I sat in the dimly lit living room, with Dog, the German Shepherd, cuddled up next to me, as I tried to finish the many mini-assignments for my online History class. All of the family with whom I presently lived had retired for the evening. This was the first time in a while I’d used homework and studying to avoid the poison of bitterness and hurt pervading my heart.
I fell asleep in “my” room later while reading a book about Virginia Dare. I woke up the next morning, avoiding talking to the God I knew was waiting, expectantly, for me run to Him for help and sense and peace. Everything—well, almost everything—in me resisted running to Him. I needed to protect myself.
I left the house to go coffeeshopping before chapel, knowing He was present, tugging on my heart, not willing to let one of His warriors forsake their Sword in the midst of battle. Deployment was getting harder. My selfishness and self-dependence were coming out more obviously than they had when Jake was in the States. Our deepest struggles and the evidence of our disobedience had started to tug on each other in ways that hurt, and the latest conflict, or what felt kind of like one, brought out the struggles of self-preservation and self-reliance that I’d buried and had forgotten about.
Don’t let yourself be manipulated. Don’t let yourself be taken advantage of. Don’t let yourself be abused.
I knew that I was not in any kind of situation where any of those things would happen, and there had been no actions taken to merit those responses in myself; I was physically and emotionally safe. I also knew that my current heaviness of mind had nothing to do with Jake, and had everything to do with my heart. It wasn’t about anything Jacob had said or done, and had everything to do with my response and the reaction of my heart. My heart was wrong, which was frustrating, because it meant I had no one else to blame for my present state.
I pulled onto Post, into the Starbucks parking lot, into a spot. I walked towards the Starbucks kind of stuck in my own thoughts. What right, I thought, do I have to be brooding so deeply? I’m surely not facing any real issue. I’m being too sensitive. These things shouldn’t bother me so much or hurt so deeply. I have a home, food to eat, clothes to wear, and an infinite amount of extra stuff that I was never promised nor am I entitled to. I have people in my life who love me regardless of what I do. Why am I so stuck? I suppose when material things are taken care of, it feels like I have no excuse for the sin in myself.
I went past the coffee shop, where I knew I had an appointment with God, and went into the bathroom instead, and spent time dillydallying. Then I bought coffee—bitterly, because I was feeling bitter about being bitter when I was able to purchase coffee wherever, however, and whenever I wanted, and should therefore not be bitter about anything, because not everyone in the world can do those things—and sat at a table with a white marble surface, soft jazz playing overhead and the smell of cinnamon pervading the air.
“Lord,” I started writing in my journal, despair in my heart. “I don’t want to talk to You today…I don’t want to talk to anyone who knows me. I just want to brood and be hurt and be self-protective…I just want to sit in those feelings…I want to sit in the imagined feeling of being unclaimed, undiscovered, and unknown. I want to pretend I’m not Yours today.”
I looked up to see if anyone was watching me, because I was already starting to cry.
“Because,” I started again. “If I’m Yours, then I have to pray and petition, and look for reasons to be thankful, of which there are many, and then let Your peace, which surpasses all my understanding, guard my heart and mind. If I’m Yours, I have to read Your Word and be reminded that I didn’t marry Jake so that he could serve me and make me happy, and that You command me to submit to him. And it means that I have to think about things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy…I don’t want to do those things.”
But even as I wrote, my heart melted. It didn’t make sense to not want all of the things God has promised me as His daughter, to deny His administration of holy medicine to my soul when I needed it as I took on the burden of my own sin. I did want all of those things. There was freedom there, and it didn’t make sense for me to refuse freedom.
And so my bitterness and anger dissolved, and I was more ready to listen to Him. So I opened my Bible then and started reading. I read through a few chapters of 1 Chronicles, a Psalm, and then the first chapter of 2 Corinthians. And it was in the epistle that the second level of my “stuck-ness” was satisfied.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any troubles with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
Okay, I’d memorized that verse before, but to know how to better pray for and empathize with other people as they were hurting, not necessarily for my own comfort. I read further.
“For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.” (v.5-7)
The promise of comfort in all my troubles screamed at me. God is comforting me right now, regardless of how I feel. And then in verse 5, I can freely and abundantly comfort others, because my comfort overflows through Christ (I’m not entirely sure if that’s saying “I have an abundance of comfort because of Christ’s comfort,” or “I can give an abundance of comfort to others because of Jesus”…I’m going with the latter for now). Having to be comforted is a good thing! And then, the final promise is this idea that my “distress” can and might always be for someone else’s comfort. So, my distress and suffering and hurt is for my growth and for other people’s comfort.
For some reason, this was really reassuring to me, and made my sin apparent, thus shattering the third “stuck-ness” level. God’s holiness was overwhelming in the center of that coffee shop, and the state of my heart before Him in light of my and Jacob’s struggles was exposed for the black and sinful thing that it was, and I was broken. God hated my sin, and I could not stand before Him with my heart the way it was. I had no right to His grace or mercy, no right to believe for one moment I should be pitied, empathized with, or protected from His wrath because of any righteousness in and of myself. I could not be justified, and I could not be confident. I was exposed. And yet, there was Jesus…If God was the righteous Judge, who judged me guilty by His Law, then Jesus, who took my sentence, was my attorney, who pleaded for my innocence not because of any evidence in my life, but because of the evidence in His. I was nothing without Him.
And I started writing again.
“Lord.” The tears came freely this time. Yes, in the middle of Starbucks. “I’m so sorry…I’m sorry for my bitterness, anger, and selfishness. I’m so sorry for my fear and worry, which claim You to be untrustworthy and a liar. I cannot say that I trust You and worry at the same time. I’m so sorry for my pursuit of self-preservation and protection, and for how I comfort myself with hard-heartedness and lie to myself about Your identity as the God of all comfort. I’m so sorry, Lord, that these are my responses to heartache, hurt, and trial. Please forgive me, Lord…I cannot rise above who I am right now…please pick me up and take me to a place where I can, or where I can trust You to do it for me.
God, please help me trust You with comforting me, because You have always been and will always be the most trustworthy.”