When I was 20, my family – parents, brother, sister and I – went ‘back to the old country’ for a visit. It was a joy to see my grandparents again, and we had some fun visiting relatives, especially my aunt and uncle who lived in the city. The best part for me, though, was our week by the Adriatic Sea.
We stayed in a guest house – basically a Bed & Breakfast – just off the beach. Every night, the band at a nearby hotel sang the Boney M song “By the Rivers of Babylon”. I like Boney M, their songs have a great beat, they’re very danceable. My cousins and I went to the disco every night, and I carried on a mild flirtation with a darkly handsome broodingly intense Croatian. Every time I heard that song again, I remembered that summer holiday by the sea.
Many years later, I was surprised to discover that the lyrics for this song were taken from the Psalms. “By the rivers of Babylon, where we sat down, there we wept, when we remembered Zion” is from Psalm 137 and my favourite line “May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight here tonight” is from Psalm 19.
This past Sunday night, I got together with two friends for dinner, prayer and to plan our next Women’s Group study. Our conversation turned to the problems facing our church, current ones and past ones. They revolve around misunderstanding the work of the Holy Spirit, personality conflicts and different visions of ministry mandates. After a time of sharing our thoughts and concerns (i.e., complaining and judging), we caught ourselves, confessed these sins to each other, repented.
We moved from the dinner table to the living room, to pray and plan for next year’s study, and we talked about some of the women who were likely to attend. This of course elicited more critical discernment and, again, we caught ourselves in this normal but unChristlike behaviour.
Exasperated, our hostess picked up her copy of The Purpose Driven Life from a side table, flipped through and ended up at Day 20. Her jaw dropped, then she began to read about restoring broken relationships and the perfectly timed good advice from Pastor Rick Warren.
My friend admitted that she was upset with a woman at church, who had said something thoughtless to her son during the service. She felt she should say something to this woman, and went on to talk about similar incidents from the past – she had known this woman for 30 years. She recognized that missed opportunities to confront this woman had caused frustration and anger to build up and her current desire to lambaste the woman grew out of this cauldron of unaddressed emotion.
As we read and talked, we each shared similar stories from our own lives. At the heart of it was the question of motivation. Why did we want to do it? Was it the right thing to do? Was it speaking the truth in love or venting? Would it help the other person in some way? What purpose would it serve?
By the end of the evening, we had learned some important truths about ourselves. We realized that we still had a lot of ‘growing up’ to do. And we decided to use Rick Warren’s book and teaching series “What on Earth am I here for?” (an updated version of The Purpose Driven Life) in our Women’s Study group next year as part of that process, for ourselves and our sisters in Christ.
I love that book and this story. Have you heard Jimmy Cliff’s version of that song? From maybe 40 years ago. It was from a movie about his life called, The Harder They Come – the whole album is beautiful. Anyway, I am trying to simply tell the Holy Spirit about these kinds of feelings rather than confront the offending person. It will do no good whatsoever to share my upset with them, as they are not likely to understand and certainly won’t feel good about me afterward. It is very hard to keep things to oneself, that’s why confessing it to God is the best solution. I really like Pastor Warren, who has been through a lot.
Now I’m curious about Jimmy Cliff’s version of the song. Will see if I can find it on YouTube. I have such a depth of compassion for the Warrens with the loss of their son to suicide, and the simple authentic way they live out their faith. Do nothing in haste and when emotions are high is my rule of thumb. For me the challenge is to back away from any confrontation, then let the resentment fester, and that’s not healthy. The fact is, God knows everything and he can take it when we yell, cry and wrestle it out before him.