“Anti-Pearls?”, I can just hear someone saying. “CSL, have you been at the barbecue sauce again?” I actually have something in mind, so bear with me. (And, no, I haven’t been hitting the BBQ sauce.)
We all know the little pearl analogies and homilies that are told ad nauseum. How God puts a piece of sand in an oyster, and how the sand is an irritant to the oyster. And we are told that the oyster immediately goes to work and begins to transform that irritant, that piece of gritty sand, into a beautiful pearl by covering it with layer after layer of nacre thus transforming it from miserable irritant to fine gem. Therefore, boys and girls, God gives you irritants in your lives so that you, too, can bring forth pearls in your life, in the form of good character. Thus endeth the lesson for this morning…. **
These nice little sermonettes are alright, as far as they go, but they are always a little short on the “how”, aren’t they? Oh, they are nice little object lessons, but other than a standard “be nice” type of response, there usually isn’t any explanation on “how to transform that irritant”, is there?
But I believe that the Bible actually does say how we can transform irritants into pearls. In Titus 2, we read,
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, v. 11-12,
For clarity, I’m going to redo this sentence, striking out extra clauses, in order to reduce it to its central statement, the simple subject, verb and predicate:
Forthe grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, andto live self-controlled, upright, andgodly lives in the present age,
“The grace of God has appeared, training us to live godly lives.”
“Okay, fine,” you might say, “turnabout is fair play. Where is the how?” My answer is that it lies in the nature of the Natural. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matt. 5:38-39 ESV)
There’s you “how” right there. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “It’s only natural”, used in all sorts of different situations over the span of your life. Well, what Jesus is saying is that we are to not be ‘natural’, but ‘supernatural’, instead.
Ages ago, I was having to fix a leak under our kitchen sink. I can’t remember what tool I was using, but the part that I was working on was stuck and I was pushing really hard, trying to force this part to budge, when suddenly the tool I was using slipped and hit me in the face. Instinctively, my first reaction was that I wanted to punch back; but after my brain kicked in, a half-second after the event, I realized that there was no one to hit, that I had been hit by my tool. However, that smack to my face had triggered a natural, instinctual reaction to retaliate. While there was no one to retaliate against, my first instinct upon being slapped was to seek retaliation. And it’s this instinct, our natural self, that Jesus calls us to resist, and grace helps with.
In any situation in which I have the opportunity to retaliate, whether it be emotionally, verbally, physically, etc., I have the choice to go with my ‘natural’ response, or to act (with the help of God’s grace) ‘supernaturally.’ By the Holy Spirit, God’s grace is offered to us in every situation, to enable us to overcome our ‘natural’ self. We are told “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life” (Eph. 4:22). It’s our choice; God doesn’t promise to take our old self from us. It’s our choice how to react, whether naturally or supernaturally, with God’s grace.
And it’s at this point that we choose to make pearls or anti-pearls.
Making pearls comes naturally to oysters; to people, not so much. Our natural inclination is to retaliate, and if we can’t retaliate, to hold onto our hurts and insults, nursing them into life in our souls. We call them ‘grudges.’ At the point in our lives where we receive irritants, God extends to us His grace to help us to ignore our Old Self and to choose to live supernaturally. You might ask, “Is something so simple as not firing a verbal missile when s/he misses my bat really living supernaturally?” If living “naturally” means that you would have fired a broadside but you didn’t, then yes, that’s living supernaturally, letting God’s grace train you.
But what happens when we don’t let grace train us? We live by our natures, and that’s not a pretty sight. In his wonderful tale of a daytrip vacation from Hell to Heaven, The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis has an incident in which a mother holds a grudge against God. At the beginning of her dialog, she tells her husband, “If He loved me why did He take away Michael from me? I wasn’t going to say anything about that. But it’s pretty hard to forgive, you know.”
As the dialog between the two continues, Lewis shows us something about the supposed “Mother Love”; instead her love is actually possession, and she has been wronged by God. She reveals her grudge this way:
Give me my boy. Do you hear? … I don’t believe in a God who keeps mother and son apart. I believe in a God of Love. No one has a right to come between me and my son. Not even God. Tell Him that to His face. I want my boy, and I mean to have him. He is mine, do you understand? Mine, mine, mine, for ever and ever.”
By Billy Bedamned Hangtree, she has rights, and God has violated her rights!
As they walk away, Lewis asks his guide about how things will end for her. His mentor tells him,
I do not know how her affair will end. But it may well be that at this moment she’s demanding to have him down with her in Hell. That kind is sometimes perfectly ready to plunge the soul they say they love in endless misery if only they can still in some fashion possess it.
This is the outcome of a grudge. A slight, a wrong, an injury, that is nourished and cherished becomes our identity. We will identify with our grudge, pampering it like a child. The grudge becomes our raison d’etre.
So, how do we actually grow “pearls” in our lives and not grudges? Much time needs to be dedicated to serious thought and examination; at the head of the list of things we need to ponder is whether our right to not be hurt is more precious to us than God and following Him? The question we need to grapple with is, “Am I serious in following Christ and living in the grace of God? Or have I merely adopted “American Evangelical” as my lifestyle?
(Seriously, folks, hie thee to a library, store, iBookstore or Kindle store and get The Great Divorce. There is SO much there!)
** Another simplistic illustration that gets bruited about is the Lemonade bromide. This is for a friend. :)