Anyone who is remotely domestic out there embraces the time-honored practice of ‘spring-cleaning’. Without becoming Martha Steward’s militant handmaiden, most of us concur that there is a need for the seasonal purge. As halcyon days wind down, inescapable tasks of trimming, uprooting, cultivating, cleaning and storing demand our attention before the blustery squalls blow in. There’s always maintenance to be done; the inescapable prelude to a new chapter. Without discipline, the inexorable detritus and debris of life soon snow us under. Rules and regulated order are our little elves, humming efficiently behind the scenes, keeping us on track. Even our own internal disciplines are far more self-sustaining than we realize, creating maximum efficacy with minimum output.
I intrepidly breached 2018 with the unarticulated intention for an unprecedented spiritual housecleaning. I couldn't quite put it into words, but there was desire burning in me to clear all the grimy back-files of anger and bitterness once and for all off my internal hard-drive. I wanted them gone. No more malevolent spiritual energy was going to be allowed to enter the earth through me.
Ha! Sounds like a worthy determination, doesn’t it? Very high-falutin’. Just like the mother of James and John pressing Jesus with ambition for her sons, I had no idea what I was asking for, nor the real cost of it. While a psychic detox is quite a labyrinthian task, it seemed to me that the obvious place to start was with current situational difficulties and work my way back from there. Identify people who push your buttons, stress you out, drain your energy, frustrate your best intentions or really make you grind your teeth as you struggle for self-control. Of course, most of us can identify glaring situations of relational conflict, but buried deep within are the dents and bruises, wounds and traumas; the deep scarring we’ve accumulated continuously in the rough and tumble of life. Start plowing into these, and you’ve kicked over a real hornet’s nest. Waiting for you like a coiled cobra is the viper of your own fermented emotion.
Recently, I’ve found myself catapulted into a situation much like Joseph in the Old Testament. It’s that moment when the worst time of your life parades unceremoniously back in the door. God makes you confront your past, even the parts you think you’ve dealt with. Woven deep within our subconscious and unconscious is any amount of dark spiritual substance, so long housed it has become intrinsic to the very tapestry of our identity. It's true we have been grievously treated, battered around unfolding events, the desires of others over which we had no control, and our own rogue emotional potential, so we're quite messed up. Unless life (or the Lord), slices in, however, and exposes the layers, we will cling tenaciously to the devil we know. Until something arouses their presence, these toxic malefactors lie quiescent, nearly impossible to detect. I’m realizing a back-load of emotional debris I’ve buried oh, so very deeply; Grudge and his vile clansmen of grievance, resentment, rancor, pique, umbrage, dissatisfaction, disgruntlement, hard feelings, ill-will, animosity, antipathy, antagonism, and enmity are hammering rudely on the door. Justified or not, somehow, we have to steward emotional burdens in righteous honesty, disposing of them in an environmentally responsible and healthy manner.
This is where we grind out the contradictions and intricacies of practical forgiveness. There are residuals to be dealt with when the dust of conflict settles; the voids, paradoxes and semi-tones this spiritual de-fragging leaves us with. How exactly do you re-instate a person in your heart when you can never return to same ground you once occupied? The truth is that it’s entirely possible to truly forgive someone and yet never trust them again. You can love and forgive without restoring them to a previous level of intimacy. Are we so terrified of being burned again we will not let them near enough again to do damage? Confidence in their moral dependability and faithfulness has undergone a radical change; the heart simply holds them at distance. Is this condition defensible wisdom in motion, or simply a refined form of fastidious and sanctimonious grudge-holding? Are we rationalizing our unidentified aught against another, or does ‘tough love’ apply? If they work up enough brownie points of good behavior, will they win the prize again of our restored esteem?
Of such is the gamut of knit-picking, sand-sifting questions the Holy Spirit is causing me to confront in the gloomy archives of my own heart. And these penetrating queries are valid, because this kind of latent resentment hardens into a deadly cynicism; we become internally calloused with a permanent chip on our shoulder that murders wonder and joy. Negative spiritual toxicity is cumulative: it will choke out life on every level. The great oxymoron of life is that you can be right, without being righteous.
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. Colossians 3:12-14 NKJV
I can’t help thinking about Jesus, and the way He dealt with the various parties swirling around Him. There were His disciples, a pale and pathetic bunch in the face of the crucifixion. The best of them simply showed up, the worst actively betrayed Him. In the final chapters of John, we see how graciously He gathered them again, post-trauma. He is exceedingly tender, openly affectionate even, with their doubtful, querulous strugglings. Not only that, I know how kindly and gently He has received me after moments of extreme failure. When Jesus forgives, my offense is as if it never happened at all. Very few of us manage the height of that standard, but we ought to be aiming for it; a grace accomplished only by His Spirit.
Lord, give us the wisdom, grace and mercy, to forgive ourselves and others.