I think rain gets a bad rap. There are all sorts of sayings that put rain in a less than positive light. For instance, there’s that old song/prayer, “Rain, Rain, go away / Come again another day / All the family wants to play/ Rain, rain, go away.” Even Longfellow added to rain’s troubles in “The Rainy Day poem.” Longfellow is the one who said, “Into each life some rain must fall, / Some days must be dark and dreary.” Granted, he’s using metaphor but I’ve heard folks say that while they appreciate the rain, they wished it only rained at night so they didn’t have to go through rainy days.
But I love rainy days. I love them because they remind me of times I got to spend with my dad when I was a kid. My dad was a contractor and his work slowed a bit on cold, dreary, rainy days. On days like that, I got to ride around with him – just the two of us. Most of what I remember and learned from my dad, I learned tooling around in his truck. In fact, on one particularly rainy day, I learned a lesson about holding on too tightly to past offenses and troubles.
My dad took me to visit an elderly gentleman, a prominent, successful man. The two of them had known each other for decades and had often worked on projects together. The man had some papers for my dad, so we stopped by his office. The man was in a wheelchair and he was extremely grumpy. From the moment we entered his office he began to grouse about everything, including the rain. At one point he brought something up that had happened to him long ago. Even as a kid I could tell that for him the incident was still very fresh.
After a bit, my dad and I were able to leave, and I remember asking my dad why the elderly gentleman was in a wheelchair. My dad said he was in that chair because he carried the weight of the words and deeds that people had said and done to him in his heart and mind and it had made him sick, bitter, and difficult to be around for very long.
There is a lot of truth to what my dad said about carrying the weight of past offenses around. If a person isn’t careful, the past can creep into the present and the future and spoil them both, making a person physically and emotionally ill. I’m sure you know folks who are tough to be around because they cling to past offenses the way an Olympian wears a gold medal. But, to be fair, moving on from an offense is sometimes easier said than done – I can say that because – well – I can get wrapped around the axle as much as the next person and I’m just as prone to remember it years later.
I can get just as weighed down by past offenses as the next person. In fact, recently, on a literal rainy day, I was rehashing and internally grousing about something that someone said and did to me years ago. As it happens, as I was grousing, I picked up an old devotional book that I like to read from time to time. Providentially, I came across a profound insight from Simon Tugwell’s Prayer, which, by the way, I had underscored that last time I read it.
Tugwell wrote, “St. Ambrose gave his congregation some very good advice. Using the old Christian symbol, he compared them in this stormy world to fish swimming in the sea. And to them too he said: ‘Be a fish.’ We must learn how not to be swamped by the situations that we find ourselves in. We must learn how to get through them with a minimum of damage, and a maximum of profit…We must learn to pass through situations like a fish, rather than carrying them all with us like a snail. We should certainly emerge with a little bit more experience of life, but there is no need to carry more with us than we have to – each situation carries quite enough trouble with it by itself!”
Ambrose and Tugwell are right, you know. Everyone, but most certainly those who profess faith in Jesus, “must learn to pass through situations like a fish, rather than carrying them all with us like a snail.” And those situations include past offenses – or even current ones. If we don’t learn to pass through those situations we can expect to be weighed down by them for a very long time – and that’s just no way to live. So, where do we start?
Well, as it is I came across another bit of literature that I think is helpful. Lamentations 3:19-24 may provide some helpful guidance. If you don’t know much about the book of Lamentations let me say that things weren’t going so well for anyone in Jerusalem. We don’t know who the author was but it sure seems like they were an eyewitness to Jerusalem’s destruction from the hands of the Babylonians around 586 B.C. Talk about an offense. The Babylonians laid waste to Jerusalem. They said an did all sorts of terrible things to them.
At any rate, in Lamentations 3:19-20 the author writes, “Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.” I think that text captures what happens when a person holds onto an offense. It is like wormwood and gall – two extremely bitter things. It weighs down the soul to the point that it is bowed. Now, I understand that author of Lamentations situations is quite different than our own. I’m not trying to take this text out of context; I’m merely trying to show how going through difficult times with difficult people can bring harm long after the thing is over and done. The author of Lamentations is going through an incredibly difficult situation but he seems to have stumbled across a key to becoming – as Ambrose suggests – a fish.
In verse 21 the author of Lamentations says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him’” (Lamentations 3:22-24). Ah, now that’s a thought – isn’t it?
Calling to mind the reality that God’s steadfast love and mercy are never-ending is a step in getting beyond those pesky past offenses so that we don’t get weighed down. Reflecting on God’s steadfast love and never-ending mercy can move a person forward into a hopeful direction. And it is a useful tool in learning to be a fish – as Ambrose suggested – because it is something we can do anytime we need to – especially when those old offenses start to resurface and we begin to taste gall and feel our soul beginning to bow under its weight.
And, by the way, there is no better place to start reflecting on the steadfast love and neve-ending mercy of God than by looking at Jesus. In Jesus, we have the greatest expression of God’s love and mercy – and no past offense is able to overshadow Jesus – unless we let it. And there may not be a better day to reflect on the steadfast love and never-ending mercy of God than on a rainy day.