We are almost there. In a little over twenty-four hours we get to start a new year. A new year. In the past, I have anticipated the beginning of a new year with resolve to . . .
* lose weight — become a new me in a smaller size with new habits that include new routines of exercise and new foods that are not carbohydrates or peanut M&M’s
* get organized — arrange my closet with new, neat rows of clothes that are hung according to color and not thrown in piles, line up my shoes instead of throwing them in piles, and even organize the multitude of vitamins, face creams, nail polishes, and lotions so that they are easily accessible and not lost in piles.
* to try new things — salsa dance lessons, throwing pottery, cooking . . . any kind of food would be new, Zumba classes, the singles group at a nearby church, bowling, learning a new language
And I should do all of the above. I want to do all of the above. But as 2013 draws closer, I know what I really want for this new year. I want something more new than becoming a size 6 (or 8 or 10). I need to get rid of something much, much more life-draining than my “organize by piles” system; and I long for something much, much more life-giving than dancing or learning to speak French.
I want to begin 2013 free of resentment.
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous mentions resentment 17 times, warning: “Resentment is the number one offender . . . it is a deadly hazard . . . it is infinitely grave . . it leads only to futility and unhappiness.” And perhaps most ominous, “Resentment grows.”
I’m not writing about the “paper cuts” of life that provoke anger or hurt for a short period of time . . . the slow driver in the left lane . . . the one clerk at the DMV who can only process two people every thirty minutes . . . the computer technician on the telephone who I cannot understand for a number of reasons, but is my only hope to solve the maddening mysteries of technology.
The resentment I’m writing about is deeper. This resentment infects a wound of rejection, betrayal, or misunderstanding until it gets into your bones. There may be days and even weeks when you forget that it’s there; and then a memory from the past, an empty space in the present, or overwhelming thoughts of no resolution in the future remind you that this is something that you just can’t shake.
You can’t let go and let God.
You can’t turn lemons into lemonade.
You can’t do it for yourself, even though you know that holding on to is like drinking rat poison. You’ve tasted it.
You can’t will yourself to do seven steps, twelve steps, or even 600 steps to find a sense of relief from and control over the pain.
Anyway, that’s where I find myself as 2012 is quickly coming to an end and I am becoming more desperate to figure out forgiveness. There was another time in my life years ago when I felt this bone-chilling resentment, and I know that the mysterious process of being set free back then began in a dark movie theatre that smelled of stale popcorn, while watching a scene from the movie, Bruce Almighty. Something . . . or Someone compelled me to whisper, “God, I want to forgive.” And God really did take from there. He set me free.
But this time watching Bruce Almighty did nothing for me. I actually felt a little bored while watching one of my favorite movies. I talked to my sponsor and wrote out a Fourth Step, but as the truth of this resentment stared at me from the written pages — my failures, deception, and hiding — I just didn’t want to go on further to the next step. This time working the steps was a good plan to give me a clearer perspective about the battle, but it didn’t empower me to deal with the battle. I talked to my mother and her wise, kind words helped, but as soon as I felt a single second of surrender, this resentment squeezed harder and reminded me again of the betrayal, the gossip, the cruel handling of a friendship that I believed I had nurtured, given to sacrificially, and fiercely believed in. I felt stuck in my own hell of Groundhog Day.
Now that I look back over the past weeks of my thinking and trying and praying and talking and thinking and trying to get out of this morass, I see that God was creating a mosaic to show the way of healing for this particular cancer in my life.
The week before Christmas a dear friend and physician who is exceedingly overqualified to inject Botox, offered to give me this skin-tightening poison as a gift for Christmas. I was so excited! I imagined my new face. I told everyone in my family that I was getting this gift so that they would be prepared to see the new me on Christmas.
It was a gift and it really did erase most of the wrinkles on my forehead and those crows’ feet by the eyes. I waited through our family Christmas celebration for someone to notice or at least say, “Sharon, you look rested,” or something that might acknowledge the new me. When I couldn’t wait any longer and reminded everyone, most responded with lackluster comments like, “I thought I saw that something was different but wasn’t sure,” or “Oh, I thought you were getting that after Christmas!”
The truth is, Botox didn’t take away the dark circles under my eyes, or the age spot on my upper right check, or the scar on my neck from thyroid surgery, or a multitude of other flaws I could recount to you. It didn’t fix everything, but it made me realize that’s what I want. I want something that will fix everything. I want something that will erase the scars and flaws and memories of hurt and make it look and/or feel like everything is new. I want to wake up in the morning and look in the mirror and everything will be fixed.
My experience with Botox reminded me of how different God is from me. He wants to get closer and closer to me because He wants to see every scar and every flaw — not so He can fix me, but because He wants to love me. Think about that. I mean really think about it. Go ahead and find one of those mirrors (like the one I have in one pile under the sink in my bathroom) that magnifies everything. (Why do women use those??) When I get that close to me, I see all the places Botox did not make new and I see my pettiness, my selfishness, my unforgiving heart. There is a crazy paradox about getting closer to God (which ironically happened as I thought and tried and prayed and worked to forgive) — I realize my old face is not the issue. My unforgiving heart is not the issue. The good news of the Gospel is issue — the good, good news of this old year and the new year to come is the fact that God wildly pursues me, and the closer we get, the more He sees me - the real me. And it just makes Him love me more.
Still feeling the grip of resentment (but wondering now if it was gripping me or I was gripping it?), I had dinner with my friends, William and Dana. I recounted my struggle and with tears streaming down my face I said, “I just feel so broken in this, and I can’t even find the will to want to forgive.” William pointed to his hand. He has rheumatoid arthritis, and in fact, the very next day he was going into surgery for a shoulder replacement. Two months ago, he had his hip replaced. While pointing at his hand — his hand clenched shut — a visible sign of the unrelenting disease, he said, “Sharon, this is broken. And even if I could fix it, then I’d need to fix the other hip, and then both knees, and then my elbow . . . I am broken and I can’t fix me.” I have heard William rage about his overwhelming sense of powerlessness. I have seen him in understandable despair. But today he is in that unique place that very few people get to — fully aware of his own brokenness that he cannot control.
Betrayal and failure in relationships breaks us, and as the broken, brilliant writer Ernest Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks us all.” Talking with William and Dana. Looking at William . . . I know the only choice any of us have is whether we will be an unforgiving broken man or woman. God knows that our hearts — my heart — is far more attuned to Him in the context of brokenness. When I cling to resentment, I am an unforgiving broken woman. When I let go of resentment, I am a forgiving broken woman. Those are my choices. Think about that. Really, think about that. No wonder we get stuck.
My friend Dan Allender says it this way, “And so God is gracious to give us [rat] poisoning and to bring us to our knees vomiting for a day and a half straight until you have nothing left in your stomach and you feel like you’re going to die, and yet now there is a new hunger that the food you’ve been eating can never satisfy again.” Allender goes on to say that the new food God wants to feed us is dignity, strength, and humor. Sounds a heck of a lot better than rat poison.
Do you see the mosaic God is putting together just for me? He feeds me dignity as I come closer and closer to Him — not hiding my petty flaws and ugly, unforgiving heart — because when He sees me, the real me; He only loves me more. That taste of dignity makes the rat poison of resentment even less appealing.
He feeds me strength when I see my brokenness — my utter powerlessness to even want to forgive.
Even with these two pieces, I still can’t decide to set down the rat poison and will the good foods of dignity and strength to fill me so I can elegantly and graciously forgive.
So here’s the final piece (for now) in this mosaic . . .
Months ago I drove home during a break from work to grab a bite to eat. I was in a hurry. My parking spot in my apartment parking garage is on the top level, and I began to speed up the levels and whip around the corners with confidence. On the second level I came headlights to headlight in a standoff with another car at one corner. I swerved around the other car and continued on to my level. The driver of the other car turned around and followed me up to the fifth level, blocked me in with his car, and angrily rushed over to me and harshly lectured me (with a lot of four letter words) about my driving. He was right, and probably because I was in a hurry, I was able to simply say, “Thank you for pointing that out to me. I will do better in the future.” He wasn’t satisfied with my promise. He asked for my name, and I reluctantly gave him my business card. I don’t know whether I was reluctant because I didn’t want him to have my name or because my card says something about helping others and God’s love.
This morning I was driving into the parking garage again, and when I reached the 2nd level I saw a man crawling on his hands and knees just to the right of the driving lane. I stopped, rolled down my window, and asked if he was okay. Another driver stopped as well and we both got out of our cars and could see that the man on the ground was vomiting. The other driver explained to me that he was trying to get to the Bronco’s game and wondered if I could “handle” this. I parked my car and walked closer to the man. The smell of alcohol overwhelmed me. I knelt down, just as he vomited again, and asked if he had been drinking or was ill. He explained that he hadn’t been drinking, didn’t know what was happening, and that he was so embarrassed. I helped him stand up and told him, “You don’t need to feel embarrassed with me. I’ve been in situations like this before.” A hint of surprise showed through his distress and he said, “You have?” I asked where his car was and he pointed to a car a few spaces down. He was the man who chased after me to yell at me for my unsafe driving.
I let him hold onto my arm as I walked him to his apartment. All the way he continued to mumble that he didn’t know what had happened and how sorry he was. When we got to his door he said, “My name is ____. What’s your name?” I answered, “I’m Sharon Hersh,” and he looked at me for the first time. A flash of recognition went across his face, and he quietly mumbled, “I’m sorry I yelled at you.”
And, of course, I forgave him. I got in my car and I laughed out loud — not at this man’s plight. I empathize with him. I laughed at my own plight. How many thousands of times have I seen this in my life? In one moment I’m the righteous one, the older brother watchful of all those who aren’t doing what they should be doing. And in a split-second, I am the prodigal — smelling of vomit, on my hands and knees trying to find my way home. How can I even pretend to think I know who is the Prodigal and who is the Pharisee in my own tale of hurt, because I am surely both!
The book of Proverbs describes the woman who can laugh at tomorrow. I feel the grip on resentment loosening. I can afford to laugh at tomorrow because whether I’m keeping every new year’s resolution perfectly or I’m lost in woundedness and confusion — God has paid every debt. I owe nothing. Think about that. Really, think about it. Consider your stack of bills at the beginning of each month. What would it be like to get the good news that you owed nothing for the month, the year, a lifetime?
Will I be free of resentment as we ring in 2013? Not fully. But God has crafted a wonderful mosaic for me to understand forgiveness a tiny bit better. Botox, Brokenness, and the Smell of Booze transformed into Dignity, Strength, and Laughter.
* I can go ahead and come closer and closer to Him, hiding nothing — not even my unforgiving heart — and He won’t want to fix me, because He doesn’t just forgive me for my resentful heart, He sees me as if I have never been resentful for a single second in my life! He feeds me with dignity. God, I don’t want to taste rat poison again and I don’t want anyone else to taste it either.
* Hemingway was right, “The world breaks us all.” No one escapes brokenness. I have believed that, written about it, and spoken about it, but I need to remind myself over and over and over and over again, “I am powerless to fix the brokenness.” And if I’m powerless . . . it only makes sense others are powerless too; so I can go ahead and let the person who hurt me off the hook. They are powerless to fix their brokenness. God, I want to be a forgiving broken person rather than a resentful broken person.
* Finally, even though it’s almost a new year, I’m still on the same old journey. Whatever 2013 brings, by the grace of God I can afford to laugh at the future. Take my money — there’s not too much in the bank. Take my reputation — it’s not too much to begin with. Even if something were to take my life, that would ultimately be good for me! This truth remains solid — I am without debt. I owe nothing for anything that has happened in the past years of my life and I owe nothing for the future years. My debts have been settled. In fact, in God’s eyes, I never had any debt to begin with! God, how dare I believe anyone owes me anything when you have so fully and freely paid for everything for me.
Happy New Year!
“She is clothed in strength and dignity and she can afford to laugh at tomorrow.” Proverbs 31:20
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