Poem: In the Bleak Midwinter by Christina Georgina Rossetti

Kep Guarding the Sheep, by Beatrix Potter

Kep Guarding the Sheep, by Beatrix Potter

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

by Christina Georgina Rossetti, 1830-1894

Until You Can Forgive, You Cannot Truly Love

Edgar Degas, 1834-1917, France.

Edgar Degas, 1834-1917, France.

My Darling Child,

So many things will happen in your life that will be difficult, if not impossible, to forgive. Some of the people I’ve trusted most implicitly have betrayed my confidence, wrongfully judged me, or simply were not spiritually mature enough to comfort and counsel me through my struggles.

Someday, when you are married, your spouse will hurt your feelings more than you ever thought possible. Someday, you’ll realize that your mother isn’t actually as wise or comforting as you once believed I was when you were a child, and I will disappoint you.

Everyone who your heart puts on a pedestal will eventually fall. The higher the pedestal – the deeper your trust – the bigger the agonizing crash will be.

Sometimes, you’ll have to let go of people and discontinue friendship with them. Sometimes – while you may forgive them – you cannot trust them or feel comfortable with them again. Other times, you will love the offending person very much, and be deeply invested in your relationship with them. During these times, the grace and skill of forgiveness is a vital necessity.

I call forgiveness a “grace,” because true forgiveness is a power given to you by Christ through the Holy Spirit. It is not something you can usually muster on your own, especially for serious hurts. I call forgiveness a “skill,” because forgiveness takes a lot of time, effort, and practice. Sometimes, even if your forgiveness is genuine and thorough the first time, you’ll find that your injured heart still aches, and you’ll have to forgive that person again, and again, and again, and again.

My Darling Child, we cannot genuinely love each other by sweeping hurt feelings under a rug, or pretending that bad things never happened. We cannot un-say cruel words by trying really hard to forget them. Time doesn’t really heal all wounds. Often, time lets wounds fester and grow even more painful and deep than they were to begin with.

The apostle Paul described love quite beautifully in his letter to the Corinthians:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-8b

True love desires a relationship to heal, grow, strengthen, and endure. A relationship cannot do any of these things if it is haphazardly bandaged together with lies, denial, and false pretenses of happiness. True love desires to be joyful – not merely content – in a relationship. True love wants to blossom and thrive, not stagnate in a limbo where we avoid touchy topics, fake our smiles, awkwardly force cheery greetings, and pretend to be sad when we part company.

But forgiveness is hard. Often, you will find that you cannot bring yourself to forgive even the people you love most dearly. That is because forgiveness is not a natural thing to do. Our instincts tell us to stay hurt, hold the offending party at arms length, and wallow in our justifiable indignation. Our gut tells us to demand an apology, to punish the offender for being so offensive, and to remind them again and again of how disappointed we are in them.

I will not lie; I have a great deal of trouble forgiving loved ones for deeply hurt feelings. That is how I know that in order to forgive – really forgive – we must ask God to heal our hearts and empower us to forgive like Him. How amazing it would be, if even on the brink of death we could plead, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!”

Forgiveness isn’t a feeling you can muster like you would a positive attitude. It’s not a pill you manage to swallow with enough effort and water despite gagging. Forgiveness is a miracle! Thus love – genuine love which entails continual forgiveness – is an even greater miracle.

As I mentioned before, the pains of already-forgiven wounds may sting for years after the fact. You may hear insults ringing in your ears long after they’re spoken, and your mind replay and reconsider painful memories until they bleed afresh. Pray through it. Read the Bible through it. Rely on Jesus Christ, the Lord of Forgiveness, to endow you with the power to install forgiveness – not just as a one time act – but as an all-consuming, character-defining lifestyle, that heals your wounded heart, stills your restless soul, and brings you peace and fulfilling joy.

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” ~ Colossians 1:11-14

Don’t Be Afraid When They Love You Imperfectly

by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller

My Darling Child,

As I grow older, I have come to realize that love is a very rare and misunderstood thing. There are many people who will tell you that they love you who really don’t. Sometimes, such people are liars. Other times, they simply do not know what love is, or how to express it properly. There are also people, such as family members, who know that they’re supposed to love you, so they pretend that they do, but when you get in the way of their pride, selfishness, or desires, the true nature of their feelings is exposed.

I will always love you for as long as I am able, but even I – your parent – am an imperfect being. I may not always be around to tell you that you are loved. Someday, I may be too sick or weak to love you in the way that you deserve. Someday, I will die.

Do not be afraid when those you trust – those you love – love you imperfectly. Our hearts spiral towards entropy; friends lose touch, parents grow old, siblings quarrel, leaders betray, and husbands and wives fail one another continually.

When I was a child, my father did not love me. To some, that may seem like a shocking or unusual statement, but there are many, many fathers who do not love their children.

My father was abusive. He was addicted to his own anger and inflicting fear made him feel powerful and in control. In his private time, he collected pornography, and found secretive ways to leave it where I would find it. That was his way of controlling me. When my mother found porn saved on my computer, my father accused me of having unhealthy interests.

There are two kinds of love in this example; there is the false love of my father which was a warped facade, and there is the imperfect love of my mother, which was weak and compromising.

As much as she loved her child in her heart, my mother did not protect me from my father’s rage or perversion. Even when he hit me in front of her, or said obscene things, she did nothing. When I told her about violent, sexual, or emotional abuse, she did nothing. That is imperfect love; a love that is not strong enough to inspire courage, or deep enough to motivate action.

From a spiritual and emotional perspective, I was an orphan. Though I was young and naive, in a very dark and dangerous situation, I discovered hope and I clung to it.

I first realized that I was an orphan when I was 10 years old. That night, I stayed up late crying, and praying, and crying, and praying. I told God that the “stranger” in my house was not my real father, because he didn’t love me the way a father should. I asked God to be my real father, to be my daddy, to adopt me. I knew that if I were to love this “stranger” who pretended to love me, I would end up like so many other children taking drugs, committing suicide, or getting pregnant when I was 13.

I challenged God. I prayed, “You said, ‘Blessed are those who weep.’ Here I am God! I am weeping now.”

And God answered my prayer. After hours of crying, all in an instant, I was filled with a peace – filled with a knowing – that I was loved.

So, My Darling Child, do not be afraid when friends betray you, when loved ones hurt you, or even when you parents fail miserably in their love for you. There is a God – there is a Love – that is greater than all the hearts of the human race combined. He will never leave you or forsake you. He will never forget you or fail you. He is constant and true. He is your Daddy.

Do not let your heart rely too much on human love. At the same time, do not close your heart up to it. Understand that it is fleeting, it is imperfect, and it ebbs and flows. If you anchor your heart in it, it will eventually give way, and you will be set adrift. Anchor your heart in Jesus Christ, for He is your foundation, your solid ground, and your shelter amid the storm of life.