Saturday, July 30, 2011

Battling Bitterness

When I was in the 6th grade, I remember a lesson that we had about the 5 senses. We sat outside on the grass near the basketball courts and our teacher was talking about taste. He held out a plate with chocolate on it and all of us took a piece gladly. Waiting till he told us to take a bite, when the moment came, for half of us, what we got was far different than what we expected.

Popping the chocolate in my mouth I tasted nothing for a second, and then as I began to chew, my mouth filled with bitterness. I'd been fooled, I hadn't been given regular chocolate, it was baker's chocolate, and it was awful! Half the class made sounds of spitting and gagging, over the sound of my own spitting and gagging, I heard the "distaste" of several of my peers as well. The rest of kids, who got the good old fashioned milk chocolate, just stared at us in confusion.

What I remember most was that even after I spit all the chocolate out of my mouth, the nasty taste remained. That's the thing about bitterness, it lingers, sometimes long after it's cause is gone.

The week we were studying about laying aside bitterness in the Becoming a Woman of Freedom bible study, I asked Neal to build me a cross. I also asked him to buy me a big bag of rocks. The night we all met for study I used both props to share what the Lord had been showing me about needing to lay our hurts and offenses at the foot of the cross. That night I carried the very heavy bag of "offenses" and my cross back to my can and brought it home.

Late that night, I felt the Lord draw me out to my car to unpack it, and that's when He used the same props to speak to me. I knew I was supposed to set up the cross and the rocks somewhere here at home to serve as a reminder. As I stood in my yard after midnight, rocks and cross by my side, I looked for a proper place to set it up, finally the planter in the center of my yard seemed like the ideal place.

I set the cross down, and began to unpack the rocks. Too heavy to lift the bag up into the planter to pour them out, I began to unpack them one by one. It took quite a while, and as I unloaded the offenses, I talked to the Lord. I asked for help to be a woman of forgiveness. I prayed for help to heal from hurts that had been done to me. I begged the Lord to help me be quick to lay offenses at His cross so as not to let a bitter root even begin. Eventually I just found myself thanking and praising Him for even allowing me the privilege to come to the foot of His cross and find health and wholeness there.

When I finished laying all the rocks around the bottom of the cross, I noticed how similar it looked like a grave. I prayed the Lord would help me keep bitterness and unforgiveness there. As I stood up I realized where the Lord had impressed upon me to plant the cross, it was beneath our olive tree. The olive tree, which represents both victory and peace. I knew it wasn't an accident.

There is both victory and peace in the decision to let God be sovereign, even over our hurts and offenses. If I choose to hold my offense, it is the same as saying that God can not be trusted to bring good of it. The truth is, all that holding on to it does is weigh me down.

Later that week our assignment for bible study was to spend quiet time alone with the Lord. We were just supposed to sit quietly in His presence, resting, and listening for the voice of the Lord should He choose to speak. On this particular day sitting on the curb across the street from my house, I was having a hard time laying some of the offenses I'd been feeling at the foot of the cross. I was holding on to them, not trusting the Lord. As I sat dwelling on hurts I felt at the hands of other believers, I heard the Lord speak to my heart.

He said, "You're right." And I bolstered in the pause. Then I heard Him say, "Because of what Jesus did on the cross." I felt the wind leave my self-righteous sail a little, but He wasn't finished, and then He said, "And because of what Jesus did, so are they." It pierced to the core of my heart. The realization that offenses are settled in the body of Christ because of what Jesus did on the cross. I find not only forgiveness there, but I also rightly surrender my right to justice. If my idea of justice can only be played out in some real time validation, then I have lost sight of exactly what happened at Calvary. Jesus died once and for all. So if my sins are covered in his blood, so are the sins of those of His kids who have offended me, and likewise, if there is no grace for their sins, neither is there grace for mine.

As I walked back up to my doorway, I stopped momentarily at the cross by my olive tree, symbolically I tossed the imaginary rocks that represented my hurts at the foot of my little cross. The thing is, this was one little victory, one battle won in the war that lasts a lifetime as a follower of Christ. Today I found out someone very dear and close to me had been talking about me behind my back. It's actually the second time I have heard something like that in the week's since we began the chapter on forgiveness. This time though they really hit me where I lived, calling me a bad mom and tearing down my kids. I spent some time being wounded and hurt tonight before I realized I needed to go and sit at the Father's feet.

The Lord showed me that what had been spoken had been overflow out of a bitter heart. Bitterness begets bitterness. The conversations that had been had and the root of the attacks came out of a bitterness that didn't even have anything to do with me. And the Lord showed me, I had a choice to make. Would I let that person's bitterness infect my own heart, or would I choose to go back to the place of victory and peace.

It wasn't an easy offense to lay down, but I responded to the lie with Truth. The Truth is that even if I am not the perfect mom, I am loved and accepted by my heavenly Father. The truth is that my sin is covered, and if I believe in God's sovereignty, I have to let Him cover the sin of this offense as well. What I found was that the best way to do that was to change my focus.

I took my eyes off of myself, and off of my hurt feelings. I took my eyes off of the offender and the hurtful words they'd spoken over me. I took my eyes off of all the imperfect and looked firmly at the Lord. I gave Him the offense and my hurt, knowing and trusting that His pierced hands can be trusted with my wounded heart. He is sovereign and He has promised. He can be trusted, so that's what I decided to do, to trust the One who loved me enough to cover all my sins.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Becoming Free (Part 1) - Knots

The last two weeks of our Bible study Becoming a Woman of Freedom, the study has really lived up to its word. I have felt myself moving into freedom in some really challenging areas in my life.

The last two weeks of study have been about Forgiveness and laying aside bitterness, and then Rest, laying aside busyness.

As I spent the week studying about forgiveness and and preparing for our meeting to discuss the chapter, God and I did a lot of talking about forgiveness and bitterness, and anger too. By the time the day came for our meeting, God had given me several word pictures to share with the ladies about what the Lord was speaking to me about.

I spent the week talking to the Lord about offenses. We've all experienced them, from both sides even. We have all been offended and we have all been offenders.

I spent several evenings that week with a ball full of yarn. Each night I slowly unwound the yarn, tying knots in it, one after another. By the end of the week I had pulled out about a third of the of the yarn and had it tangled and tied into a mess of knots. As I held it in my hands, I realized there really was no way to untangle it. Truth be told, knots were on top of knots and you couldn't even separate one from another. Each knot was so tight and some of them were so close together, there was just no way to rectify the problem.

By Monday afternoon, a few hours before our meeting, the Lord had spoken volumes to me about this ball of yarn. He showed me several things:

(1) The knots in the yarn represented offenses. Sometimes one offense leads to another. Offended people are easily offended.

(2) The tangle represented the bitterness. The knots took on a life of their own, and bitterness allowed them to get so twisted up, the yarn had become useless.

(3) He showed me that sometimes you have to just make a clean break and and try to salvage what remains.

He also showed me where this hands on example applied to a real situation in my own life.

I had someone special to me who I felt betrayed and abandoned by. I was hurt, I was offended. And what did start as one offense, him not being a good steward of friendship, my reaction to it caused that one offense to become the cause of several more, because a perceived offense is in fact an offense, because it is defined by the one who is offended. But like I said, offended people are easily offended.

As my bitterness developed, Something happened. I allowed myself to go from being the offended to the offender. Although I didn't start the damage to the friendship, I completely exacerbated it. Little knots that could possibly have become easily undone became a knotted mess because I was angry and eventually bitter. I became a knotted mess, our relationship became damaged and tangled, useless.

This revelation led to a phone exchange with my friend. I apologized for being so angry for so long. And his response was relief. I asked for forgiveness for my bitterness and what I received was grace. My friend seemed genuinely happy to hear from me, ready to forgive me, and willing to make a fresh start.

Truthfully, the relationship won't ever be what it was. When the "yarn" is cut, and all the knots are removed, the ball that remains isn't what it once was. There is a loss, however, there is also a restored potential for what remains of the yarn to become. Restoration begins, hope is renewed, and life can move forward with healthy potential.

When I "cut the yarn" on the phone that afternoon I told my friend he didn't have to be uncomfortable around me anymore. I confessed the sin of my bitterness both to him and to God. I really was willing to lay the knots aside- both the ones I tied and the ones he tied. I was willing to dispose of them, and let there be potential for new life and purpose for the rest of the "yarn". Even if nothing new is "knit" together, at least what remains is in good condition.

My husband had built a cross for our meeting that night. As I shared, I laid the knots down at the foot of the cross to show the other ladies at Bible study what God had spoken to me. One of the ladies said jokingly, "Don't pick it back up!" but she was right. Even after I had the conversation with my friend I felt the temptation to mull over the offenses again. When it crossed my mind I told the Lord, "Yes Lord, I know, I cut it off, and it's at your cross."

I may have to remind myself of that again a few times, but it will be worth it. Because now what remains can be knit together into something good and God might just get glory in it.