Read Part 2
Bitter. Hard and bitter and resentful and hurt. Anger. Fury. Resentment and bitterness and hardness. Bitter bitter bitter, hard. Self-righteous. Selfish. Hard bitter bitter bitter anger and fury.Violent. Hateful. Hate hate hate resentful bitterness.
This grief and its cousin, my spiritual darkness, were incredibly good at one thing: bringing up in me every remotely dark and evil thing that was then or ever had been in my soul. They burned under me like a fire, melting me to a molten liquid and making all the vile and dirt in me rise to the surface. It was horrid to look at and even worse to taste in my mouth. But like David, I could not ignore it: For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me (Psalm 51:3).
Ever before me. Ever. Before. Me. Swirling round me like gnats. Ever before me.
And it drove me to the confessional. Perhaps I didn't go as often as I should have, but every time I went it was a welcome relief to spew out the sin I had confessed to God a hundred times in private, but that somehow still left a foul film in my mouth. Perhaps it was because instead of being met with the hollow echo of my own words and His resounding silence, it was a chance to hear sound counsel and receive compassionate understanding instead. Most of the time, my confessors knew my circumstances and could put in perspective for themselves where this was all coming from. When this wasn't the case, I explained what had happened.
"My son, my firstborn, died of a heart defect recently. Everything went wrong. Everything. God made my baby with a heart too broken to sustain his life. How does a loving God do such a thing? And now God is gone and my friends are having perfectly healthy babies and I hear complaining about such entirely stupid and trivial things -- they didn't have to live in the NICU and just days after giving birth to their first child, wait up all night while blue-smocked surgeons with long faces kept coming to tell me my child might not make it. I did everything right and I know it doesn't matter, but damnit, I DID EVERYTHING RIGHT! I never got to take him home and dear God, I wish my worst problem was spit-up or a diaper blow-out or having him cry in the middle of the night, but he's dead and he won't be crying anymore. And it's not fair and now I feel so bitter and hard against people who have what is normal and I don't say anything to anybody about it -- I don't say anything to them because anything I do say to them about their experiences with their children will probably make them feel guilty and I'm not sure that even if I try my best to say something kind that instead it will come out full of the hard and bitter lump in my soul that is growing stronger and developing sharp teeth -- so I don't say anything. I don't say anything to them, but ..."
I struggled for words.
"It's corrosive, isn't it? Like an acid."
"Yes! Like an acid that is burning a hole in me, and ..."
This is how it went most of the time for me. It wasn't the contained and outwardly pious exercise so often portrayed in film -- I spewed out all the filth and ick that had been building up in me that I couldn't stand to carry with me anymore -- that, in fact, I feared would burn a hole through my soul that wouldn't ever close up again. I preferred my encounters face-to-face instead of from behind a screen, even with my face all puffy and red and wet, mascara streaking down my cheeks. It wasn't required of me, but it was part of me being honest, part of being utterly transparent. After so much time of feeling hidden and invisible, I needed to feel seen, even if it was like this -- especially if it was like this.
My confessors never excused the things they heard from me -- they never sugar-coated it or treated my sins as anything other than they were. They never told me that feeling hateful and bitter and resentful against God and my neighbor were okay because of what I had been through. But they did put it in perspective for me, encouraged me to continue speaking with transparent honestly to my God of the empty chair about how it all felt. I knew they were right.
I walked away each time feeling like what I imagine the woman caught in adultery and brought before Jesus felt -- her sin was publicly on display, her shame obvious. There was nothing and no one at all she could hide behind. But the one person who had a right to do it if anyone did didn't condemn her. He knew exactly what she had done and yet extended grace to her when she had cause to fear that she would be dragged to a bloody death in a pit of stones.
And it felt like a little bit of me came back each time I walked away from the confessional not only unscathed, but seen. I had not only escaped death, but was given a chance at an entirely new life.
To Be Continued