A Word of Grace to Start Your Day
Written by: Kent Hansen (lawyer)
It was a blessing to receive so many responses to last week’s message about the conversation between my friend and colleague YY and me. A number of these commented on the following observation: “I have read well-intentioned books and attended seminars on workplace witness. They usually have all the relevance of training in skeet-shooting before embarking on an ornithology tour of the rain forest. Life takes its authenticity from being lived as it is, not being described as it should be.”
What do I mean by this? Relationships in God’s family are built by living life together, not by formulas. Eugene Peterson catches the sense of this in his paraphrase of Romans 12:1-2 in The Message: “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life– your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life– and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.”
In keeping with that idea, and what I have experienced of this in my life as a lawyer, I am sending out a message from years ago about another law office experience. I hope it blesses you.
A local businessman sent me a client. He asked me to see her. He said, “She’s in trouble and can use a lawyer.” That was all.
She came to see me on a stormy Tuesday afternoon–a waif in a wet, over-sized raincoat.
Her head hung down. Her responses to my initial questions were monosyllabic. She was twenty-something and scared, obviously depressed. The scenario developed slowly and painfully.
“So, why do you need to see an attorney?”
“I stole money at work.”
“Where do you work?”
“Oh. What do you do at the bank?”
“I’m an assistant manager.”
“How much did you take?”
“The audit found $10,000.”
“What happened then?”
“Bank security talked to me. I’ve been suspended.”
“Did they tell you what they are going to do next?”
“They told me they would contact me.”
“I’m sure they will.”
She kept her head down as she answered. There was no eye contact.
“Is that all the money you took?”
“Anything you tell me here is privileged. I can help you only if you are honest with me. Are the auditors going to find more money missing?”
“How much more?”
“Believe me, the bank is not going to overlook $40,000.00. Why did you take it?”
“I was angry.”
“Angry at whom?”
“Pretty much everyone. Nobody cared at work. Nobody listened at home. So I just took it.”
“Do you still have the money?”
She shook her head “No.”
“What did you do with it?”
“I spent it on stuff.”
“A car, clothes, paying off credit cards.”
“What does your husband have to do with this?”
“He doesn’t know and he couldn’t care less.” Tears begin to run out of her large brown eyes. With her head tilted down, they rolled off her nose and on to the rain coat.
“Hey,” I asked, “what’s really going on with you?” I pushed a box of Kleenex across the desk to her.
Her story began to dribble out in the gasped pauses between sobs.
She had been released from a psychiatric hospital that morning where she’d been admitted after a suicide attempt.
There was post-traumatic stress from a sexual assault. Her parents and husband blamed her for the rape. She had suffered a miscarriage. Her marriage was breaking up. She was angry and broken and ashamed. Taking the money was an act of raging, self-destruction.
After a while her voice just trailed off and she stared at the carpet.
“OK,” I said. “You do need an attorney, but it needs to be a criminal defense specialist. The bank’s money is federally insured. The FBI is going to be involved. I am a business lawyer and I don’t handle criminal cases. I’ll need to refer you to another attorney. OK?”
“Your best chance is to cut a deal with the prosecutor based on first offense and restitution. The criminal attorneys know the prosecutors and can talk to them. I’ll call one right now.”
I looked up a number and reached for the phone. A Bible verse came into my mind: “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you….” (Acts 3.6).
I tried to shove the Word out of my mind, but the Holy Spirit was insistent. I saw with clarity what the verse meant. The “silver and gold” in this case was legal representation. What I had to offer was God. I prayed silently in my heart. “Father, I can’t represent this woman, but I know You. Will you help her?”
Replacing the phone receiver, I asked, “Do you have any kind of spiritual background?”
“I went to church when I was a little girl.”
“Look, I can’t represent you, but I want to tell you about someone who can help you. You’ve done something here that I haven’t done, but I’ve done things that hurt people and made me feel really bad. But I found that God loves me and forgives me and no matter what the consequences of what I’ve done He’ll meet them with me. Is it okay with you to talk about this for a while?”
She looked up at me for the first time and nodded, “Yes.”
“You will likely go to jail. The FBI may come and arrest you at your home and take you away in handcuffs in front of your neighbors. But you know what? God promises that he’ll be there with you every step of the way. He’ll go to jail with you. He’ll go to court with you. Nothing can separate you from his love, Nothing!”
I reached in the bookcase behind my desk and pulled out a Bible. “There was a man named David,” I told her. “The Bible talks a lot about him and contains many of his own prayers and songs. His boss, the king, turned on him and when he was a fugitive on the run, hiding in a cave. He prayed this prayer:
With my voice I cry to the Lord;
with my voice I make
supplication to the Lord.
I pour out my complaint before him;
I tell my trouble before him.
When my spirit is faint,
you know my way.
In the path where I walk
they have hidden a trap for me.
Look on my right hand and see–
there is no one who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
no one cares for me.
I cry to you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”
Give heed to my cry,
for I am brought very low.
Save me from my persecutors,
for they are too strong for me.
Bring me out of prison,
so that I may give thanks to your name.
The righteous will surround me,
for you will deal bountifully with me.
“Is this how you feel right now? Trapped and no one cares whether you live or die? God cares. He will hold your hand through this, through all the shame and the punishment. On the other side is a whole family of his children that will love and support you. That’s what David meant when he said, after I get out of this prison ‘ The righteous will surround me, for you (that’s God) will deal bountifully with me’ (that’s you).”
“You know how he does this?,” I asked her.
“God’s Son, Jesus Christ, came to earth and became a human, lived and died as one of us, and went through everything we go through. The authorities condemned Jesus to die and he died for the sins of every other human including you and me so that through him we are forgiven and can live with Him forever in heaven. Jesus described it this way: ‘ For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life’ (John 3:16)”
“Once we know, really know in here (I pointed to my heart) that we are loved and we will live forever in that love, we can face anything, even death. One of Jesus’ first followers Paul said that God would not hold back anything to save us, even his Son. Jesus willingly took all the condemnation dumped on us and absorbed it. No matter what we have done, no matter what is done to us, Jesus will not stop loving us or leave us.
Here is what Paul wrote: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.’ Now listen closely, ‘ For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:35-39).
I closed the Bible and asked her, “Do you understand what I am telling you? Do you believe this?”
The tears flowed down her cheeks as she nodded “Yes.”
We sat in silence. Outside my window, traffic sloshed through the intersection of Sixth and Main and the wind whipped the leaves of the Lemon Gum trees. Inside, our hearts could sense the breath of heaven exhaling in release.
I picked up the phone again to arrange for defense counsel. She reached across my desk and picked up my Bible. She leafed through it as I talked to the other attorney.
When I was through with the call, I asked her, “Would you like to have that Bible.”
She was surprised. “You would give me your Bible?”
“Yes, if you want it.”
“I do. Thank you.”
“Here, let me write out where you can find the verses that I read to you. Please go home and read them again for yourself.”
We went over the information for the appointment with her counsel. We stood. I gave her a hug. “Everything I told you today is true,” I said.
“I know that,” she said.
Months later she sent me a card with this message:
“I want to thank you for what you have done for me….I have been doing better these past days. I met with the FBI. My lawyer was there. He is a great lawyer. But like you said, lawyers, judges, and people could not really help. It’s just praying to God who could help and to believe in him. He said during our times of trial is when he carries us. God bless you.”
She went on through a fine and imprisonment into a new life with a restored marriage and two children.
If I live to be a hundred, and throughout eternity, I will never tire of the thrill of glimpsing God at work, pouring oil on wounds, breathing life into tired bodies, healing and cleansing hearts broken and soiled beyond recognition by bad choices. “Come to me,” he whispers. “Come to me tired, oppressed soul, thrashing about without peace or hope, and I’ll take over and give you rest.” This is a standing invitation. Accepting it is everything.
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him (Psalm 34:8)
Under the mercy of Christ,
P.S. This story was published in my book Grace At 30,000 Feet and Other Unexpected Places (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2002).
P.S. If you wish to continue to receive this weekly meditation, simply send an email to me at email@example.com with the word “subscribe.”
Comment by Julia Tyack after reading the above:-
There is a validness, a ringing true to the type of person Jesus was, the nature of his public appearances and his passionate message. Breech: “Jesus was the first narrator to tell non-didactic, non-moralizing, fictional, realistic, narratives in order to reveal the truth about actual human existence.” … In our postmodern era, death is thought to be ultimate and therefore it is pointless to attempt to live in story.
The usual preference for those who regard death as “God” is for an episodic or picaresque mode of existence. … Breech goes on to say that Jesus believed and demonstrated that death is not ultimate but the power that sustains human life as persons is “God”. … Having revealed the personal mode of human existence, Jesus continues to live on in unending story.”
Then there is Stephen Mitchell who writes of Jesus’s mode of existence as being consistent with his stories and most inconsistent with writings that are uncharacteristic. “People can feel Jesus’ radiance whether or not he is teaching or healing; they can feel it in proportion to their own openness. There is a deep sense of peace in his presence, and a sense of respect for him that far exceeds what they have felt for any other human being. Even his silence is eloquent. He is immediately recognizable by the quality of his aliveness, by his disinterestedness and compassion. He is like a mirror for us all, showing us who we essentially are.” In our fundamentalist days this Jesus did not shine through. He was buried in heaps of tradition, law, and fear. The pearl of great price was a mystery and often seemed more like something one pays for with good deeds for future escape. What an awakening that we experience this presence, eloquence, aliveness by entering into living this life, this day, this moment in story. A story with no preconditions, effort, it is just there needing no external rules – just in your heart and in your mouth. The amazing thing is to live in such story and to appreciate and allow other’s stories just as they are. A lady told me today that she loves debt collecting and other negotiating for a large government department because she knows what it is to live in story. When she enters into another’s story without judgment or censure that changes the whole relationship and outcomes are just the consequence.
We look at what is right in front of us. In the Q research – why did this person say one thing and others say that he said something that means the very opposite? Why was there that early version of the gospel with a certain tone and then a follow-up version with an entirely different tone? Why did Paul say things that contradict entirely the things that Jesus said? For example in one of the Seminar books it is noted that in Matt.5 Jesus says – love your enemies, then a few chapters later he is damning those who rejected him to hell. Well, which is it?
A Word from Herb Sorensen
More than 30 years ago I learned two things:
- There is a great, good God.
- He is on my side; for us, not against us.
The terrors of hell receded when I knew that if it was to be hell for me, God knew it was the best for me. This gave me great peace because I knew that I could trust him, even, and especially, with the final disposition of my soul. And I don’t think I have learned anything more, since.