Burn the Bitter Roots

Wednesday, November 21, 2018


I was driving home with my mom one evening when I received a message. A coworker's spouse had to go the emergency department and she wondered if I would pick up her shift the following morning at the assisted living facility so she could rest up after her eventful evening in the hospital. I quickly messaged her back and agreed to work the shift, and told her that I hoped her husband felt better soon.

My mind was cloudy that next morning. Running behind, I rushed to get ready, putting on a pair of light blue scrubs, tennis shoes, and a light jacket. I ran out the front door and started the car, noticing how icy and dark it was. The 6am shift was not my favorite, but I knew it was important for me to be there to care for the residents and support my coworkers.

As I pulled out of the driveway, the street seemed even more slick than I had first thought. I traveled down a hilly road, glancing at the clock. I could generally make it there in 8 minutes, but the inconvenient weather was going to hold me back.

Suddenly, coming over a small hill, I saw a down tree completely blocking my lane. I gasped, slamming on my breaks. It was too late. A sheet of ice beneath my car prevented me from coming to a stop. The large tree and the front of my car met forcefully.

I started to pant. What happened? Was I alive?

My airbag had never deployed, so my chest went forward into the steering wheel. I was ok, but confused and shaken up. Noticing the smell of smoke, I got out of my car in a rush. Was my car about to go up in flames? I stood outside in the low temperatures, on the other side of the road from my car. Freezing rain was coming down and the wind whipped right through my insufficient jacket.

Lord, help.

I called both of my parents, unsure of what to do. Because of where I had crashed, if another driver wasn't watching, they could drive right into my car, causing a second collision, so I waited in the cold.

I dialed the number of the assisted living facility, explaining what had just occurred. "Well, can you get here soon?" I don't think that will be possible for a while.

My dad graciously came and picked me up. While insurance was being handled and the police were called, I sat in my dad's car, sinking back in the chair.

In that season of life, I had been working to get past some rough experiences I had gone through. My heart was racing as worrisome, frustrating thoughts came to mind about certain people I had known.

Would they actually care about the way they treated me if I had died today?

They would probably wish I had been hurt.

I bet they think I'm too immature to handle anything; a job, driving, early mornings....

It was more than the ramifications of an accident. The circumstances brought some unpleasant thoughts from deep in my soul to the surface. I felt discarded, ostracized, and put down by a group of people from my past. I hadn't seen them recently, but it was apparent that I had been festering unforgiveness toward them. I felt that they did not value my life.

Instead of being grateful for the Lord's protection and rejoicing over His faithfulness that morning, I was moody and bitter. I wished there was a way to peek into the lives of those who had been unkind to me and see if there was a ray of care about the fact that I could have been hurt much worse that day.

My car was towed away and I was dropped off to work. I struggled to even smile at my residents; the weight within my soul was great. How do you make the choice to forgive when you're so entangled in traumatic memories, flustered emotions, and aching pain?

Do you ever find yourself asking the same questions? How can we walk in forgiveness when our own souls are so broken?


Painful, all-important redemption


In the introduction to “Choosing Forgiveness,” Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth shares the compelling illustration of Charles Dickens’ classic character Miss Havisham--known for her bitter heart toward her fiance who abandoned her on their wedding day and ran away with another woman. There she sat in her living room, still adorned in the very wedding dress she had chosen for the forgotten day. As the lace slowly lost its color, Miss Havisham’s heart continued in the opposite direction, becoming sharper and more animated with ugly unforgiveness. Broken and sad--hardly able to look beyond herself and the hurt she had sustained---Miss Havisham admitted, “the mice have gnawed away at it, and sharper teeth than teeth of mice have gnawed at me.” (1) Bitter resentment was eating her from the inside out.

These words caused me to pause:

Has the clock stopped in your life? Was there a moment when someone or something hurt you--and everything changed? Perhaps you can still remember the day, the time, the year, the scenery, the circumstances. Your hopes, dreams, and innocence felt the sharp sting of betrayal and disappointment. Ever since, the story of your life has been to recapture your loss and seek your revenge, either through outright action or the withholding of love and affection.”

She continues:

“Do you know full well what those gnawing teeth feel like? I want to say to you that you don’t have to live there. It’s time to pull back the drapes and move out of the darkness. To do so may seem risky--even impossible. The process may be painful. But there is life and health and a whole new world outside of the dark, musty walls of hurt and disillusionment behind which you have barricaded your heart. God wants to...set you free.” (2)

Like Miss Havisham, I found myself frozen in replays of ugly, heart-crushing memories; life occurrences I wished I could control and change, but could not. What my pain-stricken heart needed the morning of my accident was a fresh reminder about the reality of the forgiveness that had been shown to me and a resolve to walk in it, by His grace.

Do you know how much you cost Him?


As followers of Jesus, we're well acquainted with the fact that apart from the grace of God, we would be condemned forever. Our sin is so ugly and opposite the the beautiful holiness and purity of our perfect King. All the people of earth had no hope of restoration, dying in their sins; it would have been entirely just of our God to allow us to face the consequences of our rebellion against Him. Bring this truth close to heart; it would have been rightful for God to allow me to spend the rest of eternity separated from Him in hell. Yet He sent His only Son, the Perfect Lamb, because He is worthy of each life He has created for His glory.

What mercy.

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).

"We like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6).

"In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace" (Ephesians 1:7).

The Most High passionately pursued our souls. In His great love, He fought for us, even when we had spat in His face.

The only reason I can say: "I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living" (Psalm 116:9) is because Jesus was "cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people" (Isaiah 53:8b).

The greatest work of forgiveness in the history of the universe was accomplished by our God, willing to sacrifice His own Son's perfect life so that He could redeem us fully, if we would yield our hearts to Him. As 1 John says: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (vs.9).

Jesus is the only reason I do not have to face the wrath of God, which I deserve to have bestowed upon me. John continues: "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (2:1-2).


How redemption empowers us to forgive our offenders


I was hit right between the eyes with words from a woman I have often pictured as a loving mentor-like figure in my life:

“We never so fully experience the ocean of God’s love as when we forgive our enemies” (Corrie ten Boom, Tramp for the Lord). 

The very woman who was put through death camps, persecuted by the Natzi’s, lost deeply loved family members, and had her very life as she had known it taken from her, shares out of her renowned child-like faith, “Here’s how you can know His love--forgive.”

God supplies grace for me to walk in forgiveness toward others even when I may not feel equipped for it emotionally. “Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart" (Corrie ten Boom).

His Word calls me to forgive those who have hurt me:

"Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Colossians 3:13).

"For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:14-15).

"And if [a brother] sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him" (Luke 17:4).

As I chose, by His grace, to forgive those who had hurt me, I began to feel immense freedom. It became clear that bitterness was a weight I carried on my shoulders; I had allowed my mind to be the breeding ground for frustration, unforgiveness, and continual replay of hurt-filled memories. When we confess our bitterness and unforgiveness before the Lord, it's amazing to see how He will cause our lives to be a display of His mercy to those around us.

Is there a memory in your life that fills you with dread and anger toward someone in your life? Are you holding on to unforgiveness in any capacity in your life? Enabled by His grace, are you walking in forgiveness toward those who have treated you unjustly?

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. // John 8:36

I encourage you to get away with Jesus and allow Him to expose your heart. Is your all on the altar? Is your greatest longing for Him to be lifted High?

If so, forgiveness will be simple. It may be painful and hard, but as we go about each day abiding in Christ, we can walk in freedom and strength.

He has given you everything you need for life and godliness. Including the grace to forgive fully.

Those who harmed me in my past left my soul feeling bankrupt, unloved, and cast aside; the beautiful thing is that as I pushed forward and chose forgiveness, I had a greater understanding of the cost of my own redemption--the great weight of the truth that Jesus has removed my sins from me as far as the east is from the west. And because He is enough, I can show the forgiveness of heaven to both unbelievers and believers around me. Displaying the pardon He has shown to me. I don't deserve it, and there is nothing I could ever do to repay Him for it; yet He lavishes His love on me.

--
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (Oxford University Press), 82
Nancy Demoss Wolgemuth, Choosing Forgiveness (Moody Publishers 2008), 27

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