[Pictured: Three little pots I planted zenias in three weeks ago.]
Cleaning (ie. organizing) makes this girl sentimental and curious. In all that I accomplished this last weekend, I found a stack of old journals which I immediately began to distract myself with in lieu of dusting, sorting, and folding. I came across entries where I babbled on and on about silly work troubles, notes on sermons I had heard, grocery lists, and really troubling — but honest — entries.
Reading your own journal is kind of like picking scabs because it’s quite an unnatural way to revisit your wounds. It upsets and sets back the healing process. Scabbing is necessary and natural — it takes a while to bring healing full circle, but the body knows how to make it happen. Re-reading the words and thoughts that I had and recalling incidences of my past are like poking and even ripping those scabs before the skin underneath has regenerated. And it hurts a little bit.
In one journal entry I recalled something that my pastor, Eric Youngblood, had preached awhile back. It resonated then I’m sure, but when I transposed it I don’t think I could imagine the measure of conviction and reassurance that it would bring to me when I re-read it this weekend.
“Bitterness is the belief that God did the past wrong.”
Now, I’ve been a part of the PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) for my entire life, but I’m starting to believe in some semblance of free will. There has to be. Why would God force Adam and Eve to engage in sin that would ultimately destroy lives, ruin relationships, and impact this earth negatively for thousands of years? (At the same time, why did God allow them TO make that decision?) I’m legitimately curious about both, so don’t assume I’m taking a stance on either in particular, or that I’ve got answers. Ha. Either way, it’s a tricky subject.
I believe that God knows everything that I have done out of selfish ambition, and he knows everything I have YET to do out of selfish ambition. He should be the highest-paid therapist because he knows everyone’s dirt (dead or alive) and he ALSO makes himself available 24/7. But his knowledge of it all is not an excuse to point a pathetic little finger at him when things aren’t going my way. Some of the things I find myself swimming around in are my own fault. Furthermore, I have the power to change (not on my own, but collectively with the support of others). I believe God has given me that gift.
The best thing I can do for myself is to come to terms with the fact that sometimes I’ve been hurtful to myself and/or others. And that bitterness isn’t as much a solution for moving past that hurt as it is an immature way of thinking about decisions that have been made and how you believe life should give or withhold certain experiences from you (because, you know — you earned it). Bitterness is also the belief that it matters who did it. It drains the power you have to look towards future beauty.
I am so, so guilty of this. Over the course of of a typical workday, I must think “I don’t deserve this” realistically about 10-12 times. And outside of my work it’s the same problem. This could be in reference to any number of people or situations that were frustrating, yes, but they weren’t really about me. Or about what I deserved or didn’t deserve. Any situation that I have been in that has been hard has birthed something much more lovely in the end. This knowledge is what I have to focus on to look through hurts and turmoil that makes its way into my life in the present. Because I’ve got wounds, and there’s no point to covering them up or ignoring their existences.
Another voice that speaks (often) into my life is Taylor Swift. They are both marvelous theologians in their respective areas. T. Swift’s song “Clean” speaks about what I can only assume is a post break-up back-and-forth kind of agony (typs). I’m not sure which boy this about (not the point), but there is one part of this song in particular that connect elegantly with this idea of bitterness. It’s quite the opposite of her “We Are Never Getting Back Together” which was a huge finger-point. “Clean” (go listen now!) is a little more sobering because she acknowledges the “we” as the responsible party which I translate as “Okay, I recognize my hand in this, and I am partially to blame for this.” She also makes the song about her choice to get clean.
The drought was the very worst / When the flowers that we’d grown together died of thirst
When she says “we’d grown” I think she is earnestly acknowledging that they were both responsible for the life and death of the relationship. The very fact that she compares recovery from this relationship to recovery from a drug, for example, is huge. The party who feeds an addiction is not the drug. I mean yes, the drug is addictive, but you either choose to respond to/engage with the addiction or the drug or the relationship. Or you withdrawal. And Taylor realizes this responsibility and for me it’s a huge example of what not being bitter can look like.
Ernest Hemingway is known for saying that “the world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”
I want to choose to be strong at the end of it all. I am responsible for what I do and what I do not do. It’s a power that could be crippling — or life-giving. However you choose to use it. So I can get clean, grow up, pull myself up by the bootstraps. Cut losses. Admit fault. Face the truth of the matter, in every given situation. Because I really believe Hemingway is right.
[For a pretty Ingrid Michaelson rendition of “Clean” click here.]