Recently a friend of mine, Karen "Girl" Friday, shared a post on linked-in which included a picture of a cross and this prayer, "Lord, place the cross and the blood of Jesus between me and the enemy, and between me and difficult people and circumstances. There's nothing your redemptive blood doesn't cover. And there's nothing it can't redeem. In Jesus Name. Amen." Her post reminded me of an experience I had many years ago, and of my own Reconciliation Cross....
Years ago I was serving a church and there was one particular individual, who for some reason, I was having great trouble getting along with. Our personalities were different and it seemed that on almost every issue that came before the church we were at odds. The tension kept growing until one day, after I had made a proposal at a meeting of the Church Council, this individual asked (in an angered tone), "What stupid idiot, came up with this idea?" (Everyone present knew what stupid idiot he was talking about!) That was it; I knew that we not only had differences but that he was "out to get me!" The tension between us grew and eventually became so great that I started trying to avoid him. It got to the point that if I even thought about this individual I found myself becoming tense, angry, and anxious. Then one night, before a church-wide dinner, I decided I needed to spend some time in prayer. But as I tried to pray, this individual's face kept coming into my mind's eye. I thought, "Great, now this guy is even ruining my prayer life!" But after several attempts to clear my mind, I finally said, "Lord, is there something you are trying to tell me about John (not his real name)? With that prayer I began to see, in my mind's eye, the face of John with the image of a cross cast between us. (This was one of the few true "mystical" experiences I have had in my life.) And as I gazed at the face of John through the image of the cross I clearly heard these words, "You are not loving John as I love John. You do not love John through the power of the cross!" With these words resounding in my mind; my body went almost limp. I realized that I had been "wound very tight" and as I heard these words it was almost as if my spirit and my body were being released and I began to "unwind" much like a rubber band that had been twisted, then released. I took several deep breathes and said, "Thank you Lord" and just sat there for a few minutes pondering what had just happened. Finally, I was able to "gather myself" and proceeded to the church dinner.
At dinner that night, I intentionally went to sit by John (which took him by great surprise). I asked him questions, "How is it going with you? How is your family?" He wasn't quite sure how to respond; but it was a beginning, and over the next few weeks I began to reach out to him in an attempt to let him know that I cared. Then, one day, I felt led to call him. When he answered I simply said, "John, I know there has been tension between you and me, and if there is anything I have done that has been offensive or hurtful to you I would like for you to share that with me." He was hesitant, but with some encouragement he began to share. He shared one thing, then another. Each time he began to stop I asked, "Is there anything else?" It took a while for him to say everything he had to say. But when he was done I simply said, "Thank you for sharing that with me; I'm going to be sincerely praying about the things you have shared."
My relationship with John begin to improve, gradually, but then one day I received a phone call; I was told that John's daughter (in her 20's) had been tragically killed by her husband in a accidental shooting. I immediately went to John's house. We hugged, cried, prayed; he and his wife were obviously in tremendous shock and pain. I was honored (and a little bit surprised) when, a few days later, I was asked to do the funeral. It was a time when I was able to extend comfort, support, and care. It was a time, through tragedy, that our relationship began to heal in significant ways.
About a year later, I was called to move to a new church. The day before we were to move (with boxes still all around us) John came by to say goodby to me and my wife. He told me how sorry he was for the "rocky relationship" we had at first and how he appreciated my attempts to reach out to him. He thanked me for being with him in a time of tremendous grief and need. And then, he said he wanted to give me a gift (John was a craftsman); it was a cross (pictured above) with an embroidered cross and flame at the center (the contribution of his wife). He had no idea that the thing that had turned our relationship around was that I had been encouraged, by the Lord, to begin seeing him through the eyes of the cross. I could only say, "Thank you" and sit in stunned silence as I pondered how the Lord had brought this relationship "full circle."
I have had that cross now for 40 years. It is hanging on the wall in my office; and every time I have a misunderstanding with someone, I look at that cross and remind myself that "through Christ, no relationship is beyond repair." To be honest, there was a time when I would have said that the wounds were too deep; John and I would never be friends. But I was wrong. There is power in the cross and the blood of Jesus that is beyond our ability to comprehend.
Dr. Allen Schneider is a United Methodist pastor and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist presently serving the Sapulpa and greater Tulsa communities.