As Gracious As I Might Be

“Enlarge the place of your tent, and let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings; do not spare; lengthen your cords, and strengthen your stakes. For you shall expand to the right and to the left, and your descendants will inherit the nations, and make the desolate cities inhabited” Isaiah 54:2-3

A Canadian pastor I know, Jonathan Bounds of The Word Church, Lloydminster, preached a sermon recently in which he talked about the wonderful times the Lord intends for us to share with one another. He commented that no one ever seems to be alone in Heaven. His remarks reminded me of stories I’ve heard friends tell about the fellowship they had in the Methodist Church when everyone’s families were young. They ate together and played games on Saturday nights. They raised their kids together and got one another through tough times. Those stories sound so nice to me. So pleasant, the memories and laughter.

Pastor Bounds also talked about people who suspect they are going to Hell and want to be all tough about it. These people say they’re happy to go to Hell. It will be one big party because all the fun people will be there. That’s a bold, but misguided view because there won’t be any parties in Hell. Everyone there will be alone in terrible, eternal loneliness. I’d never thought about it, but when Jonathan said it I knew it was true.

Another Canadian pastor, David McGrew of Keystone Victoria, preached an excellent sermon last summer called “Love is the Central Message”. In it he spoke of a dream in which he saw a large room in his heart, with sturdy floors, scuffed and well-worn, and venerable windows so impressive they “justified the wall”. The Lord showed Pastor McGrew that his great room of a heart can hold a lot of people. Apparently, we can carry many people in our hearts throughout our lives. His description of that room not only evoked pleasant imagery, it made me see Isaiah 54, a longtime favorite chapter, differently. Coherently. In focus.

In West With The Night, Beryl Markham wrote of her house in Elburgon, Kenya,

“Everything has been done – every material thing – to give this place the aspect of benignity, of friendship, of tolerance, and conviviality, but the character of a dwelling, like that of a man, grows slowly. The walls of my house are without memories or secrets, or laughter. Not enough of life has been breathed into them – their warmth is artificial; too few hands have turned the window latches, too few feet have trod the thresholds. The boards of the floor, self-conscious as youth or falsely proud as the newly rich, have not yet unlimbered enough to utter a single cordial creak.”

Mrs. Markham painted a picture not too different than Pastor McGrew’s, didn’t she?

Being by nature introverted, I recharge in quietness. But time alone is not the same as loneliness, which no one enjoys. If the Lord offers us anything in this new birth, He offers us a place to belong. Our own special place in His family, His kingdom. He offers solidarity with Himself and with one another. He offers friendship of the finest sort: “I have called you friends”. (John 15:15) He offers trust, not only inviting us to trust Him but explicitly trusting us. Under His trust we become trustworthy. Friendship works that way sometimes.

I’m warmed by memories of people I’ve carried in my heart, but the warmth chills a little when I think of some I let go of too soon. Some have slipped away, and I wish I’d held on better. I wish I’d kept in touch, even if it was just to let them know I was thinking of them. Many of these are ones who’ve gone on ahead, having forgiven my callousness. That’s the kind of people they are. They forgave, even though I didn’t ask.

So as one year closes and another dawns, and the time for resolutions rolls around, my own resolutions are pretty open-ended. Help me, Lord, to understand what it is to hold people in my heart. Help me catch myself when I’m not as gracious as I might be. Help me to repent quickly rather than letting a little callous form in that place. Help me be trustworthy. Always. Help me enlarge the room of my heart so that its walls are warmed by memories, secrets, and laughter.

I am not generous. I am not gracious. At least not by comparison to Him. But wouldn’t it be nice to be?

© Melissa Kay Simonds

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