When I got an email from a stranger asking me if I would mind terribly if they flew me out to Hawaii for a week in January, it didn’t take long for me to discern that God was definitely calling me to sun, sand, and palm trees. I assumed it would be a typical week of talks, trying to shake people from their complacency or maybe hoping the Holy Spirit would do the same for me.
I had no idea what I was in for.
It was my first experience with military spouses, and I learned real quick that these women show up for each other. They walk with each other through deployments and infidelity and terrifying diagnoses, all while they’re thousands of miles from family. They are strong and beautiful and holy and desperate to live in God’s will and over and again that week (and in the years since) I was humbled by their service and their hospitality and their fellowship and honesty and brokenness.
After several days of loving them and being loved by then, I had a roomful of women seated before me hungry for truth. I told them how desperately God loved them, begged them to trust that he was working through their pain, encouraged them to accept that they don’t have to earn his love.
Then I moved into an Ignatian meditation on the woman caught in adultery, inviting each woman there to imagine herself in the familiar scene where a woman is dragged, weeping and ashamed, before the Lord, flung on the ground by triumphant men eager to use her pain for their gain.
I’ve given this meditation plenty of times. Every time, I get the same reactions. The girls are usually the woman, the boys bystanders. Occasionally I find a Pharisee in there, but it’s pretty clearly a meditation on how God forgives and that’s how people interpret it. We all have a good cry over God’s mercy and then move on.
I knew something unusual was happening when I looked up after the meditation and almost everyone was crying. Then we started talking about our experiences.
“I was so angry at the Pharisees,” one said. “I was so, so mad—I’m still mad. I don’t have any idea what it means, but I’m mad.”
Another shared her experience: “I stood with Jesus and just looked at the woman. I looked at her and I loved her.”
A third said, “At the end, Jesus left, but I didn’t go with him. I knelt down by the woman and just stayed with her.”
Another, “When they brought her in, I went and stood in front of her. I was going to shield her from the stones with my body.”
Almost every woman there shared that her meditation was focused on loving the sinful woman. I thought it was strange until the last woman shared.
“I was her,” she said, in a broken voice. “I was her and I don’t feel any better.”
And she sobbed. And we sobbed. And I looked around the room and realized that these women had all along been sitting in a circle around their heartbroken sister. During this meditation, they were surrounding her. In their hearts, not knowing what her struggle was, they were fighting her enemies, defending her, loving her, consoling her. For these women, in this moment, fellowship looked a little less like coffee hour and a little more like prayer warriors going into battle for each other. The Lord put these reflections on their hearts so that she could hear that not only had God forgiven her, so had they.
This is what it means to be a Christian. We fight for each other and bleed for each other and weep and live and die for each other. It’s so easy for women’s groups to become middle school girls’ groups, to be filled with drama and judgment and competition. That day, the Lord worked a miracle to show his mercy. “Neither do I condemn you,” he said. “Neither does she condemn you. And she won’t abandon you. And that one’s ready to go nuclear on anyone who does. Because you deserve it.”
This woman was beautiful and funny and loving. She was an incredible mother and had a husband who loved her desperately. She’d been forgiven. But her heart couldn’t hear it. So that night, the Lord raised up a community to speak truth to her heart.
She couldn’t believe that God could delight in her after what she’d done. So her sisters—some of whom had been strangers two hours earlier, told her how heaven had rejoiced when God washed her clean. They told her that God was so consumed by his love of her that who she had been never crossed his mind. “Though your sins be as scarlet, I will wash them whiter than snow,” he said to David. To David. Like, send-others-to-risk-their-lives-for-me, use-my-office-to-make-a-married-woman-sleep-with-me, send-her-husband-to-his-death-to-cover-it-up David. White as snow.
Because “I absolve you of your sins” hadn’t convinced her that she was forgiven and loved, God surrounded her with a tribe of fierce women ready to fight the Pharisees, ready to shield her with their bodies, willing to sacrifice the opportunity to look in the eyes of Jesus so they could speak peace and love to her.
They hadn’t intended to serve her that night. But they’d loved each other so intentionally for so many months that when she heard their love directed at the woman caught in adultery, she knew that it was for her. For months, they’d showed up. They’d loved each other. And that night, scattered around folding tables on a cold linoleum floor, they loved their neighbor, and God’s love broke into her life in a way that changed her—and them—forever.
Meg Hunter-Kilmer is a hobo missionary. After 2 theology degrees from Notre Dame and 5 years as a high school religion teacher, she quit her job in 2012 to live out of her car and preach the Gospel to anyone who would listen. 50 states and 25 countries later, this seems to have been a less ridiculous decision than she initially thought. She blogs at www.piercedhands.com and at www.aleteia.org, though she’s much more prolific on Instagram and Facebook.