“I don’t need this.”
“I don’t want this.”
“I hate this.”
“What is this?”
Where did this come from?”
Why do I have this?
“Whose is this?”
“I remember this.”
“I didn’t ask for this.”
“Where should I put . . . this?”
One thing is for certain: there really is a lot of this.
I grew up in a family that accepted transition as a stable state of being. If I begin on Texas Street — the first house I really remember — I can close my eyes, unfold the memory map, and wind my mind down the roads of yesterday through tiny towns and sprawling cities, spooky old houses to paper-thin-walled apartments, rolling yards and willow trees to parking lots so close our headlights almost touched the front door. Sometimes we lived among people who cared — like a grandmother down the hall — or ones who just stared, like the woman in a lawn chair smoking in the dark outside the door next door. Sometimes we had stuff: matching colonial bunk beds and nightstands . . . and sometimes we had borrowed beds and crates. We culled our things based on the size of the U-Haul and the amount still owed when it was time to move on . . . and we moved on, leaving a bit of “this” behind in alleys everywhere. Detaching was as easy as attaching.
Pity me not, for I am rich with memories far greater than the mass of stuff I might have stored up in their place. Some of the memories are painful, yes, but when sifted with the others — like swirling together shades of paint, it is a color I can live with on the walls of my life.
It is the splash of clashing color here and there, left uncovered, that bothers me. I have painted around them, left them on a to-do-list, waiting for a better brush perhaps, or a taller ladder to stand on, or, thought I might re-do that wall in that color and let it become me. No. Not this time.
We should gather up all the reckless words that are splattered on our walls of consciousness like rocks along a creek bank and chuck them in, listening to the plunk as they hit the water and slide to the bottom, invisible. You would think forgiveness would do that. Forgive and forget, for words will never . . . desert me. Like all those old addresses, we should leave these stone houses behind and not live there anymore, but instead, the words refuse to relinquish the view when we are panning the horizon for a new road.
We have done . . . they have said. Which will linger? The deed or the description and declaration of it? Even if it were possible to move permanently into a pattern of purity, the sting of description would cast its shadow on that land. Whether we were proclaimed by those who struggle with “lesser things” as just weak and self-serving . . . or were dismissed as an apostate beyond redemption for having succumbed to repetitive sin — the crop of our addiction — the words and labels affix themselves. The cruel eye-jabbing by Christians who become absorbed in the failings of others — “You’ve sinned against all Christianity for all eternity” — pierces the heart and builds a wall the sinner never could.
If we let it.
I think one of the most difficult steps a struggler takes is learning to listen . . . and not. Listen to God. Listen to those God sends your way to speak on His behalf. Listen to the Holy Spirit speaking in your stillness when you close the shutters to the outside interference. Listen to God’s Word. Listen to those who have walked your path and know the pull and pain . . . but are finding victory and want to share it.
Don’t listen to those old echoes that Satan whispers into your hopeful thoughts. If I allow all the things that have been said to me and said about me and predicted of me to swirl around in my mind, they become like a whirlpool and I am swiftly drawn under, away from God’s truths to Satan’s lies. It really doesn’t matter whether the words were thrown our way in justified anger, reactionary pain for the hurt we caused, or just in the releasing of the air of Christian superiority from the supposed unfallen, they all pile up like stones to ground our souls from soaring, tethering us to the past.
Even when we have been dismissed by some as beyond hope . . . and find ourselves the target of their judgmental silence . . . we hang on to the words they once used in misguided motivational efforts to shock or shame us into freedom. Echoes, stored for later reverberation. Preserved syllables that slip out to form an obstacle course for hope.
Here are words to remember . . . which have hopefully been said to you:
Jesus loves you.
Words to forget . . . which may have been said to you:
Uh . . . uhh. Not here. Forget those. They may have been justified at the time; the shock value may have jolted you into a real desire for repentance. You may have needed to hear them at the time to force you out of denial, to face the falsehood and find a thirst for the truth. Maybe those words woke you up to who you were. But . . . if you are moving on, then repeating them to yourself now only takes you back to there. Don’t go.
Much like taking our sins to the cross, we need to load up a bunch of hurtful words and leave them there also. Words we said, either in defense or defiance, and words launched at us like heart-seeking missiles which we pretended to dodge, but which lodged deep inside us.
Here are some words I hope you have heard and will hear from a brother or sister in Christ and that you will never forget:
“I love you.”
“I forgive you.”
“I am here.”
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! James 2:12-13
But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.” — James 4:6
Grace is abundant.
Christians, no matter how sanctified and justified, need to “practice” mercy and grace. We don’t come across these traits naturally. If we did, we would not need that still-small-voice inside us that occasionally puts a finger to our lips and hushes our natural ways so we can hear beyond ourselves and know that there are thoughts beyond our own which are better and purer, able to do more than point out faults . . . and indeed, point to promises.
Stop for just a moment and try really, really hard to believe, first of all, that God loves you beyond all your imagining and enough to have created all there is and you because of that love. Then try to think of what He wants to say to you. His voice is greater than all those others that will rush in to fill the void of silent waiting. So, wait. Hear Him?
That’s grace . . . the fact that no matter what you’ve done or who has spoken of it and judged you for it and believes you can never move beyond it . . . He speaks the truth to you about it . . . and about you. And about what the two of you can do. About . . . even . . . this.
You have searched me, Lord, and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways. — Psalm 139: 1-3
To God, we are not a passing thought, a momentary project. He does not move on. He knows not, “oh, well.” He searches us. He is familiar with all our ways. He knows us.
Based on all of that, He always knows what to say if we will but clear the clutter that clogs our ears, and listen.
What a sweet, sweet sound.
(Does your pastor or your church library have a copy of Surviving Sexual Brokenness: What Grace Can Do as a resource for the sexually-broken in your congregation? Here’s a YouTube trailer that will tell you more about the book: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jt7LdZwegkU. Thanks!)