Last Saturday evening Jennifer and I attended a 5th-8th talent show at the Lipscomb Campus School. It was almost three hours long, but had several excellent performances. However, it was long.
About thirty minutes into the program, I began to feel uncomfortable. Something was gnawing at me. My insides were pushing me to run, to get out of the building, to find a way to excuse myself. Something was telling me that if I could just go home I could regain my serenity. And, a year ago, that is probably what I would have done, but the serenity would have been an illusion, an escape.
This night, however, I turned inward. The problem was not the program but something going on inside of me. As the program proceeded, I began to meditate, calm myself and pray. I wanted to know what was really going on with me. The kids were doing their best, and they weren’t so bad that I needed to escape. There was something else from which I wanted to escape. I needed to sit in my feelings, discern what was happening, and feel my way through the mess that is my soul.
As I meditated, I became aware that I was envious. I did not envy the children, but the parents. I noticed that I was agitated by the joy of the parents and the wonder of their eyes. I was particularly annoyed by how much the parents and family members behind me were enjoying their star’s performance.
Envy. Not envious of talent, money, power, job, but envious that these parents were blessed by God to watch their children perform. I was never able to do that with Joshua. When he was the age of these children, he was in a wheelchair, could barely walk, and spent most of his time unaware of his surroundings. From eight to sixteen my family watched Joshua slowly die. I never saw Joshua play a team sport, never saw him perform on a stage, never saw him read a poem–or read at all! I envied the parents and begrudged their joy, and–in my harsh and unkind judgment–wondered whether they truly appreciated their blessing.
But that was not the root. Resentment was the root of my feeling that night; that was my discomfort–my rationale for escape. I wanted to run away so I would not have to think about my pain, Joshua’s illness and death. I did not want to acknowledge my resentment. I would rather not think about it or feel it. It is easier to simply escape.
I did not resent the parents. I resented God. He blessed these children, but not Joshua. He gave these gifts to these parents, but I was never able to enjoy that gift with Joshua. I had missed out and there was no one to blame except God. Is he not reponsible for his world? Did we not pray that we would have a healthy son? Why did he say, “No, he won’t be healthy”? I resent that answer and sometimes I’m not sure that I can put up with a God like that.
Even as I write these words I know that I received many gifts from Joshua and they were divine blessings. Even as I think again about his broken body, I still remember his smile, his laugh and the joy of just sitting with him in my big chair watching one of his favorite movies (The Wizard of Oz). I realize I was blessed, but Saturday evening I resented that God had not blessed me more richly–that he had not blessed me like those parents in that auditorium that night.
As I meditated on that resentment, I noted my feelings. Irritation. Frustration. Anger. Envy. Jealousy. Resentment. And I took them to God. I told him how I felt. I let it out so I could let it go, so I could release it into God’s hands. I needed to be heard…by God! And in being heard, I could let go…at least for that night. In that moment I could forgive God.
In letting go, I could remember the blessings I did receive through Joshua. I could treasure those and hold them in my heart, and thank God for them. I could value the experiences–the learning and growth experienced in the process. I could even see God in many of those painful moments–God present to comfort in my laments, God present through people who served my family, God present in laughter as well as tears.
That night–at least for that night–I forgave God. In releasing my resentment, I was given some peace and joy. Bit by bit, day by day, little by little, the comfort is renewed and joy returns.
Thanks be to God for his patience with me. Even when I bitterly resent him, he loves me, he graciously receives my forgiveness (when he, of course, does not need it!), and he is not frustrated with me when the resentment returns on a cold Saturday night in December seven and a half years after Joshua’s death.
Thank you, Yahweh. Truly your lovingkindness endures for ever.
Postscript: Here is the contemplative, meditative process I used Saturday evening to journey toward forgiving God. I find myself returning to it daily.
- Find a quiet, private place where you can sit in uninterrupted silence. I center myself through a breath prayer. I concentrate on my breath–inhaling and exhaling. I offer a breath prayer to still myself, soothe myself and given space for the Spirit of God to calm my soul. I follow the breath through my body and permit the whole of my being to focus. I usually use a breath prayer like “Jesus Christ, Son of God” as I breath in and “have mercy on me, a sinner” as I breath out. (This is the traditional “Jesus Prayer”).
- I recall the moment of pain, sit in the hurt, and feel the pain. What do I feel? What emotions emerge as primary. I name them and describe them.
- I contemplate God in relation to this pain. When I think about God in this context, do I feel anger, frustration, fear, love, gratitutde? What negative emotions do I feel? Do I feel any irritation, anger or bitterness as I think about this pain and unanswered prayers? Do I feel rejection, hurt or anger when I remember the pain and ponder why God permitted that?
- I then bring those feelings into the presence of God and tell God how I am feeling. We all have the need to be heard, and we need for God to hear how we feel. I speak it audibly when I can (and sometimes I wonder if anybody is listening).
- I then tell God that I want to release the negative emotions associated with this memory and that I need his help to release them. I am powerless over my feelings. I cannot help but feel what I feel. At the same time I process those feelings in the presence of God and by the power of his Spirit.
- I then reflect on where God was in that past moment of pain. Can I point to people, events, feelings, or circumstances that signal a God-presence? Where did God show up in that pain? I may not have recognized it at the time, but as I reflect, sit in the presence of God with this pain, and broaden my vision of the event perhaps I can see God where I had not previously seen him.
- I then reflect on the meaning of that pain. What did I learn through the experience? What lessons surface in the reflection? What endures as meaningful and significant for me? How has it shaped me and changed me? How has it affected my vision of God?
- I then remember who God is, how he has loved me in the past, how he loves me even now in the present. Remember his sovereignty, his creative intent, his redemptive work. I seek God’s face through the eyes of Jesus and embrace his love. I recall the story and meditate on God’s works. I see the face of Jesus, remember his loving kindness toward people. I remember the story of the widow’s son–he raised him from the dead. I permit the compassion and love of God to flow into my mind, heart and gut.
- God, I forgive you because I am not God. There is only one God and I am not him. I don’t know what you know; you are greater than I. You must have your reasons. I trust you because I see you in Jesus. I humble myself before you and release my anger, bitterness and resentment toward you. You are my God, and I forgive you, and, I pray, you will forgive me because even in forgiving you I don’t know what I am doing.