It wasn't one of my finest moments as a school administrator.
I was fed up with one particular student and his mother. The student was one of my office's frequent fliers, and his mother was one of the most combative and accusatory I had ever dealt with.
Normally, this kind of thing is fairly easy for me to keep in perspective and take in stride, but this time, this student, and this parent, had really gotten under my skin. My thoughts regarding them were not kind, and my manner toward them was becoming less cordial by the incident.
Then, one day in the spring semester, after this student had been through the wringer with me several times, the parent sat down for a lengthy conference with the student's teachers, a conference I did not attend. The teachers reported to me later about how the conference had gone, and I didn't hide my feelings regarding this mother and her son.
But, this conference was different.
The teachers told me that this mother had broken down in the meeting and cried. She wept over her son's foolishness, defiance, and refusal to learn. She mourned the consequences he had already suffered, as well as the unknown consequences to come in a future that appeared to be heading south in a hurry. She had no more answers, no more accusations, no more defenses. It was all gone, and all she had left for her son were tears.
The moment I'm not proud of came when these teachers told me this story.
My initial reaction was anger. Anger, mixed with resentment and disgust, at this mother who had taken me on a joyride to Hades, who had so confidently defended her son, who had so boldly accused me of being racist and deceitful, now breaking down to someone else and admitting she was out of gas. Now, after all this, asking for help. Now, after creating the problem herself, laying it at our feet and weeping over it. Where in the world does she get off crying now? Where was this humility several months ago when there might have been some hope? Doesn't she know this is her own fault? Doesn't she understand she created this herself?
I don't remember what my exact words to the teachers were, but those were the thoughts I communicated. I'm not proud of it, but it's the truth.
What I do remember, though, was Mr. Mims' response.
He looked at me kindly, with the wisdom I respected so much about him, with a face that said he understood both my feelings and the mother's, and said, "It still hurts, David. It still hurts." I remember the nod of his head, the slight narrowing of his eyes, and the smile that conveyed sympathy both to me and this mother. I remember his genuine respect for me, but also his awareness that I was still a pretty young guy whose back had never felt the canvas. And, he was giving me an insight into life that would only become real for me later on.
Once Mr. Mims said that, I ran out of gas myself. There was no more to fuss about. Yes, this poor woman had caused her own grief. Yes, everything I was saying was accurate, in the sense of being provable in court, but it just didn't matter. Her pain was still real, her outcry was still genuine, and our job was to be bigger than our feelings about how we had been treated.
In a recent television interview, a celebrity wept over his young son whom he rarely sees, due to the child living a great distance away with the celebrity's ex-wife. This father's genuine pain and guilt came through in the interview, along with the tears.
The background to this interview is the fact that this celebrity destroyed his marriage to his ex-wife by having an affair with another woman, whom he later married, and with whom he now has two children. So, this man lives on one coast with his second wife and their two kids, while feeling guilty over his dramatically reduced contact with his son from his first marriage, who lives on the opposite coast.
Again, my first reaction was judgment. Didn't this guy cause his own grief? Didn't he see any of this coming? And, what in the world is anyone supposed to do about it now? What can be done?
And again, Mr. Mims' kind words reminded me: "It still hurts, David. It still hurts."
Isn't that the nature of sin? Not only can it take us places we never dreamed we would go, but it can leave us with problems, messes, and dilemmas that defy any resolution and cause lingering pain. And Satan loves every minute of watching us weep over it.
Take King David as an example.
One look at his most grief-stricken moment brings all these same questions and feelings to the surface:
"Then the king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept. And as he went, he said: "O my son Absalom--my son, my son Absalom--if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!" (II Samuel 18:33)
"But the king covered his face, and the king cried out with a loud voice, "O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!" (II Samuel 19:4)
David's grief over his son Absalom's death was beyond his ability to contain. It spilled out for all to see.
But, what led up to this moment?
Absalom, the son of the king, briefly overthrew his father and assumed the throne, forcing David and those loyal to him to flee the city that became synonymous with his name.
But, prior to that?
Absalom had only recently returned to Jerusalem after spending three years in exile after murdering his brother Amnon, over Amnon's rape of their sister Tamar.
But, before that?
David had been informed of the rape of Tamar, and had become angry over it, but apparently did nothing to resolve the matter, allowing Absalom to develop the vengeful heart that led to his plot to murder Amnon.
And, before that?
David had sent his entire family into a tailspin by committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband Uriah killed in his attempt to cover it all up. The issues that plagued David's family and reign found their origin in what David assumed would be just another roll in the hay.
As the saying goes, there is no free lunch.
Maybe you've had a moment like this. A moment when the bomb you built, and defended building, finally blew up in your face and left you hurt and scarred. A moment when your pet rattlesnake finally decided it had had enough of you, and bit.
Maybe it was a moment of pleasure that seemed not to cost much at the time.
Maybe a moment of anger that seemed like a justified release at the time.
Maybe a lie that no one was ever going to discover.
Maybe years of misplaced priorities that finally issued a massive bill.
Maybe a habit of neglect in an area that finally refused to be ignored any longer.
It could be any number of things, and will likely be different in every person's life.
How do we want to be treated by others when we are finally forced to pay the piper? When we finally see it all for what it is? When we are hurting, bleeding, and we admit, at long last, that we caused it all ourselves?
What do we need from our loved ones? From those who tried to warn us?
We need them to understand that it still hurts. Even though we're to blame, even though we were warned, even though we have no legitimate claim on their sympathy, the end result is that it still hurts.
And, in that moment, only Jesus Christ can help.
"Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted." Galatians 6:1