I have a few topics close to my heart that I love to soapbox about: shame, community, pursuit, adoption. These are things I’m passionate about because they’re part of my journey and I’ve wrestled through them in some form or another. Recently, I’ve been wrestling with another issue that might become one of my soapboxes—forgiveness.
I have struggled with bitterness since I was a kid. And not necessarily the you-sinned-against-me-big-time-and-I’ll-never-get-over-it-and-will-make-you-pay-for-the-rest-of-your-life kind of bitterness. More of a general, life-hasn’t-gone-my-way-and-I-feel-sorry-for-myself bitterness. This is a bitterness that, regardless of what I’d like to believe about my heart, is pointed at God. He is the only one who has the power to have made my life go a different way, so ultimately he is the object of my anger and hurt. Over the years, God has softened my heart toward him as I’ve learned that regardless of my feelings and how I’d like to plan my life, God’s plan is always Good—better, in fact, than the best scenario I could imagine. That’s difficult to believe a lot of the time, so I fight for faith to trust God’s Goodness and love.
Through different relationships, God has helped me realize that the reason I am prone to feel bitter isn’t simply because I want to control my life and think I would do a better job than God; it is because I am hurt and feel overlooked. When things don’t go my way, sometimes it feels like I have been discounted, like God’s purpose and plan are way more important than my feelings, my heart. And they are, I suppose, but that doesn’t mean that my heart is not important to God. I picture him pushing me aside as I try to hold the fragile pieces of my life together. “Move over, kid,” he says. As he nudges me, the pieces I was balancing so carefully all fall to the ground. My hard work and planning has counted for nothing. In the meantime, God’s big, beautiful, mighty plan is getting all kinds of praise and accolades, while everybody stomps on the pieces of my life in their hurry to rush by me. In fact, sometimes it feels like people are running away from me.
That’s not the case. The case is that God tenderly gathers me in his arms. My fragile pieces start falling, but they don’t shatter; instead, they vaporize and my Father whispers, “You never held them anyway. I carry those for you.” As my heart hurts and the confusion threatens, God holds me tighter and tighter, gently reminding me to not take my eyes off him—that pain does not equal bad, that God’s story is sweeter than mine, that I don’t have to fear not having control.
As these truths started taking root in my heart, my bitterness started to slowly fade.
As for forgiveness, I’ve never been one to withhold it. I am grateful for forgiveness being extended to me, and I always want to readily extend it to others. But the other day, I ran into someone from my past. From years ago. Someone who held the promise of friendship and community in her hand and then snatched it away with nastiness and criticism. Her actions had consequences in my life she could never have imagined. She apologized at the time, and I forgave her, but the consequences remained. The wounds she created are still being healed, and kind of scabily. Anyway, at the mere mention of her name, a righteous vindictiveness arose in my heart. I jumped up onto my metaphorical pedestal and recounted every last bit of the scenario in which she hurt me, including my gracious and generous forgiveness. By the end of my recounting (which was just in my head, by the way), I was a pathetic, self-righteous puddle, shocked at how quickly I tried to take back forgiveness and justify my anger, my bitterness.
Am I not wanting to forgive because I want to justify my own hurt and anger at what she did to me? Am I wanting to prove a point in my heart about how awful she was to me? Is my bitterness so valuable to me that I am okay with withdrawing my forgiveness and stewing about this old issue and reliving all the hurt and rejection I suffered originally?
No. It’s not. My mind wandered until it came across that sad place, the pieces of my life scattered around me as everybody rushed past me, not noticing me, my tears, or my brokenness. And it hit me—I allowed bitterness to overtake me in that moment because this woman will never know the consequences of what she did to me and how widespread they were. She thought her offense was small, but to me, it was big. Her apology was for her actions, not the future impact of her actions. My brokenness went overlooked. I went overlooked. Only my husband and Jesus ever knew about it. I didn’t feel big and loud and justified at the time—I felt small and unimportant and unnoticed and loserish.
So what does this mean? I do not like the ugliness of my heart that this encounter revealed. I am reminded that forgiveness means forgiving the action as well as the long-term consequences. That it means paying the price for this woman’s act against me so that she doesn’t have to. Even though we are not in relationship, in my head I could force her to pay the price of what she did over and over again OR I can Let It Go. Withholding forgiveness means I am defined by her act against me; I don’t want to be under her control in that way.
Maybe instead I can crawl up in God’s lap and rest, knowing that he understands what happened, he knows best the hurt of my heart, he is healing me, and his story that he is writing for me is full of redemption and life, not bitterness and hate. Maybe I can trust God, trust his love for me, trust that he cares that my heart was broken, and trust that he wants to make me whole. Maybe I can trust that as little as I am, God still sees me and he cares. Maybe.