I find it really hard to admit that I’ve been hurt by another human being. I might joke about it or rant, or even numb my feelings (since this is my default for dealing with negative emotions.) Part of it is trying to avoid the shame of what has happened or has been done to me, or the shame that I let someone get close enough to hurt me. (My battle with unholy shame is a story for another day.) I also feel the weight of my ministry calling, and I have a strong belief that the gospel compels me to love my God and my neighbor. The easiest thing for me to do is deny or minimize antagonistic feelings towards another person. The problem is that the hurt turns into bitterness, which then turns into anger. Although I may have numbed the emotions temporarily, they are like an ulcer that grows and poisons my spirit. I know I’ve gotten to this point when any mention or thought of the person results in me obsessively thinking about the impact the other person has had on me or others.
In the past, I’ve prayed about the bitterness and anger that rooted themselves in my heart.. The hardest thing about it is living with the tension of the conflict that I can’t fix. Some conflicts, in my opinion, will not resolve without the Holy Spirit’s intervention…it’s not up to me. I’ve spoken the truth in love, but ended up becoming a target because of that. Even though I’ve prayed, I still have to live with the emotion, day in, day out, month by month. It’s something I continually need to bring before the Lord. I also tend to complain to God, “why did you ask me to tell the truth?” The reply is, “I gave you a heart for justice. I want you to trust Me for the consequences because I’m walking with you.”
At the same time, I’ve been doing a word study on the word rest. All over the Old Testament, I find verses about God giving the Israelites rest from their enemies.
But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side, and there is no adversary or disaster. 1 Kings 5:4 (MSG)
Praise be to the Lord, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses. 1 Kings 8:56 (MSG)
I feel like I am entering a place of rest, too, because what needed to be said was said. And yet, sometimes forgiveness eludes me as much as I have prayed for it. Bitterness impacts me deeply and hinders me from caring for others (my primary job at the moment) and having joy in my daily life. I really like what this article from Psychology Today says,
Consider that if you obsessively ruminate on the righteousness of your anger, your wrath will only become further inflamed. For it exists in the first place to mask your underlying emotional distress by prompting you to focus not on the personal injury you’ve suffered—and certainly not on what you need to do to heal that hurt—but on the one who so wronged you. Besides, you don’t really have any control over the other person.
I read Psalms 55 as part of my ‘Read through the Bible in One Year’ plan, and this jumped out at me,
This isn’t the neighborhood bully
mocking me—I could take that.
This isn’t a foreign devil spitting
invective—I could tune that out.
It’s you! We grew up together!
You! My best friend!
Those long hours of leisure as we walked
arm in arm, God a third party to our conversation. Psalm 55:12-14 (MSG)
I don’t see much in the way of David forgiving his enemies in this Psalm, but here he acknowledges the depth of friendship that he had with his enemy. It’s easier to overlook the insults and hurtful actions of someone who isn’t a family member, colleague or close friend. I don’t have as much to lose with a stranger.
And here, David mentions the other people hurt by his enemy:
And this, my best friend, betrayed his best friends;
his life betrayed his word.
All my life I’ve been charmed by his speech,
never dreaming he’d turn on me.
His words, which were music to my ears,
turned to daggers in my heart. Psalm 55:20-21 (MSG)
Here in the trenches of missionary life, secondary trauma is common. Our relationships go deep, and so we hurt when our friends hurt. We grieve and feel each other’s pain. I will readily admit to obsessing over my friend’s issues even more than my own (and believe me, I know it’s not healthy!!) It means that I have to forgive in a secondary way, even for things that were not done to me directly.
I’m nowhere near where I want to be, but God’s Word is the spiritual food I needed today, to accept the state of rest I’m in, and to grieve the injustices that I (and my friends) have encountered. After all, Jesus says,
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)