The Comfort of Offense

Teenage girl disaster survivorHave you ever wondered why, after forgiving someone, the thought of them, the sound of their voice, the mere mention of their name can set off a chain reaction of negative emotion and stinking thinking ad nauseum? Sometimes, it can get to the point of having conversations in your head … you know the kind … the things you wished you would have thought of when you were first offended. The kind of conversations where they never get a word in and you are always the victor … oh, and you have some doozies ready – just in case. If we’re being honest, we’ve all been there, haven’t we? We have all planned out our vengeful little schemes in our fantasy world. Oh sure, we forgive, but there is no way we’re going to forget. We can’t! It’s just not wise … they may do it again. For some people, the down side of forgiving and forgetting is that  you can’t stack up the incidents of offense against you if you’ve forgotten them. Forgetting those offenses would mean that everyone who has ever hurt you gets a clean slate each time. Preposterous!

Listen, let’s be clear. I’m not talking about the the guy in the elevator who steps on our new Manolo Blahniks. He didn’t mean it. He apologized profusely. Besides, he’s a guy, what does he know about shoes. It’s not like we have a relationship with him. Hating this guy would be a waste of energy….right?

I’m talking about when our best friend divulges one of our most embarrassing secrets publicly at a gathering.We get angry, hurt, embarrassed, maybe even mortified! We try and shake it off; we rationalize about why she did it … too much wine perhaps? She later approaches us with her head held down in shame – she’s betrayed a confidence and ridiculed the one person she loves most in the world. She’s too ashamed to even expect forgiveness. We forgive her, but secretly we tell ourselves, “I’ll never forget what she did to me. I’ll never get over that humiliation.” And we don’t.

Each time we see her, things seem a little more back to normal. We feel magnanimous about our ability to forgive. What a good friend we are to forgive that kind of indiscretion.

Months pass by and we have another secret. We’re about to call her when we remember what we promised ourselves. We said we’d never forget! We forgave her, but the wound never quite healed. Every time the opportunity to prove to her that we really did forgive her came along, we picked at the scab and it bled. After a few years, though the scab finally healed, there remained an indentation – a scar. This is the place where the pain lives and thrives – where the pain has become a monument to what once was a flourishing friendship. We re-hash and re-hash until the offense has taken on a life of its own – it’s called unforgiveness. Our life, the one we once knew – the vibrancy of life – has been ebbing away. We are slowly being gobbled up in a bed of quicksand. Everything we do to rescue ourselves only sinks us deeper in the mire.

We think that if we allow ourselves to forget the past, we are condoning it. That is not the case. Erecting a monument to pain is a slow suicide. After a while, people don’t want to be around the person who is always rehashing the same old same old. It’s unhealthy. It’s like drinking a poison tonic and expecting everyone to take a sip. We end up hurting ourselves more than that friend originally hurt us and we blame it on the very person we said we forgave.

Eventually, we’ve done such an outstanding job of never letting anyone forget we’ve been offended that people know our stories by heart. Some of them actually begin to feel sorry for us and that – pity – is the anchor of offense. That is what perpetuates the pain and gives it life.

So, we meet some one new. A new friend. We have a lot in common. But there is something about her that we just can’t put our finger on. Maybe she sounds like, looks like, or has a habit like our old friend. Suddenly, everyone we meet who reminds us of the pain we’ve been tending to will end up making us run our fingers over that spot again. We don’t even know what’s happening. At some point, we might even become so hypersensitive about our own pain that we don’t even recognize when we do the same thing to others – we become self-centred. We take comfort in our pain. It becomes a blanket that keeps us warm when we no longer trust anyone else.

Forgiving without forgetting is like trying to strain play dough through a colander. It isn’t meant to be. I’m not saying it’s easy. I confess to you that I have stacked upon stacks of many offenses that I have nurtured over the years but you know something, it is bloody exhausting and leads to physical, emotional and spiritual illness of untold proportion. We can’t do this alone. It’s much bigger than we are. We need to realize first all that we have been forgiven for – our indiscretions and our sins – wiped clean as far as the east is from the west.

Forgiving and forgetting is not something we do for others, we do it first for ourselves to restore our health, our sanity, and primarily to maintain and grow in our relationship with God.

“But if you do not forgive others their trespasses [their reckless and wilful sins, leaving them, letting them go, and giving up resentment], neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses.”  Matt. 6:15 AMP.

The Furnace of Affliction

The LightWhen we find ourselves calling upon God to rescue us from the furnace of affliction what we’re really doing is asking Him to save us from an opportunity whose primary function is to bring Him glory and secondary function is to inspire growth in us.

I never find myself asking Him to remove circumstances from my life when they suit me.  When things are humming along I’m likely at my happiest though I rarely learn anything in these situations. I guess you could call that “blissful ignorance” and it’s safe to say that I don’t bring much glory to God because my focus becomes self-centred. Candidly speaking, it seems that the longer things go well, the less grateful I am. Why? Because the condition of my spirit begins to degrade – in the Old Testament days that is what they called a “hardened heart”. How many people really spend much time on their knees in worship, praise, prayer and thanksgiving when things are going splendidly?

Then there are those times – when I am being pulled out of the furnace that it seems to me I’m most grateful. It all has to do with mindset – where my focus is – and it’s usually on myself and my comfort rather than God and His promises for my life.

But here’s something new I’d like to try on, (did I just say that?). What would you say if I told you that the best place to practice gratitude is actually in the furnace of affliction? So, why am I not filled with gratitude when God stokes the fire a little? I know that every moment I spend in the furnace results in a spiritual upgrade, but for some reason – the “old man” in me seems to have the ability to resurrect itself when the coals begin to turn red.

Yahweh was in the furnace with Abednego, Meshach Shadrach,  but since then He has made atonement for us, He is in us in the furnace – with all-conquering power and glory. Before we even step in there, He knows what the outcome will be and He invites us to come into the fire. I have, on occasion, bowed down to fear rather than accept His invitation.

It’s all in the mindset – like Joshua and Caleb who believed and saw the promise of God while the other ten spies needed see in order to  believe. Glory is achieved in the furnace – His and ours. Daniels’ friends stepped into the furnace full on and later came out refreshed and with an attitude of gratitude. God is in our circumstances – we belong with Him.

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:37-39 NIV.

Loneliness

LonelyIf you Google the word “lonely” the results are, inevitably, a list of more than 172 MILLION are returned in .26 seconds. By the time I’m through writing this post, it might be even higher.

Many people believe that being alone and being lonely are synonymous. In fact, they are not. Being alone is a choice one makes; being lonely – for the most part – is not. I am an introvert and I enjoy being alone – I like and quite look forward to solitude. I don’t enjoy being lonely. I have had an extensive amount of experience in this area.  Some of my lovely, and well-meaning friends and family members have often recommend that I join groups and find things to do as a means of meeting other people. Joining an organization – such as a gym, or joining a bowling league, for example – are activities. Being lonely is not always related to an absence of activities. Being lonely doesn’t necessarily indicate an absence of loving family members or friends.

I am not a member of the Lonely Heart’s Club. My opinions don’t represent the opinions of all the lonely people in the world; I can only speak for myself. Being lonely is a heart condition. I have been (many times) in rooms filled with people who truly care about me and the feelings are reciprocated – yet I have – many of these times – felt lonely and alone and hopeless. For some, myself included, that can be a dangerous place to be for too long a period.

Loneliness is accompanied by a persistent ache, whose description is almost impossible to put into words. It’s like a cancer looming in the soul of your existence. Oh, sure it might seem to go into remission from time to time but then you wake up one day and just know it’s back. Each time it returns you sure it’s here to stay this time. It wants your life. You don’t know why it’s here, but it hurts so very much – no one can possibly understand your pain.  Some even say, “But you’re so lucky. You’re so blessed. You should be happy”…. They haven’t been there. They don’t understand. There is something significant to be said when a person can examine the exterior of another’s life and determine that, because they are blessed, suffering has been taken off the table.

If you are suffering, I want you to know that I have been there and I do understand. If you think, even for a moment, that ending your life will solve this problem … I’m writing to you specifically.

There was a time in my life when the pain of loneliness was so great that even the love of my beautiful children could not fill the emptiness that seeped into my thoughts, heart and spirit. All the faking in the world may have fooled others but it never fooled me. It seemed that loneliness was my shadow and the sun exacerbated my pain by shining into my darkness. There were times where it took more energy than I had to keep on, to hope. Hope requires energy … or does it?

Maybe you’ve been in this “place” for so long you have completely given up hope. Can I ask you, since you’re here and reading, can you please just hang on a bit longer? Will you do that for me? I know that we perhaps have never met, but we do know each other. We share a bond and that means that you’re not alone! There are far too many people still suffering, but TRUST me when I say, there are many who were able to move past this. There is hope. There IS hope.

It may seem that hope requires too much energy – what it really requires of us is to make a commitment to hang on to all hope, when all hope seems lost. Hanging on does not equate to filling the emptiness with substances or activities such as: shopping, alcohol, relationships, pornography, television, working 12 hours a day or, even exercise done to extremes. Hanging on to hope does not mean waiting for another human being to fill the void. Neither does hanging on to hope mean engaging in the latest methods of  “self” improvement; there is nothing “wrong” with you … there’s something missing. While all these things may very well take a temporary bite out of loneliness the problem will always be there unless you find the only thing that fits the void. If you’re searching for a permanent way out of loneliness I can assure you that the hole inside you right now will be felt for next to eternity, by those who love you, if you leave this world before trying to fill your own with a living and perpetual hope.

By design, we came into being with an emptiness, a void, a hole in our spirits. Our Creator fits into that hole. He longs to fill that emptiness in you. He longs to complete you. He is kind and loving and waits for an invitation. He will not bulldoze His way into your heart. Call on Him. He will answer. I guarantee it. He answered me and I was no one special, but I am now because His hope lives in me. Please, call His name. He is our Hope – the author and finisher of our faith.

“We wait in hope for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His Holy name,” Psalm 33:20

“Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them – the Lord, who remains faithful forever,” Psalm 146:5-6

“Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my saviour, and my hope is in you all day long,” Psalm 25:5-6

I Heard You

EdenI heard you last night. Through all those tears and all the words you choked on – I heard you – I heard your heart. My desire has been to hear your heart for as long as I can remember.

Oh, I know you’ve spoken to me many a time. I don’t discount any of what you’ve shared, not ever. I realize you’ve shared before, you’ve confessed many things to me. You’ve cried, you’ve told me your dreams and yes, you’ve even told me what frightens you. But last night was different – you know it was too.

Last night you brought tears to my eyes. Somewhere between your disappointment, your fear, and the dreams you’re afraid to dream was your heart – stripped bare and surrendered to me for the first time ever. You spoke to me and then you waited for me to answer and you listened. You really listened! Do you know how long I’ve been waiting to tell you how very much I love you?

You said that you’ve never been able to go to “that place” with me for fear that you’d experience so much emotion that you’d explode, lose control, even die a little inside.

But you went there anyway and you went there with me; you went there for me. You let me in to that place in your heart where only I could fit –  a place where the only one ever meant to fit was me. Last night you gave me your heart and I promise I will not break it. You went to the place where I’ve already been for you.

I can’t promise that life will always be fun and filled with laughs, but it sure will be different. No matter what you go through, from now on, whether good or bad – we’ll always be there together. I also can’t promise that you’ll never experience pain again, or that everything you don’t like about your life will be instantaneously changed for the better, but I can promise this: you’ll be transformed – from the inside to the outside. I’ll give you a kind of peace that surpasses any experience you may encounter. I promise that if you follow me, I will always be at your side – always and forever. I heard you.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

Send

ImageI’ve been in a dark place recently. In truth, it seems as though I have been doing a world tour of dark places and yet, even my closest friends were not privy. I’ve hidden the worse of it from those who love me the most because I have always been rather particular about just how vulnerable I’ll allow myself to be. I don’t mind if my best friend knows about a bad day or two at the office, or that I’m feeling a little blue from time to time. But I can’t tell her that I cry myself to sleep every night. What would she think!? I don’t mind telling my children that I still mourn the recent death of my dog, but I can’t tell them that his death ripped a gaping hole in my heart that seems as though it’s destined to keep growing. This list goes on, but I think you get the picture. My pride dictated that I “suck it up”. I thought I could handle things on my own but I let things get out of hand. The worse things got, the more I withdrew into darkness. As scary as it was, it seemed familiar and safe.

Maybe you’re familiar with the place – the abyss where solitude has a strangle hold on your life? Every breath you breathe you long to reach out, but with each passing breath it becomes more and more difficult. The paralysis of analysis has set in; hope is all but snuffed out. You cling to your faith with your very life. You feel as if your already half buried; part of you wants to stay there and rest a while but the other half is struggling to get out of the grave. You need to connect with someone but you’ve been fighting it for so long that everything has piled up. Fear and shame are standing guard to make sure you don’t slip up and use a life-line. The truth is – if you reach out now – you’ll fall to pieces and they’ll know that you’re not … perfect! They’ll think that you’re one of “those” people who have problems, issues, unfulfilled desires, fears – they may even catch you in flagrante delicto perched upon the proverbial pity pot.

I can’t call now. I won’t even be able to mutter the word, “Hello”. The courtesy of asking the person on the other end of the phone how they are will, in all certainty, show itself for the requisite attempt at cordiality that it is – truth be known – it has to be all about me now. I need to keep some form of control over my quickly fading dignity so I decide an email is best to cover up the tears and blubbering. At the end of the day, I can always edit and – I don’t really have to choose “send”. Maybe just writing the email will be the cathartic experience I need to kick me off the pot. My pain splatters upon the page with every key stroke. Nothing is held back. Truth is leaking out through my fingertips. I don’t care who knows now. Who am I fooling? I don’t have the energy to continue the masquerade.

The silence is broken. The truth has set me free. I didn’t want anyone to see me naked. I just wanted to break the bonds of guilt, self loathing and condemnation that my adversary had so wittingly cast upon me – something I permitted. Ah, he didn’t count on me setting my pride aside. He didn’t think that the removal of the fig leaf would bring strength and healing. He was counting on me to use it to cover my fear and shame. He didn’t know that love casts out all fear. He didn’t know that God was able to show me His love through the one I connected with. She was His light.

Silence perpetuates darkness. Don’t let your enemy convince you that anyone thinks you’re perfect – or that you have no problems, or pain and suffering. Don’t let him think you’re alone or that no one has time for you. Don’t let him convince you that you’re a burden; this is the trickery and deceit that he uses to keep you isolated – in darkness. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” John 1:5.

If you are in this place right now, please – hit the send key and let me know how the light defeated your darkness.