HomeOpinionDooley Noted:  The cloud that surrounds me

Dooley Noted:  The cloud that surrounds me

No one lives in a vacuum. Despite our occasional efforts to deny it, the people around us influence nearly every part of our lives for good or bad. Either you benefit from the nurture, example, and encouragement of those who speak into your life, or you suffer, stumble, and lament due to the absence of these things. A difficult past may not destroy you, but it will shape you. Likewise, the benefit of loving support will not guarantee a successful life, but it will certainly position you for it.

Hebrews 12:1-2 illustrates the value of benefitting from the experience of others: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

These verses do not mean, as is often argued, that a group of saints cheer us on from the grandstands of heaven as they look down upon us. Instead, these words point to the testimonies of faithful believers that become examples to us about the right way to live. The application is not that these Christians are watching us, but that we will be inspired having watched them. The characters listed in Hebrews 11 become a model of perseverance as we run our race of faith.

We should not conclude, however, that only Bible heroes influence us toward greater faithfulness.  Certainly, the context of Hebrews 12:1 refers specifically to the hall of faith listed in the previous chapter. Yet, many faithful Christ followers have finished their races since these words were written. With similar impact, their lives challenge us with the reality that finishing well is still possible. Allow me to mention two that helped me tremendously.

One of the unique realities of my childhood is that I met six of my eight great-grandparents. This wasn’t unusual to me at the time, but today I realize what a remarkable gift that was. My Papaw Taulbee fascinated me the most because he lost an arm in a hunting accident at a young age and, as a result, could do most anything with just one hand. Whenever we visited, I refused to leave his side, even if it meant enduring hours of snoring through the night. 

The first lesson my papaw taught me was the importance and permanence of marriage. He and my mamaw remained married for 64 years until her death. I remember how much he loved her and how he cried when she died. He was never the same afterward. For him, marriage was a lifelong commitment that pictured Christ’s love for the church. I seldom read Ephesians 5:22-33 without recalling his example. 

The second lesson he taught me was that words matter. What we say and how we say it impacts the people around us more than we know. I will never forget the day he pointed his cane at me and said, “That boy is special. I can’t put my finger on it, but God is going to use him in a great way.” Those words became an abiding motivation for me. Those words helped chart the course for the person I wanted to become because I did not want to disappoint the man who spoke them. 

Another hero to me was my Granny Sue, who taught me much about the power and freedom of forgiveness. Though she was short in stature, this little woman was a fighter all her life. She overcame breast cancer 50 years ago and ran her own business out of her home. Her greatest challenge by far, however, was the pain caused by her divorce. After 23 years of marriage, my grandfather was unfaithful to her and the marriage ended. She never remarried, and though she moved on, the wound was always with her. 

In 2005, decades after the separation, cancer returned to her lungs and it became obvious she would not overcome it. Though I only saw her and my grandfather in the same room once, I called to share the news with him and to make a bold request. I invited him to come to the hospital and ask for Granny Sue’s forgiveness. Admittedly, it shocked me when he agreed to do so. Even more amazing, however, was how my grandmother responded. When I told her he was in the hallway, she sat up in her bed, began primping her hair, and then said with a smile, “If he is here to get me back, it’s too late for that!” I stepped out in the hall so they could visit, but unashamedly I eavesdropped every word. You could hear the pain in her voice as she asked, “Was I not a good wife? Why did you leave? How could you just walk away?”

My respect for my grandfather swelled as I heard him answer, “You did nothing wrong. I was the one who was wrong. Please forgive me.” Silence filled the room, only to be broken by the sweetest, most gracious words I have ever heard. My Granny Sue leaned forward, looking my grandfather in the eye, and said, “I forgive you. I’m glad you came.” Then, they talked, laughed, and healed. It was beautiful. 

That day I learned that we are never more like Jesus than when we forgive. The deeper the wound we carry the more spectacular the grace we give. We need to give forgiveness as much as we sometimes need to receive forgiveness.  

I’m thankful for these two heroes in my life. Who has helped your faith to grow?

Dr Adam B. Dooley is pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, TN, and author of Hope When Life Unravels. Contact him at adooley@ebcjackson.org. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBDooley.

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