Vulnerability 102: Bitterness and Forgiveness
If you would have asked me in mid 2017 what life was going to look like during 2018 I would have said it was going to be great. Why? On this day last year I was supposed to get married; instead, I went over to a friend's house to keep my mind occupied and keep from dwelling on the past six or so weeks. Right before Thanksgiving of 2017 I found out my fiance had been cheating on me... Take a breath. If you are preparing for or want a gossip session, you are not going to get it. That will be the last I will focus explicitly on her decision. It happened, and this entry is about how forgiveness played a role in recovery.
The Weight of Bitterness
There was a tremendous amount of hurt in my life that resulted from this event. Hurt that I received and hurt that gave out. When someone is unfaithful towards you it makes you feel worthless. You feel like you do not matter. Since we have been conditioned to not be vulnerable, especially guys, we often lock it away. The hurt was like a big, messy spill and I allowed my heart to soak it up and trap it like a sponge. In the initial moments, if I was pressed the hurt would seep out and make another mess; to my regret this was largely endured by my family. I knew this was not right, but I did not want to let go. Instead, I put on my pride and said, "I'm okay... I forgive her." I put that nasty, hurt-filled sponge on a paper plate and covered it with shiny aluminum foil.
See! I'm all better now. Look how cleaned up the exterior of my life is. Over time, though, that sponged started to mildew and the leakage softened the paper plate that was my isolation. It is comical to me now, but I truly believed that people would believe this shiny exterior. I thought that only I knew the bottom was beginning to fall apart. Yet, as time progressed the hurt I soaked up began to reek. Feelings of worthlessness turned into an identity of loneliness. Feelings of remorse turned into an identity of resentment. From November to January I went from simply a hurt individual to a bitter, resentful, unpleasant, hurt individual. The truth is, underneath all bitterness is trapped hurt. Bitterness is simply a manifestation of unreconciled hurt. Due to the fact that I was faking reconciliation and regeneration, I did not have a proper way to wring out the hurt and cleanse my heart.
As such, the hurt continued to decompose and manifest itself in unfruitful means. I was stewing in my hurt. I was rotting away for two months under the guise of being strong and having it all together. I tried to end the loneliness by having a brief (week-long) stint on dating apps. All I wanted was someone to talk to. Yet I never got any response, and it plunged me further into not feeling desirable. I fueled my resentment by blowing up on my family, because someone needed to receive my anger. I could not blow up on people here because then they would know I was not as strong, put-together, and righteous as I claimed. Then February 6th happened.
The Freedom of Forgiveness
I was attending the weekly young-adults ministry, The Porch, at my church. I had once been a strong believer and the buried truth drew me back to church. Yet, a large part of me simply desired to look put together and attending church propagated my guise of being put together and "doing the right thing". This week, the pastor, Jonathan "JP" Pokluda was speaking on Anger/Bitterness and Forgiveness. Friends, there have been a few times in my life when I have felt as if I'm the only one in the room... This was one of those times. For the next hour I was reminded of truth I had known for sometime.
1.) There is no limit to God's forgiveness. Matthew 18:21-22
2.) Forgiven people forgive people. Matthew 18:32-35
3.) My forgiveness demonstrates God's forgiveness. Matthew 18:32-35
Yet, one thing stuck out the most it me. It was JP's definition of forgiveness. Forgiveness is taking into full account what someone cost you, and not making them pay you back. What a realization. My bitterness came from a since of needing payment for my hurt. So, one month from when I was supposed to wed, I made a list of all the things my ex-fiance had cost me. I crossed them out and wrote "FORGIVEN" next to them. I made a decision to not only say I forgive, but to live like it.
Oh that it could be that easy? Write it down and it simply goes away. The hard reality is, it is not that easy. I had to choose to forgive her every time bitterness arose, and at the onset this was a daily decision. Why would I do this? To make this poetic, I came back to the understanding that I am unfaithful to God ALL THE TIME. Yet, He chose to forgive me for ALL of my sins by sending His Son to die on the cross. As a Christian, I am called to be like Christ; therefore, I must also forgive if I am who I claim to be. I was tired of lying to everyone and being fake. However, this would not be accomplished under my own strength. I had to let the Lord take over and wash that moldy, stinky sponge of a heart. This consisted of prayer, Bible intake, and confession. This required me to ask others I had hurt to forgive me. It required sacrifice and from February to mid May I did not go all in.
Life was getting better during this time, though. The resentment and bitterness had mostly been washed away. If you recall, I said that underneath all bitterness is hurt, and the underlying hurt was still unreconciled. Despite turning over the anger and bitterness to the Lord, I still wanted to act tough and act like I did not have any hurt. I masked this by going on a litany of trips (work and personal travel) during April and into May. At the height of this masking I contemplated leaving Texas altogether. I remember several nights having job applications open, but could never finish filling them out or hit submit. I was running and wanted to continue to run; I did not want to be vulnerable. Then May 18th happened. I visited Death Valley National Park and hiked to the top of Telescope Peak. I was out of cell service for two days, so it was just me and God. Friends, I came down that mountain knowing I needed to stay and knowing I needed to go all in.
He had been faithful up to this point and my life had started to turn up. How much more would it turn if I went all in? How much more would I heal if I began relentlessly pursue after Christ again? I increased my prayer time, I increased my Bible intake, I increased my service, and I stopped running. The hurt began to rapidly subside. My joy began to overflow. I made a ton of new friends. I found joy in sharing the Gospel. I did not want to be distant from family. I started to be vulnerable. I shared more parts of my life. I did things that took me out of my comfort zone. I still missed the mark, but I have not looked back. The decision I made on February 6th, 2018 to forgive my ex-fiance has spread to others. The beautiful thing is, forgiveness gets easier and easier the closer I get to the Lord.
Friends, I've come to learn from experience the truths in the Bible:
Forgiveness is not a one time decision, it is a continual one
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. Matthew 18:21-22, ESV
That me being weak gives me strength
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31, ESV)
That this life is a marathon and if I run with endurance (read faithfulness) that my faith will be perfected
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV)
I want to close with a verse from Psalm 107 that I repeated daily for over a month. It is found in verses 6, 13, 19, and 28 and says:
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. (Psalm 107:6, 9, 19, 28, ESV)
Oh man did He deliver me from my distress when I cried out. The first several drafts ended here, but I want to make a few additions. When I reflect and reread this I am captivated by how God works in the tiniest of ways. I am so grateful that I never received any messages during my week-long stint on dating apps. When I look back at that time, I want to smack myself. I so badly wanted to be pursued, but was blind to the fact that my heavenly Father was pursuing me and protecting me. The second thing I want to add is that this was more difficult to write than anticipated. I had to choose several times to again forgive past transgressions. When I think about what it cost me it is such an easy temptation to be angry, but what I have gained I is so life-giving. People have heard me say that my dis-engagement is the best thing that has ever happened to me outside of getting saved... And I mean it, not out of spite or to shame my ex, but because my walk with God has become so much more intimate.
A Crooked Stick
Anger & Forgiveness - Jonathan Pokluda: https://www.theporch.live/messages/5185