The Root of Bitterness
It's been a week and I'm already hoping I can survive this search for Value. In many ways I feel like I'm in rehab, learning my 12 steps to a full recovery from not really knowing who I am or what I'm about. This is going to be more than learning cute little lessons and then writing about them, I'm discovering. It becomes clear that as I ask God to teach me where my value truly lies, he surprises me by showing me where it is not, as I wrote last week. And this week, revealing the condition of my own heart in response to people who've hurt me, showing me my lack of response when someone does or says something which causes me pain.
I assumed that those behaviors; the calm acceptance of others rudeness, the silence with which I met comments that demoralized or humiliated me, the way in which I picked up everyone's image of me, especially the negative ones, and placed them squarely on myself, absorbing them totally, would eventually fade away or perhaps even be snapped away in an instant the moment I realized the origin of My Elusive Value. All I had to do was figure out the One Word answer to why I don't value myself and that would instantly solve these little annoyances.
However, it becomes evident as I proceed, even in these early stages, that while Christian doctrine would give a simple, decisive and cliche answer to that question; which is obviously, "you must find your identity in Christ!", the answer in my own life is more complicated than that and cannot be defined in one single word, even if that word is Jesus.
Quite possibly, the answer to this quandary shares characteristics with the quantum sciences in that it is many things at the same time, all equally possible yet wholly individual and happening simultaneously. And my responses to people who have hurt me are just one tiny facet in the gem of self evaluation. This is incredibly frustrating.
You see, I assumed that my answers would be found at the end of my search, packaged neatly and ready for printing by the end of the twelve months I've predestined for myself to finish this endeavor. As I said, it becomes clear to me that my answer, indeed my many answers, are going to be found within the journey itself, within the God who leads me through this maze, and will never be neat, tidy or even really ever 'finished'.
I watched my life carefully this week, waiting for another 'basement breakthrough' to occur so that I could quickly grasp it, write it, and add it to the file of research I find myself doing daily. The element that I didn't expect, perhaps stupidly, was that when examining my own life, I would find things that deeply hurt me. I assumed this project would be all about research, interviews with other women, mass amounts of reading. But apparently, the search for True Value is my own individual search and is between myself and my Creator, and has little or nothing to do with the experiences of anyone else. It is not comparable. This weeks lesson has been centered on the contents of my heart, something only He can advise me on.
I have always thought of myself as an outspoken person. But I don't think that's an accurate statement. I can be outspoken, but more often than not, I opt to just take people's rudeness or insult and say nothing. Again, this begs the question why? Perhaps the solution is not in whether or not I address their rudeness or criticism or insult, but in whether or not I accept it internally and what I do with it from there.
My habit has always been to take their words in, mull them over, allow them to sting and then to harbor a deep and perpetual dislike for that person forever after. I marry this reliable tactic with gossip, avoidance and withdrawal, which is really a form of assault as it's delivered with the same intention, which is to hurt.
I can guarantee with eerie certainty that I can remember every insult or bullying remark I've ever received. I cannot remember my responses, probably because there were none, at least outwardly, but the names of those who hurt me will be forever engraved on my heart. I carry them still, those old wounds, and they never fail to reinfect the other areas of my life, other relationships, with their poison.
If you had asked me a week ago if I was a bitter person, I would have given a resounding "NO!" in response. After all, it's not like I constantly think about those incidents or even really remember them unless I try. But bitterness is more than persistent emotion at remembered pain, it's all the ways we allow our life to be different, in ways it otherwise would not have been, ways that harm or otherwise inhibit us and take away our freedom, as a result of that pain. Under this new definition, I must look back and reexamine. Am I a bitter person? Yeah, I think I am.
I have considered that perhaps changing my response to people when they are critical or rude or judgmental and simply telling them off might be successful at deflecting what they're saying. If I could just snap back at them then I'd be good to go. Unfortunately, my hang up here is that when we're openly rude or critical or judgmental to others, we look really, really ugly. And I would rather be the one who says nothing in response to the person who looks so ugly rather than the sort of person who gets sucked in and responds in kind. But it still hurts and I still want to say mean things to them and you can bet, I can still remember everything they said to me years later. So I don't think my silence is really working for me.
How in the world does this interface with a search for Value? I asked myself that question as well and even questioned whether or not this was worth writing about. But after experiencing FIVE different people saying or doing openly rude or humiliating things just this last week alone, a record high even for me, I had ample opportunity to examine my responses and my heart. I was disappointed and surprised to find bitterness there.
It appears that cleaning up my life, sorting the garbage from the treasures, is going to be happening internally, too, not just in the basement. And it's going to have to start with forgiveness.
My value isn't expressed or honored when I choose to respond to someone's rudeness or insensitivity with rudeness of my own, even if that rudeness and pain are kept to myself. It's not just honored, but also radiated, when the only response my heart is capable of offering is one of love.
In Renovation of The Heart, Dallas Willard states that
"Actions are not impositions on who we are. They come out of our heart and the inner realities it supervises and interacts with."
What's he's saying here is that we behave exactly like the kind of people that we actually are. My responses to people are not accidental, they don't have excuses to justify them, they aren't just 'bad choices' as our culture is so fond of saying. We choose them because we are the kind of people that would choose them.
And my response to that is; uh oh.
And my prayer along with that is, Lord, change me. Make me the woman that you want me to be. Because I can't just magically stop being bitter and I certainly won't pretend that those feelings aren't there if they actually are. What good would that do me? My life would still express who I was in the choices I'd make, according to Willard. So the only solution is that God himself do the work required to transform my inner person into Christlikeness.
But I can be obedient. I can choose forgiveness. And, one memory, one hurt at a time, "take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ." I can make the choice to love God and love others (and there's a reason that love for God comes FIRST here.) sincerely, from the depths of my heart and not just in shallow action occasionally.
So, I'll be spending some time this week making a list of those individuals who have wounded me in various ways. And then I'm going to choose to forgive them and let it go. I'll do this for as long as it takes until forgiveness moves in to the place where bitterness used to live because, apparently, finding value is more than introspection at what's already there, it is the willing participation in the change and growth from what's already there to what we will become as He changes us.
"I am confident of this; that He who began a good work in you will carry it out to completion until the day of Christ." Phil 1:6