The poet sings, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
I remember my grandfather as a man of gentleness and grace. When I walked into a room, his eyes would light up. He showed his affection with a warm pat then a rub of the forearm, followed by a gentle squeeze; we still call it ‘The Snell Pat’. He always had projects on the go, and would potter around humming “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” while he worked; every now and then, he’d break into full song.
Grandpa loved to share little treats. When grandma brought out the Violet Crumbles, which she did most days, he acted surprised and delighted Every. Single. Time. He would rub his hands together in glee and thank her warmly, before sharing and savouring that honeyed sweetness.
He and grandma were very faithful. Each morning, they prayed for every child and grandchild, then a zillion other people. Whenever we stayed, we would join them for prayer and devotions after breakfast; it was, of course, excruciatingly boring. In later years, grandma developed dementia. Grandpa’s patience was sorely tried, but he stuck with her. Day in day out he sat by her side, holding her hand, patting her arm, and patiently coaxing her to eat even as she lost memory, then intelligence, then speech, movement, and finally any alertness to the world at all. The staff of the aged care home praised his patience and gentleness. But he hadn’t always been gentle.
My grandfather had had a hard life scarred by early traumatic disruption and loss. Perhaps because his own world felt so disordered, he took refuge in a harsh fundamentalism: a way of being Christian bound by rules, behavioural codes and physical discipline. “Those who spare the rod hate their children, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them,” says a Biblical proverb (13:24); so he punished his beloved daughter, my mother, whenever she ‘sinned’ with a beating or even a belting.
I don’t know quite when or how he changed. Perhaps it was when he had his first heart attack; perhaps it was more gradual than that. Whatever, as he grew older there was both reflection and reckoning.
And then this. One day, grandpa and grandma invited my parents to come and speak with them, alone. There, to my parents’ utter surprise, my grandparents apologised for the things they had done. “If we had known better,” they said, “we would have done things differently. We acted wrongly, and we are sorry.” My mother came back weeping, the whole relationship changed.
Grandpa had been such a rigid and domineering man, even in his faith; but so many years of following Jesus had gradually changed his heart. In this profound act of repentance, he showed deep humility and self-giving love, opening up new possibilities for forgiveness and peace.
I often think about this sacred story, handed down to me by my mother so many years ago; and of the gentle loving grandfather I knew and loved so much. And I think of my younger self. Like grandpa, I used to feel safer when things were rigid and rule-bound; I used to react strongly when those rules were threatened or disrupted; and sometimes I still do.
But this story helps me question my reliance on rules. It teaches me to take responsibility for my fear and anger, and for when I fail as a parent. It shows me that it’s never too late to admit mistakes and try a different way. And it encourages me always, always, always, above every rule or behavioural code, to seek the path of love. Because I want to be the person whose eyes light up when you walk into the room; I want to be remembered for gentleness and grace. Ω
Reflect: When has somebody made a significant apology to you? Alternatively, is there somebody you feel called to apologise to? How will you do it freely, humbly, without expectation of return? Pray about this.
What is this? Lent is the 40 days, excluding Sundays, before Easter. Traditionally it is a time of reflection and pilgrimage. To help you on this journey, Sanctuary has put together 40 stories from people both within and beyond the congregation, with associated questions for reflection and prayer. A reading will be uploaded every day of Lent. This year’s theme is Fruit of the Spirit. Why? Read this. #Lent2022. Real People, Real Stories: 40 Readings for Lent © Sanctuary, 2022.
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