The sun beat down on my face as I stormed off down the sidewalk. I fought the desire to throw up at noticing the irony of carrying my Bible in my arm while also carrying so much hate in my heart. I had screwed up. Again.
I kept walking, full of anger and hurt and self-pity, and I knew that all of my feelings were wrong, but felt so bombarded by them that the only thought that rang loud and clear, was a lie: it’s your fault that things are the way they are.
I fought the urge to cry and started thinking about how many people go home to situations much worse, how their fathers abuse and use them, and how there’s addiction and drugs in their homes, and how there’s emptiness and hopelessness at the center of their lives. I had none of that. My sister is still alive, though she’d tried to take her life. My Mom is still alive, though she’s deeply wounded and walking in a daze. My brother is still alive, though he’d once been living to please everyone else. Even my Dad is still alive, despite the anger, pain, and general sorrow that characterizes his life. And none of them are physically violent or addicted. We really have it good.
I walked down the one way street dubbed in my neighborhood as the “danger zone,” where bad people lived like sex offenders and drunks. I don’t think I cared, and I wondered how many times someone had talked to them about Christ, and how many church girls had thought to smile at them. But there was no one on the street except for me, and all I could think was that they wouldn’t want to hear about Jesus from me anyway. My clothes were too nice today and I’d just lost my temper with my sister.
It’s your fault.
Why aren’t you doing more?
I had originally purposed to go bridge-jumping where my cousin and I used to go fishing for sunnies and crawdads. Maybe it would wake me up and I’d be able to think again. But I wondered if my anger and fear would be a deadly combination and I’d end up hurt, since I’d never gone bridge-jumping before.
Wake up. What do you have in your Scriptural arsenal to fight with? Come on. You are more than what you’re feeling.
The truths kept coming in mixed with the lies and I couldn’t tell which was which after a while. And I didn’t feel right about reciting scripture or even praying, not with the state of my heart, though I knew that whole thought process was a lie as well.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)
I suddenly noticed the creek to my right, that had been there my entire childhood, that I’d waded in once or twice, and I tried to ignore all of the bad memories flooding in with the good. I don’t think I thought. I put my purse and books in the grassy bank, which descended steeply into the water. I took off my flats and my cardigan, and I put my hair back.
It’s your fault. You’re failing. You’re the cause of all of your family’s suffering. You’re advising Mom incorrectly concerning Dad. You’re being unloving towards Dad. You’re failing. You are unloved and unworthy and fake. You are not a real follower of Christ. You are not a real daughter of God, and if you are, you’re really bad at being one. What’s the point of planning a wedding and getting married if you’re just going to cause even more pain, this time to a brand new generation? This time, to Jake?
I skidded down the rocky bank in my bare feet and landed in the water. I suddenly wondered if this was illegal. I thought through how I would respond to a police officer who asked me to get out of the water, thought through my response and made sure it was of few words and of respectful tone, because I would be wrong, and he would be right.
The cool current shocked me into full consciousness, and I watched as the summer sun make the water glisten as it tumbled over the rocks and into whirlpools, as God’s creativity showed up even here in a small creek on the side of the road. To my left, it flowed under a bridge, through a stone tunnel with no roof, and into the Unadilla river. To my right, it stretched far away toward the middle of town and then under it and beyond. Trees grew tall and cast shadows on the section in which I stood, but farther up the sun overwhelmed the water.
I put my hands in the pockets of my skirt and waded up and down the creek, thinking. I thought about earlier in the week, as I’d been challenged by Pastor Dan to disciple the girls in church, namely his daughter. And then, as I’d been praying for her and praying for more opportunities to disciple girls in the church, one new teenage girl came to Sunday school that morning. I thought through my conversations with her, my conversations with Julie (Pastor Dan’s wife), my experiences with the girls at Pratt. And I tried not to feel like a hypocrite the entire time, tried to ignore the thoughts of “You have nothing to offer, and no right to offer anything you do have.”
I thought through how I had just treated my sister, how I’d reacted to her reaction in anger and frustration, and how I couldn’t believe the words I’d said had come out of my own mouth. And I knew she wouldn’t want my apology when I returned, and I knew she wouldn’t want to talk anything through. She was tired of talking, just like I was. But I didn’t know how to change, and she didn’t want to.
“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.” (Romans 7:15-21)
I thought through the fact that my Dad was supposed to come over this afternoon to talk about the wedding and to help me with some things, and how he probably, possibly, had canceled because of what my Mom said to him last night, which I had advised her to really pray about and get counsel on before saying or taking any action. I tried to ignore the desire to be angry at both of them for their relationship with each other, for the passive aggressive comments Dad made about Mom, and the false generalizations Mom made about Dad, and how decisions regarding that relationship seemed to already be tainting decisions concerning the wedding, which I was praying and wanting to be a tool for the gospel, for love, and for service. I tried to see them through God’s eyes and love them instead, but I was angry.
What makes you think that leaning on God’s promises will really help you at all in your marriage? Your mom has been saying those promises for years, and look where she is. You’re going to end up in the same exact place. Or you’re going to be like your Dad; miserable and hurting and assumed to be a rock without feelings.
I took my hands out of my pockets and balanced myself as I nearly slipped and fell on moss-covered rocks. I couldn’t understand why I again couldn’t think of any verses to fight off the lies and resist the temptation to be angry. Why couldn’t I just depend on God to rescue me here?
Because you don’t deserve it. You don’t deserve to use Scripture to remind you of anything good, because of how much you’re screwing everything up.
I got out of the water, and fought the urge to cry once again. I fought the urge to run away. I fought the urge to depend on anyone other than God, but I wasn’t even sure I was doing that. I struggled to recall what God thought of me in light of His claim on me, despite my sin.
As I walked home barefooted, my shoes in my hand, I cried, and gave up trying to fight it anymore. I tried not to be hopeless as I saw my house rise up in the distance. I tried to remember that He forgives my sins as I’ve confessed them to Him, even my sin of anger, and also my sin of fear, and that Satan can’t mess with me. I tried to think of how God sees my family, and how He loves them, and how He loves me. And I tried to remember that that’s all that matters. That it’s not about me or my feelings. It’s not about what people think of me, or how I’ve failed. It’s not about how well I can control myself or how much discipline I have. It’s not about me, at all.
“‘I, I am he who comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass, and have forgotten the Lord, your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, and you fear continually all the day because of the wrath of the oppressor, when he sets himself to destroy? And where is the wrath of the oppressor?'” (Isaiah 51:12-13)
Later on, the power would be out in the house and Dad would come over anyway, and we would talk about the wedding. Later on, Gracie would ask what the point of talking and apologizing was if it was just going to happen again, and I would walk away because I didn’t know what else to do except pray. Later on, I would remember that God is greater, and that He’s somehow bigger than all of it, than my bouts of hate and my fear and my sin…And that He can somehow use an undeserving, pitiful me, to save the world.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)