Charity and Respect for Everyone
I recently had a profound experience that has had a wonderful effect on me.
To begin, I was reading one night from a book assigned to the students at Renovare Institute: Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life by John Calvin. I’m one of the instructors so I thought I better read it. Before I went to sleep, I felt myself drawn to go back to page 33. There at the lower right hand corner was a phrase I’d underlined: “charity and respect for everyone.” I went to sleep.
The next morning I had a meeting in Pasadena about 50 minutes away. Before I left, I checked my email and opened a message from someone I haven’t seen in 17 years. It contained bitter, scathing accusations about something I’d done back then. As I started into the second paragraph, the words began to blur, but not from tears.
Superimposed over my vision of the computer screen were the words from page 33 of Calvin’s book: “charity and respect for everyone.” I backed away from my computer and chose not to finish reading it. I had to go, after all. As I grabbed what I needed, I replaced every single thought of the email and its sender with: “charity and respect for everyone.” I was afraid that I would dwell upon it during my drive but I didn’t. Instead I played music and sang. I went over my current Scripture memory passage. Every time the email and its sender came to mind, I replaced whatever the next thought might be with: “charity and respect for everyone.”
By the time I arrived in Pasadena, I was shocked by my condition. I felt no bitterness or even slight upset about the email. It seemed to me as if I’d been in a brutal accident but was completely unharmed. It was as if first aid had been administered within milliseconds of the injury and I was unscathed. I kept thinking of how God used the quickness of the “replacement strategy” to save me. (Replacing negative images and feelings with ones that God suggests, see Renovation of the Heart, pp. 98, 101, 118, 123, 137 or Renovation of the Heart in Daily Practice pp. 68, 72, 83, 88-89).
I went to the meeting and the leader said, “So how are all of you? Why don’t we check in?” I thought about sharing it, but I didn’t want to. I was still marveling at my condition.
Later that day, I read the email in full and knew immediately I was not to answer it. There had been a prior round of 3 emails from this person and I had offered a reasonable (I thought) explanation as I had 17 years ago, but this response told me my explanation was not accepted as it was not before. So it was better to let this person have the last word.
Even that night, I didn’t tell my husband. I didn’t want to spoil it by thinking of anything except “charity and respect for everyone.” I had such a sense that when I meet the email sender in heaven (and I will), I’ll be OK.
About ten days later, I received another bitter email from the sender, and a peaceful, conciliatory answer flowed from me and I wrote it as a response. And that person’s subsequent response was more peaceful and conciliatory than any of the others.
As you can guess, since then every time I’ve thought something negative about anyone, I’ve immediately thought, “charity and respect for everyone.” That doesn’t mean I haven’t stood up for myself or I haven’t discerned what needed to be discerned, but toward the person involved, I’ve tried to speak (and think) the truth in “charity and respect for everyone” (Eph 4:15).
All my life I’ve struggled with “obsessing.” It has gotten much better in recent years but this was miraculous. That idea of replacing a negative thought with a God-thought is enormous. It can deliver us from feelings that otherwise swallow us up.
Grace and peace,
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