace to the oppressor” sometimes, it seems, over concern for the victim. Our first concern should always be to the victim and we need to carefully evaluate how our actions might be causing more injury to them. It’s often our default to want the “playing field” leveled in the name of grace. This is an inappropriate resolution in these situations, given the fact that for abuse to occur, the power dynamic is uneven, always in favor of the oppressor. To make demands on victims to “demonstrate” anything, is to still allow the power dynamic to continue, in favor of the oppressor, furthering that abuse. That being said, I believe that showing grace to the oppressor does not look like dehumanizing them. This person, created in God’s image, has value and worth and we must not forget this, even while upholding the law. It doesn’t mean excluding them from the love of Christ nor removing all hope from them. It doesn’t mean that they should not have family or friends who can speak lovingly and honestly to them. Because, again, “feeling like an unlovable loser has never helped anyone thrive in life.” We should want to see abusers get better so that those cycles and patterns end, while understanding that in some cases, consequences can span up to a lifetime.
If we are not in close proximity to either the offender or the victim, then we do not play an immediate role. Instead, we are compassionate and prayerful from afar. The beauty of Law Gospel theology is the wisdom it takes to know what is needed in each situation, and with much self-awareness, delivering accordingly.
Time. In. Again.
The best that we can do for someone close to us, who is sitting in the consequences of their own disaster, is to sit next to them while they weep into their hands. Even better still, offering them our own tears in solidarity as one who knows what it is to be a human who royally screws up. Love them anyway.