My Big, Steaming Pile
When I was a kid, maybe ten, I was falsely accused of saying something I didn’t by the parents of one of my friends. Pretty horrible, too. They were wealthy, respectable folks in my neighborhood and my parents had no reason not to believe them. They came to our house, sat down with my folks, retold their perspective of the events and then left. I got the spanking. Truth was their son had said it, not me. I could never convince them of that. Nor my folks. A few months later, my sister falsely accused me of pulling down another girl’s panties when I hadn’t. The accusing sister had. I got the spanking. My sister batter her eyelids and said, “No, daddy. Charles did it.” Then a few months later, a kid I didn’t know waved me down, stopped me in the middle of the street on the way to the movie theatre, seemed friendly enough, and asked to ride my bike -- the bike I’d spent eight months saving for -- and since I was trying to do like mom and dad said and treat people like Jesus, I said ‘yes’ and haven’t seen him since. I remember standing in that street calling after that kid, asking him to bring back my back.
I walked home, and climbed up in a chair. I was in a bad way. A knot tightening in my stomach. Fists clenched. Bitter. Angry. Bubbling hatred. Self pity thrown in for good measure. You could smell me coming -- I was Ripe with unforgiveness. Just inches from the dark side. And, I had every right to feel that way. Pretty soon, the dam broke and I cried from the bottom of my belly -- the angriest cry I’d ever known. I remember shaking and being unable to catch my breath. For minutes at a time. If you want to see what I looked like, pour gasoline in a styrofoam cup. That was me...
My cries brought my mom out of the kitchen. She was pretty good at reading my body language so she walked in, sat next to my chair and just waited. It took me a few minutes to get the words out my mouth.
She listened and then gave me my options:
I could go on my un-merry way. Skin thicker. Heart more calloused. Eyes narrower. Puffed up. Hell-bent on vengeance and vindication. ‘Fool me once...’ and all that.
Or, I could take that big, steaming, putrid pile, and hand the whole thing to Jesus, forfeiting my right to vindication. To retribution. To evening the score.
I remember looking at my mother like she’d lost her ever-loving mind.
I mean, are you kidding me! Where were the 39-lashes, the public humiliation, the beheading, the drawing and quartering, the trumpet that lowers from the clouds along with a booming heavenly voice declaring, “Behold, World! Charles just got royally screwed in life and all of you need to know it!!!” I wanted to rip that kid’s his head off and post it on a stake outside the city walls.
I said something like, “What is fair about that?”
It’s been a long time, but I think I remember her inching closer to me, and saying something like, “Jesus wants justice, too. More than you. And, He will get it. Justice is one of the foundations of his throne, but in this moment right here, he is concerned with your heart.”
So, we prayed. Mom led and I grunted in agreement. I don’t remember what we prayed, and I’m pretty sure my heart wasn’t in it, but I do know -- as a statement of absolute fact -- that that prayer cut me free from what was threatening to eat me from the inside out.
As an adult this has not gotten easier. A few years ago some folks dinged me. Wrongfully hurt me. Betrayal. Rejection. I got it all. Deep hurt. It was a big-people wound and I was left bleeding. Let me be gut-check honest. I wanted the Maximus moment in the Colosseum -- “I will have my vengeance in this life or the next.”
But I also knew that Maximus in the Colosseum would not and could not deal with the Maximus in my gut. I knew better.
Despite my emotions, I knew that if I kept that big steaming pile bottled up in me, then I was -- by default -- saying the Cross didn’t count for squat. And I make Jesus out to be a liar. And I rot from the inside out.
And the thought of that hurt far worse than the pitiful little wound I was bemoaning.
So, I started praying. Pretty raw at first. “Lord, I’m mad. Actually, I’m down right hacked off. And I don’t want to be praying about this. I want you to zap those folks with lightning bolts. Poof! Cloud of smoke.” Then I did something else I didn’t want to do. With a friend as a witness, I physically placed my hand on my chest, grabbed my figurative heart and handed it to Jesus. Then, out loud, I said, “Lord, it’s too much for me. I don’t want this in me anymore. And I need You to be You and take it. Right now. Right here. I’m done playing. I forgive them outright and completely for everything they ever did to me. Period. Let me say that again because it gets at the root of this -- I forgive them outright and completely for everything they ever did to me. I tear up the I.O.U. Lord, Your word says ‘bless those who curse you and pray for those who persecute you.’ So, would you please bless those folks. And, I mean it. I want you to bless them. Bless their socks off. Bless their hopes, dreams, lives, families, children, careers, homes. The whole shebang.” I did that everyday. For days.
Did I ‘feel’ better? Not immediately. But my feelings weren’t driving this train. I was. My feelings didn’t want to forgive them outright and completely. They kept wanting to tuck the IOU someplace safe. Pull it out when needed. Welcome to the war of unforgiveness. SO, I kept praying. I prayed until I woke up and didn’t need to pray anymore. No bitterness. No anger. No smell of decay.
NOTE: I AM NOT saying that you should become a doormat and let people walk all over you. Don’t hear that. Nor am I minimizing those horrible things done to you as a kid that should never have been done. Or what your ex-husband did. Or...that man now in prison. Or the partner who robbed you blind. Or the stuff that hurts so bad you’ve never told anyone. Or what happened in that prison camp in Dacahau or Vietnam. Or...fill in your wound. I am also NOT saying they shouldn’t be prosecuted in this life and get away scott-free. Don’t hear that either. I’m FOR justice. But, that’s external and another conversation entirely. You’re right to feel hurt. It was wrong. Way wrong. What you feel is a very real wound. I believe you. Please hear me when I say, I’m sorry for the thing that hurt you and I wish it had never been done.
But, what we’re talking about here, right now in this moment, is the effect of that wound in you.
Let’s turn the mirror. Eyes on you a second. Fair or not -- Here’s the deal -- Jesus will let you keep your hurt. He’ll never take anything from you that you don’t give him. He will not exert His will over yours, BUT, if you offer it up, He’ll remove it. Roots and all.
This is the exchange that occurred on the Cross. That’s when God the Father drove a stake in the ground and said, “No more.” And it is those words that still echo through eternity. The exchange is this -- we give Him our pain, and he gives us His life to the full. His Freedom. His Healing. Period. End of story. No if’s, and‘s, or but’s.
It works like this: Unforgiveness is like velcro -- We’re the soft side. The wound is the stiff, prickly part. Look at them under a magnifying glass and they look like small hoops and j-hooks. Anyway, the j-hook can only latch on if there’s a soft loop side. It needs a place to purchase. To dig in. Otherwise, it slides off.
If you’re still reading then, chances are, you’ve been wounded and we’re way past a Band-Aid. What I’m about to recommend is, depending on the wound, like digging out a bullet, or maybe pulling a spear out of your chest.
The steps are pretty simple -- Stop what you’re doing. Don’t dally. Grab somebody by the hand you can pray with -- out loud. If you don’t have someone, pray out loud alone. Why out loud? Because I believe Hebrews 11 and 12. We’re surrounded by a great host of witnesses and I want them -- and more importantly, Jesus -- to hear me. Then don’t hold back and lay it out there. If you have to scream it at the top of your lungs, then let it out. If people look at you funny, they’ll get over it. Say something like this: “Jesus, this hurts. Alot. I’m in pain. I’m mad at so-and-so. (Name them. Each one.) Like seriously angry. They hurt me. And it’s way down deep pain. I don’t want it in me anymore. (This may seem overly dramatic but just go with me) I’m am leaning against your Cross. Hugging splintered wood. The blood dripping off your feet, is landing on my head. Bathing me. Dripping off my chin. Clothing me in scarlet. So, right here, I lay it down. I give up my justified right to be mad and my desire for vengeance, and vindication. I tear up this wrinkled I.O.U. I give them to you. I’m sorry for being angry. For hating them. I’m really sorry. I (physically) give you my heart. Please clean it. Wash it. Fill it. Heal it. King David prayed, ‘Create in me a clean heart.’ I want one of those. I forgive them outright and completely -- of everything. Forever. I’m burning my list of wrongs. And I’m asking you to bless them. Bless their socks off. In every way. In Jesus name.”
You might find me insensitive at the moment but you’ll notice I’m not asking you how you ‘feel‘ right now because your feelings aren’t driving this train. If feelings were the tiller that steered the ship of forgiveness, Jesus never would have climbed up on that Cross. He’d have kicked it to the curb. Don’t think so? Then why was he sweating blood?
Let’s take it a day further. Let’s say you wake up tomorrow and feel that little twinge or that whisper that says, “Well, yeah you might have prayed that yesterday but they really screwed you over and you have every right to be mad.” You’re right, you do. That’s why forgiveness is a choice. A daily decision of your will. Not your emotions.
In the end, forgiveness isn’t really for them. It’s for me. For you. You’re not accepting what they did, not letting them off the hook, but you are giving them -- still squirming on the hook -- to Jesus. The difference lies in who is left holding the hook. Forgiveness is the thing that cuts my chains. Unlocks my cell. Flings wide my prison door. Don’t fool yourself -- There is a war going on right now for your heart and forgiveness is the undefeated champion of this universe and the next. Period.
Not convinced? Try this. It’s Jesus speaking: “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. So shall my heavenly Father also do to you, IF each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
Ouch. You mean God won’t forgive me if I don’t forgive others? Go read it for yourself. Need more proof? Remember when he taught the disciples to pray. “Forgive us our sins, AS we forgive those who sin against us.”
Still not convinced?
After a lifetime with Jesus, this is what the Apostle John said: “IF we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
IF, AS, and IF are all conditional. That begs the question. Have you met the conditions?
For me it’s not usually the one giant blow. The single spear through my chest. That’s easier to recognize. It’s all the little ones that pile up -- death by a thousand cuts. A dozen arrows in the back. That’s where I get in trouble.
There’s a part of this conversation I’m not tackling right now because if I did, we’re be here for another hour, but it’s the part where I’m the guilty party -- where I wound people who need to forgive me. If you want to accuse me of not loving my neighbor as I should, of being a hypocrite, of wounding people in the very same way I was wounded -- maybe even worse -- let me save you the trouble. I’m guilty. My righteousness is as filthy rags. I’m chief among sinners. But for the Cross, my sins would require death. I know this. I also know that it’s all rooted in my pride, But, let’s just tackle one stronghold at a time. Place a book mark here. More on this later.
The problem with this forgiveness thing is this -- this side of heaven -- there’s no end to it. We live in a fallen world. Fallen people. We’re all broken. All walk with a limp. “Our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour...” And unforgiveness is one of his most potent weapons. Want to call yourself a Christian? Forgive someone who doesn’t deserve it. Yep, it’s tough. Dang straight. Might be the hardest thing you and I ever do.
And it was and is the heart of Jesus.
If it’s not, then please tell me why on earth did Jesus, having been beaten beyond measure -- Isaiah says his visage was marred more than any man, another translation says he was unrecognizable as a man -- hanging by three nails, drowning in his own lung fluid, actually utter these words: Father, forgive them... Let that sink in. He could have summoned legions of angels to his rescue, lightning bolts from the throne, and yet there he hangs, asking for their, and our, forgiveness as they -- and we -- are killing him. If you recoil at that, don’t. Don’t sugar coat this. We killed Jesus. My sin. Your sin. Forgiveness is life and death. His death. Our life.
This is the wonder and majesty and heart-breaking awesomeness of the heart of Jesus -- and it’s the part that brings me to my knees. The part where He says, ‘Yeah, I know. I love you despite your pile.’
Just because I’m writing about this doesn’t mean I think I’m somehow better than others or I’ve got this figured out or whatever. That’s bunk. I was brushing my teeth this morning and felt the twinge of something else that happened to me. A memory of a rejection. I felt the screws turn. The slight rush. And yep, it still hurts. No resolution. But, there I stood. Foaming at the mouth. Toothbrush in hand. And these words bubbled up: “Sin is crouching at your door and it’s desire is to have you.” (God said this to Cain after he killed Abel. And, that word for ‘desire’ is the same word used in Song of Solomon for the desire between two lovers. Pretty strong.) Truth be told, that memory led to another memory. Ding number two. I looked in the mirror and you should’ve seen my face when the realization hit me. It’s like a chain -- one link leading to another. Encircling my heart. Choking the life and love out. So let me sum up -- here it is in a nutshell. You’re neck-deep in a war with an enemy who wants your head on a platter. He wants to enslave you. Forever. ONLY ONE THING breaks that chain and it’s not doctors, not psychiatrists, not medications, not alcohol, not marijuana, not will power, not the power of positive thinking, not a gun, not mysticism, not nothing. Standing there at the mirror, I crawled back to the feet of Jesus. Arms out. Ducking my head under the drip. “It’s me again. I’m back. I tried carrying this stuff all on my own and it’s not working out too well. Here. Please take it. I’m sorry. I forgive them outright and completely...” It’s not easy. Most of the times it hurts like Hell. And Hell likes it that way. Hell wants it to hurt. But, here’s the deal -- Hell has no counter to forgiveness. It’s powerless. Disarmed. Defenseless. Speechless. Undone. Dead in the water. Tied hand and foot and lying across the tracks.
One last thing. If you’re starting to agree with me, but you’re standing there sizing up your own pile and thinking to yourself, Dude, have you seen the size of this thing? What? You think, He’s never seen a pile like yours? Really? 6 billion people on the planet and your pile is special? That’s a lie. No matter what you hand Him, no matter how big, awful or ugly, He is faithful. Because after he said, Father, forgive them... He said, “It is finished!” And He wasn’t kidding. The Cross was and is the greatest singular defeat in the history of the world. It is vengeance. It is vindication. It more than evened the score. It is the day that God the Father drove a stake in the ground and said, “This ends right here.” Jesus, the King of Glory, the God of Angel Armies, the Lover of My Soul, My Healer and My Redeemer, the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the One who holds the keys to death and hades, the Living One, the One who washes me white as snow and dresses me in scarlet, has taken from me every horrible, painful, evil, puss-filled wound I’ve ever offered up. Without fail. And what He’s given me in return, well...nothing compares.