The gospel reading at Friends this past Sunday was Matthew 18:15-20. It’s an interesting passage because it advocates for a practice that has a complicated history in the Christian tradition, boundary making. The Bible, with its messages of radical inclusion, welcoming the stranger, and breaking bread with the outcasts, has often been used throughout history as a tool of division. Today, there are people who profess faith in Jesus, a person who, as an infant, was taken across a border to seek asylum, yet are still constructing barriers to keep out those facing similar circumstances.
I feel that it is important at this moment to address the reality that pastors struggle with their faith. Each of my colleagues can speak to their own unique experiences, and here I will speak to my own. Forgiveness is hard, and I can’t say for sure that I know what it looks like in some circumstances when the wounds are just so deep. It’s hard to be a faith leader in a tradition that speaks so often of forgiveness when our hearts break the same as everybody else's.
I work with youth, ranging in age from 12-18, and if you can imagine the amount of growth and change you experienced in your own life at that age, you’ll know that trying to guide them is no small task. And in a world of ever-growing division, I do want to advocate for forgiveness, but they are learning that it is a process, that reconciliation takes time and intentionality. Trust is rebuilt, or it isn’t. Sometimes, boundary making is necessary.
Because, dear ones, no one, absolutely no one, has a right to continue causing you harm.
Too often, Christian messages of forgiveness have been misused to keep people in abusive situations. I do believe that everyone is capable of growth and healing, but there is work to be done. As the gospel message reminds, if a person does not do that work, it’s time for a boundary. During Sunday school this past week, after the youth read the Matthew passage, I reminded them of a story that Dr. Brené Brown shared about her daughter, and marble jar friends:
“One day, my daughter, Ellen, came home from school. She was in third grade. And the minute we closed the front door, she literally just started sobbing and slid down the door until she was just kind of a heap of crying on the floor. And of course … It scared me, and I said, “What’s wrong, Ellen? What happened? What happened?”
And she pulled herself together enough to say, ‘Something really hard happened to me today at school, and I shared it with a couple of my friends during recess. And by the time we got back into the classroom, everyone in my class knew what had happened, and they were laughing and pointing at me and calling me names.’ And it was so bad, and the kids were being so disruptive, that her teacher even had to take marbles out of this marble jar.
And the marble jar in the classroom is a jar where, if the kids are making great choices together, the teacher adds marbles. If they’re not making great choices, the teacher takes out marbles. And if the jar gets filled up, there’s a celebration for the class.” Dr. Brown continues, “How am I going to explain trust to this third grader in front of me? So, I took a deep breath and I said, ‘Ellen, trust is like a marble jar… You share those hard stories and those hard things that are happening to you with friends, who, over time, fill up their marble jar.’”
Friends, you are made in the image of the Divine, nothing can separate you from that. But we do have a responsibility to care for each other. Find your marble jar people and fill the jars around you.