Throwing Stones Naturally
“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” John 8:10
I reached over to pick up my squealing 1 year old granddaughter, Malia, and tried to calm her piercing, high-pitched squeals, “No, no! That hurts Nana’s ears! No squealing.” I put on my sternest face and tried to communicate with her. She waved her chubby arms and squealed again, setting my ears on edge. I put her down and mumbled, “I’m going to have to put you in time out.” My two year old granddaughter, Olivia, immediately perked up, “Time out? She’s too little!”
“No, she is not going into time out,” I explained. “She is too little. You are right. Nana is just trying to figure out what to do to help her understand.”
As the evening continued, Malia screamed over and over, communicating her frustration and fatigue in the only way she knew how. Each time, Olivia would ask (rather gleefully, I might add…) “Is she going in time out now?” I had to chuckle and told her over and over, “No, she’s too little,” kicking myself for mumbling something I didn’t mean in front of an attentive 2 year old.
Judgement, righteousness, rules, boundaries, the difference between right and wrong—it’s where it all starts. We begin to learn this from Day 1 with our parents and grandparents and others cooing over our successes and—hopefully—setting appropriate boundaries to guide us.
The flip side of the coin of life is mercy, compassion and unconditional love. These attributes do not come to reside in us unbidden. We must invite them into our hearts each day. Our natural tendency is toward gleeful enforcement of the law: I’m right, you are wrong; I’m good, you are bad; I’m going to heaven, you will cook in hell.
Jesus came to teach us a new way, not to abolish right and wrong and not to deny that God is a Just God, but to complete the picture, to fill in some of the details that were not fully presented in the picture of the Old Testament God. As a whole Book, the Bible starts with “In the beginning” and ends with “I am the Alpha and Omega,” and in between paints a multi-faceted picture of a God who loves humanity, who created us for relationship with him, who longs to restore us to a life of wholeness; he is a God who suffers when we stray and who stands waiting, with open arms for us to come home, come home, “ye who are weary, come home.”
It’s easy to point our fingers, to shout with glee when others get what they deserve. I’m so glad God doesn’t treat me as my sins deserve. I’m so glad I have found in Jesus the God who forgives my sins even as he hangs on a cross, suffering, this God of mercy looks over at the murderer and speaks words of tenderness, “Even today.” Because of his love I can only hope to try to treat others with the same compassion and tenderness.
But it is not something that grows naturally in the Garden of my Heart. There the twin trees of Judgement and Righteousness grow and thrive. The plantings of Love and Mercy struggle along, frequently overshadowed and shaded by the other two. Love and Mercy require daily tending, gentle pruning, weeding out the strident tentacles the other two boisterously put forth. In great humility, I see that only with Jesus’ tender hands guiding mine can I hope to cultivate the Fruit of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness and Self-control—these beautiful fruit will grow in abundance with daily attention—but if I skip a day or two, suddenly Judgement and Righteousness reach over and cast a shadow. When that happens, I am still planted in God’s garden, but my beauty is small, my ability to spread the fragrant odor from the beautiful Fruit of the Spirit is stifled and choked.
Richard Rohr talks about living well in the second half of life. “As we move into the second half of life, …we are very often at odds with our natural family and the ‘dominant consciousness’ of our cultures…Many people are kept from mature religion because of the pious, immature, or rigid expectations of their first-half-of-life family.” (Falling Upward, pp 82-83). Whether our family is biological, church-related, adopted, social—we can either be encouraged to tend the tender parts of our garden of the Spirit or to simply default to the stuff that grows easily there.
Yes, Olivia, your little sister deserves time-out. She is not perfect. But I will not treat her as her screeches deserve; because my heart is full of compassion and mercy for her, so I will keep training and directing and guiding her with love and kindness, following the direction of the Spirit who lives in my heart. I will not throw stones. The stones that so readily fill my hands, I will give to the Master.