Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Restitution Story

Most of my regular readers know that this blog is an expression of repentance, and some also remember me saying that this site was birthed after a very important event took place in my life one year ago. It was at this time last year, I embraced the very serious sin of anger.

My anger was an unholy reaction against another's sin. For seven months, I marinated in my anger. I was angry with a brother in Christ. But moreso, I was angry with God. Each day was like another brick that I placed in the wall I had built between myself and God. I wanted to repent. I tried to repent. But I simply couldn't do it. I cried out to God, every day, begging Him to take the anger away because I was powerless to do it on my own. But every day, God was silent. Then one day, God reached down, embraced my broken spirit, and healed me. It was then I was able to repent.

I once read somewhere, "How do you know when a thief has repented? Is it when he stops stealing? On the contrary, a thief stops being a thief when he not only stops stealing, but starts giving." This is what repentance is. It isn't simply the discontinuance of sin. It's actually turning around and doing the opposite of that sin. God had given me the grace to repent, but He also gave me a test of that repentance.

I was given the task of making restitution: God commanded me to pay a specific sum of money for a period of exactly seven months to the brother who had caused my pain. The joy God placed in my heart and the compassion I felt for my brother in Christ was so completely opposite from what I had been previously feeling, I almost couldn't believe this was real. I called my pastor, told him what God had instructed me to do, and my pastor in turn made arrangements for my restitution to be anonymous. With one simple phone call, the plan had been put in motion. That Sunday morning after Thanksgiving, I would turn in my first check.

There are no words to describe the joy I felt in being given such an opportunity to reverse my seven months of hatred by turning them into seven months of blessing. For several days, I was walking on air, imagining the look on the brother's face when he discovered the blessing, just in time for the holidays. I knew my brother in Christ needed this money, and with no way of knowing it had come from me, He'd have no one to thank but our good and gracious Lord. And so the disrespect I had previously showed God had now become an opportunity to see Him glorified. It was the most amazing assignment He has ever given me.

I continued to send the checks, but during the sixth month, something began to disturb me. It suddenly dawned on me that my concept of restitution did not exactly match up with the situation. I began to question if what I was doing was really a command from God or just my imagination. Trying to make sense of it all, I searched for any reputable articles on restitution I could find (there aren't many out there). Basically, this is all I could conclude:

The word restitution literally means "to make whole." Restitution is commanded of a person who has stolen from another individual. The theft can be tangible, as in the case when someone takes another's property, or it can be intangible. Examples of intangible theft include slander (theft of one's reputation), murder (theft of one's life), and fraud (theft of one's trust). The theft may have been unintentional, nevertheless, restitution must be paid. (Click here for Scripture references.)

I had not sinned against this brother. I had sinned against The Lord. It didn't make sense to me why I was making restitution to the brother, and not to God. I suppose one could argue that all the times I discussed the situation with others, it was slander -- but it really wasn't so much slander as it was me trying to process and make sense of my pain. I was given someone's word and it wasn't kept. I had been defrauded, and my ability to trust had been stolen from me. In fact, the more I read what the Bible had to say about restitution and how it should be applied, the more confused I became. "Why am I paying for sin that was committed against me?" Before I could finish my question, I felt The Lord gently impress upon my heart: "Because my child, that is precisely what I did for you."

I approached God about this matter, and said, "Father forgive me, but I just don't understand. My sin was against you, not my brother in Christ. And from what You describe in the Scriptures, it almost sounds as though he should be making restitution to me! So why am I paying him? Why am I paying for sin that was committed against me?"

Before I could finish my question, I felt The Lord gently impress upon my heart: "Because my child, that is precisely what I did for you."

In that single moment, I was broken all over again. Never did I think it would get better than it did in the first month, when I experienced the glee of being able to bless a person that deep down, I didn't hate at all. Never did I think it could get better than knowing I had been freed from the sin of anger and have it replaced with a desire for reconciliation. But it did get better, once I realized that in addition to everything God bestowed on me through this experience: love, joy, and forgiveness; He also gave me an opportunity to partake in His sufferings through a mimicry of His gesture of love toward me.

This past Sunday, I turned in my seventh and final restitution check. My only regret is that my assignment is over. The beauty of this experience has gripped me in a way that I could not have foreseen back in November. We serve such an amazing, compassionate, indescribably gracious God. There are no words to express the awe of knowing His Spirit is actually dwelling within me. In times like these, when I am faced with the unending depth of God's love for me, I can hardly believe I was ever angry with another human being. The irony of the situation is that the compassion I have for my brother in Christ now exists on a far more profound level than before the sin occurred. Only a God as amazing as ours could not only reverse the effects of sin, but actually turn it for a thing of glory.

Surely, He makes all things work together for good.

5 comments:

Geraldine said...

I love this Jen:
"The irony of the situation is that my love and respect for my brother in Christ now exists on a far more profound level than before the sin occurred. Only a God as amazing as ours could not only reverse the effects of sin, but actually turn it for a thing of glory." - Praise God!I love it when we go through something difficult and as we seek God in it He indeed will turn it for a thing of glory and work toward our sanctfication! Profound and mysterious a thing it is. I love to see how God works in people :-)

Kurt said...

Beautiful testimony Jen. Your obedience to the Lord is a great example we should all follow. To top it off, I love how you began to question God why you were doing this and then for Him to reveal that it was similar to what He has done for you. God made restitution with you, through Jesus Christ.

Ah, amazing grace, how sweet the sound!

Sammybunny said...

Thank you so much for sharing this, Jennifer! I cannot tell you how profoundly this blessed my heart! I have been in similar situations where others hurt me deeply but I tend to get not only angry but insecure and extremely anxious after such events. God can truly turn every situation to good if we yield to His Spirit's leaning. I loved this post! Our God is amazing and a God of profound wonder.

Alana said...

This is so beautiful!

It reminds me of a story I read about St. Seraphim of Sarov, who, after getting his back broken when beat up by thieves, told the thieves that he would do their pennance for them and he carried, on his pain-filled back, an iron cross for the rest of his life. Meanwhile this act brought about repentance in the thieves, who lived out their lives in repentance and reconciliation to God, as well.

Betsy Markman said...

Thanks so much for linking to this article. I'm glad to have read it, and it gives me some things to chew on. It's a wonderful testimony.