umbrella love

This past week was a difficult one, as my family laid my 95-year-old mother to rest. I was blessed to be able to give a “memorial talk” about Mom at her funeral mass, and I shared with the audience who she was in Christ. I talked about how Mom’s life was defined by self-sacrifice. She raised eight kids, kept an immaculate house, helped my dad with farm work and took a third shift job at the local canning factory to make ends meet. Despite all that, it was one moment with mom years ago that I shared with the audience that I think best defines who she was in Christ.

I had taken mom to some event at a reception hall, I don’t remember what it was. I do remember it was raining and mom brought an umbrella that she left at the coat stand. As we were leaving, we discovered someone had taken her umbrella. I remember that I had an angry reaction. Someone took my mom’s umbrella and there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t get it back; I couldn’t berate the person and I couldn’t make them pay. Mom’s reaction was much different: “Well, I guess someone needs it more than I do.” She said nothing more and we headed to the car.

Mom’s reaction was Christ-like:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:38-42 (NIV)

Here, Jesus is warning against desiring retribution and in the episode above Mom followed His direction perfectly. I, on the other hand, wanted what author Paul Tripp calls “District Attorney Jesus.” I didn’t want to just trust that Jesus deals with these things. I wanted to see Jesus administer justice right then and there. Tripp would argue that I was wishing that God would make war with someone else on my behalf. Tripp says we need to trust God, even if we never see how He metes out justice:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21 (NIV)

Every desire to seek justice on our own grows from pride, the root of sin that produces all other toxic fruit of sin. We deserve to see justice served right now and we’re not going to trust Jesus with it. That’s pride and it’s dangerous. It wasn’t until I was preparing my comments about Mom that the incident with the umbrella came back to me. It wasn’t an exceptional moment in her life. Such behavior was the rule. And Tripp points out that we can’t be that way in our own power:

“None of us has the strength of character to live this way. Even the evil that is done to us exposes the depth of our need for God’s grace. Thankfully, that grace is yours for the taking!”

In that moment, Mom took God’s grace and shared it with a stranger she would never know. I didn’t. In this age of rapid response revenge, especially online, I felt it was more important than ever to share Mom’s lesson of umbrella love. I pray it blesses you the way it blessed me, even if it took me years to receive the message.

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