Monday, September 13, 2010

That Ugly "B" Word

When an herb is crushed, we can smell its fragrance--or its odor, as the case may be. When a tea bag is in hot water, its flavor comes across most strongly. And when a person is put through "hard times," inner beauty or ugliness is revealed. When that person is you, seeing, smelling, and tasting ugliness is far from fun. Have you been there? I hate to admit that I have. More than once.

As I re-read my first post from yesterday, I realized that I hadn't specified what I meant by "fighting." In short, I meant fighting for joy in the midst of a trial. Fighting against crumbling under pressure of hard times and--that ugly "B" word--bitterness.

A simple working definition of bitterness is "harbored hurt." (A more colorful description I've heard is "drinking poison, hoping that your enemy dies"!) A FB friend of mine from college has been blogging this year about a study she has been doing on prayer, particularly springing from the book A Praying Life (on my to-read list!); one of the thoughts she mentions is "confessional living," a concept clearly taught in James 5:16. To say you have been hurt is no admission of guilt--it's simply stating that something hurtful has been done to you. It's honest, but not "confessional." To admit a bitter response to that hurt is harder, even if that admission is to oneself. But let's be real, here.

I've been down that road, too many times. In some ways, I hesitate to give specifics because your hurts are probably different from mine, and my point in this blog is not just to air the details of my life but to be an encouragement to others. A little linguistic morsel from James 1 (as I read in the book by James MacDonald--see my "virtual bookshelf") is that in verse one, the same word translated "diverse" or "various" to describe trials is the same Greek word used in the Septuigant (Greek translation of the Old Testament, which was originally written in Hebrew) to describe Joseph's many-colored coat. Still, in the spirit of "confessional living" I will get a bit specific about my personal struggles with this ugly "B."

In her book Lies Women Believe, Nancy Leigh DeMoss traces the origin of sin back to the same basic process followed in the first sin back in the Garden with Eve: Listening to a lie, Dwelling on the lie, Believing the lie, and Acting on the basis of that lie. We might not have a beautiful creature whispering lies into our ears like she did, but often we listen to ourselves and "what is right in our own eyes" rather thank talking to ourselves with the Truth. Bitterness, it seems, really stems from the "dwelling" step.

I'm sad (and a bit embarrassed) to say that I've allowed some of the times that should have/could have been some of the happiest times of my life to be eclipsed by bitterness. Right now, I'm thinking of my engagement and early marriage. I was 27 when I met the love of my life. I'd never before had an official "boyfriend," and I'd never even kissed another man. I'd waited for my Jonathan in many ways. But we'd met on the INTERNET, of all things, and evidently in 2005 (at least in the conservative Chrsitian circles I was in) good girls did not meet future husbands on the INTERNET!--no more than they met guys by standing on street corners, from the way some people talked and acted toward me. (Ironically, we had attended the same Christian college for 3 1/2 years but had never met there.)

My future husband was a godly, likeminded Christ-follower--and a PASTOR to boot!--but that mattered little to most people. Their criticisms, assumptions, and words stung. And, as you might imagine, my decision to place weight on their opinions did nothing to bolster the confidence of my husband-to-be. In addition to how we met, many were critical of the fact that due to our impending wedding, I would not be fulfilling the teaching contract I'd already signed. But I'd applied biblical principles the best I knew how by following the advice of one God-given authority (my dad) to request to be released from my contract by another authority (my pastor, also my boss). I literally had colleagues who were also parents of former students of mine accuse me of going back on all I had "pretended to believe and teach." Ouch.

Then when the time of the wedding approached, there were more disappointments. Oh, I don't mean the loud speaker going off in the middle of the ceremony to page an employee or no one's saving us any of that yummy wedding cake (although I am still a little sore about that one! lol). But my bridal shower was the lowest attended one I'd ever been to at the church where I'd served faithfully for 5 1/2 years. And the church I had been attending with my parents for the months leading up to my wedding, teaching Sunday school and even writing and leading a children's Christmas program, had no shower for me but did have one the month of my wedding for a girl who'd grown up in the church but hadn't been there but maybe once in the seven months I'd been. Add to that several people I considered close failed to make time to come to the wedding, and others who were there didn't even give a card.

After celebrating others' weddings for years, at age 28, it was finally "my turn," and I felt like I was getting the "short end fo the stick." Selfish, sure. But even now I believe these were legitimate hurts, some of them intended as such. But I chose badly. I allowed myself to reply and re-hash those hurtful words and actions in my heart and mind. I was angry and felt "jipped" and in doing so defrauded myself from fully delighting in the good and perfect gift of marriage to a loving, reliable, wonderful husband.

Even as I wrote about the 5-year-old hurts above, my heart tugs at me to "harbor" them, as if failing to do so means admitting they weren't legit or something--what a devillish lie! All it would do for me to "go back there" would be hurtful to me, my family, and my walk with the Lord. Honestly, I can't even vaguely detail any of the horribly hurtful things I've heard and experienced in the past year or so, from people in the church my husband pastored. They're too fresh, and too tempting to "harbor," so I just can't go there right now.

I have had to fight hard against the easy but icky choice to dwell on hurts. I don't want to ignore them either, though (more on that some other time). Especially during this blessed time of having babies and little ones--everyone says it goes too fast anyway! At times I've felt bad about not getting to "nest" much for this baby I'm about to have (less than 3 weeks to go!) but then I've also realized that really, that nesting is more for me than for them. I obsessed, at least mentally, over how to arrange and decorate Caleb's nursery, feeding myself the lie that it's not materialistic if I'm buying second-hand stuff and painting inexpensive shelves myself. Yeah. And do you think Caleb really cared?

I must admit that all that time and effort I spent on his nursery was really to fulfil my own desires. I've told the baby in my belly that I've spent time feeling bad that I can't prepare for him like I did for his big brother--part of that being he mere fact that he's not the first, and I already have the "stuff" I need, and part of it being our present living quarters. Yesterday I tearfully said to my 17-month-old Caleb, as he giggled away while I pushed him on his swing, now hung from a tree in my parents' yard, that this "in-between time" wasn't bad for him--he had two more "big people" to snuggle him and share with him desserts, never mind an extra doggie to chase around--oh, to be so content!

Whatever ways you have been hurt, intentionally or unintentionally, let me encourage you, just don't go there--bitterness is ugly! Fight it!


Sarah said...

Thanks, Tammy! You're post was really a blessing this morning. What a strange tendency of our hearts to feel that by dealing with our hurts biblically, we're denying their legitimacy. I've felt this pull many times but never had words to express it. Thank you so much for your insight and honesty.

Stephanie said...

Thank you sharing this, Tammy. It's awesome to see your transparency- what an encouragement and challenge it was to read your testimony. I face to urge to hold on to hurts (legit as they may seem), and reading this encouraged me to let them go and forgive in my heart even if the one who has wronged me never asks for forgiveness.

T is for Tammy said...

Thanks, ladies. I'm so glad my sharing can be an encouragement to you! (Btw, which Sarah is this? I can't view your profile, and I know several "Sarahs". Is your last initial "P"--that's my guess.)

loukness said...

Praying much, for all four of you. Thanks for posting. It helps me know how to pray better. : ) Laurel