Ruth’s little lamb

I’ve told my friend Ruth’s* story often over the years. It’s also included in my book, Practice by Practice, because some stories need hearing and telling again.

It was a horrid situation. Ruth had brought it on herself, but admitting that didn’t lessen the consequences. An affair with her best friend’s husband had destroyed a long-time friendship, devastated two marriages, split one church, robbed her young children of her laughter, and trashed her self-image.

Her guilt nearly killed her. Waking up to all she’d sacrificed for one year of selfish pleasure brought Ruth to the point of complete mental collapse. Her husband stayed with her after the affair ended, but theirs had become a marriage in name only. Nevertheless, for the children’s sake, they agreed to work on restoring their relationship. Complicated by her precarious mental state, and a constant death wish, however, their hopes of keeping their home intact seemed almost nil.

Then someone gave her a lamb. A small, white, cuddly homemade lamb, with a message hung round its neck. Ruth read the tiny print: “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)  Ruth knew many Bible verses by heart. She grew up in the church. Until very recently, she served as music director in one. That stopped after the uncovering of her affair with the head deacon. Yes, she knew all the right verses, even that one. But until now she’d never seen herself as a sinner in need of forgiveness.

She had already confessed, first to God, then to her church. But accusing eyes followed her. So did the unkindly snubs of fellow worshippers who had been her friends before the affair became public. If they couldn’t forgive, there’s no hope, she thought.

Ruth didn’t attend church much after that. But something kept drawing her back to the little lamb. She couldn’t stop reading the message around its neck, she told me. Slowly, the true meaning of Easter made its gentle way into her heart and mind. “Jesus, the perfect sacrificial lamb, died on that cross not only for the world. He died for me.  He forgives, even this, even when others don’t.”

One thing sets Christianity apart from every other world religion — the thing Ruth needed to become whole again. God’s forgiveness.

Over a decade and hundreds of hours of counseling later, Ruth found her way home. Back to the arms of a God who receives repentant prodigals with loving, open arms. Back to her husband’s forgiveness, and yes, even back to church. A different church. One with plenty of forgiven sinners in it. Broken and healed people who understand that God has rebellious kids too, and that sometimes they’re sitting in the front pews.

Several decades later, her marriage has stayed strong, and so has she.

The true Easter story doesn’t include chocolate bunnies. The Lamb of God remains its centerpiece. And He makes all the difference.

*not her real name