I’m tired of making mistakes and wrong choices. I’m tired of trying to get it all right and not offend anyone or make anyone else unhappy. I’m irritated with what I see and feel when my waters are stirred and the froth comes to the top—full of debris and silt and decay. I’m tired of knowing the right and not doing it. I’m weary of starting something good only to fall short…oh, this last one slays me.
I’m tired of trying to be good. I just don’t have it in me. No, I don’t. This attempt to be good is not woven into the DNA of my spiritual being. I look in the mirror and see only what I want to see. I see only what I want others to see, but it is often not the reality. I choose not to see the warts, but they remain.
Oh, is this not the lament and hope of Lent: the recognition of the reality of ourselves in light of the cross? The cross enables us to see ourselves as we really are. Lamenting comes because we move toward the cross and realize that our lack is the reason Jesus went there, stayed there and died there. Our lies, hypocrisies, pretensions are the lament of Lent and only Jesus and what he did at the cross can dispel and remove these.
This past week a couple of incidents occurred and revealed some very ugly crevices and wounds of my heart. Scripture tells us that out of the abundance of the heart does the mouth speak…oh my.
The frustrated ugliness that frothed to the top of my being took me quite by surprise…and I did not like what I saw. Many people would tell me that it really wasn’t too bad of a thing. I didn’t yell, scream or say mean things. I wasn’t truly rude. My frustration was justified. There were legitimate reasons for my reactions.
But I knew better.
And the Spirit most certainly knew and gently (as always) pointed out that the attitude of my spirit was far, far from being like Jesus. It was an attitude—an attitude of entitlement.
It was an attitude that dismissed the grace I preach.
It was a bitter attitude root. And as I pulled on it I found it was connected to another situation. In my pulling I found an arrowhead of bitterness buried deep in my flesh.
Ephesians tells us to get rid of bitterness.* The Greek word for “get rid of” holds the connotation of an anchor, a weight. Bitterness weighs us down. It weights us to the ground, pulls us and holds us.
Paul says get rid of that weight. Pull up that anchor.
In the Greek the word bitterness holds the visual connotation of an arrow piercing. Bitterness is an arrow that pierces through the flesh of our hearts and embeds, lodges and remains and then weighs us down.
These particular bitter arrows flew from the bow of someone who was supposed to love me. Someone who was supposed to have my back. Someone who was supposed to defend me. Apparently this particular arrowhead wounded me far deeper than I acknowledged. And that made me mad, which of course, certainly didn’t help.
What I didn’t realize is that the wound had closed over, enveloped the arrowhead and developed scar tissue. I became alarmingly aware that this is still a very tender and very sore place in my soul and I tend to favor it. I guard it because I want to avoid pain. To leave it in is painful, but to pull it out could be excruciating because then I have to face some very hard truths that I can’t control, manipulate or change.
This weekend when I scraped the edge of the blade I tasted gall. And no matter how many times I spit the foul taste remained.
Some of the bitterness is over thirty-five years old. What in the world do we do with bitterness that old? What in the world do we do with a wound that appears healed, but causes us to weep when bumped or jostled? How in the world do we dig out our own arrowheads? Fresh wounds or closed scars?
We give it the Healer.
And we trust him. We ask him to remove it. Ask him to pull it out. Ask him to open up our flesh and remove the object that has caused this veritable ache, this silent hurt, this droning pain just under the surface. We ask him to enable us to look at it and call it what it is.
Call it out—call it bitterness, call it hate, call it manipulation, call it fear, call it anger, call it control, call it sadness, call it fury, call it bitterness. Call it by its name. Name it and then give it to him. And give him permission to use whatever means necessary to extract it.
I didn’t want to be bitter. I didn’t want to call myself Marah**. I wanted to believe I was just fine, that I didn’t harbor any bitterness for the pain someone else caused. The original pain was caused by their lack, their insensitivity, and their choices. But the pain remained because of mine.
But it doesn’t have to remain. The cross, the place Jesus was pierced for our transgressions, is the place God took all the pain of the world and absorbed it. Through the willingness of his Son, through the selfless life of Jesus, God provided a way for arrows to be removed and healing to begin. In the cross there is hope.
There was no bitterness in Jesus due to our piercings of him. No, Scripture says that he endured the cross for the joy set before him***! He didn’t demand his rights—this sinless, selfless Son of God. And he would have been justified. He was right. And though he allowed the arrows to piece him he didn’t allow them to remain. He threw off the anchor of them before they had a chance to embed.
I can’t change the reason or the why of my arrows. I don’t understand them. I only know that they cannot remain and me be healthy. They cannot stay embedded and me be free. They cannot stay enfleshed and me be who my God has asked me to be.
Neither can you.
Many of you have embedded arrowheads. You have swallowed down the bitter gall. You have self-talked and self-medicated and self-probed. Bitterness and resentment hide themselves well. Only the tops of them rise above the surface and like a glacier their greater bulk is hidden. My friends, I know you are hurting. I understand what it is like to nurse age-old wounds.
So, my fasting in Lent? My giving up in the Lenten season? I’m giving up my bitterness. Fasting from the holding on of the unjustness of why I was shot right through with these poisoned arrows. I have held on and allowed these arrows to remain from a sense of entitlement—I was right. I was the victim I told myself. Those who sent them from the bow were wrong. I have held on to that justification. I wanted to be right. I was the one sinned against.
I wrapped and twisted filthy gauze around the wounds and secretly nursed them.
I do this with God. How often have I pierced him? The sword piercing his Son’s side was an indication of what I would do. Yes, even what you would do.
I would and have pierced his heart by not extending grace to others as he has extended it to me. I have not forgiven as he has forgiven me. And oh! I have been forgiven much. Because I have held on to the bitterness, held on to my rights, held tightly to things due me I have squeezed his joy and grace out of even the tiniest capillaries of my lungs.
I am tired of trying to be good. I am tired of making poor choices. I am tired of attempting to be good. I just simply want to be healed. I want bitterness to be gone.
And so do you—if you’re honest.
I want joy. During this Lent I want joy to fill these hollow, empty piercings. I want them to be flooded with grace. I want healing. I want arrows removed. And I want his grace to pour through the holes and wounds and cleanse them—I want him to wash them with hyssop and stitch them with the sutures of his mercy and grace—
His enduring, endearing, enabling, empowering and encompassing grace.
** Exodus 15: 25; Ruth 1:20