Unclogging Our Spiritual Heart Valves

Upset woman by herself in a dark alley. For years, I chose misery over life. I tended to magnify the negative and completely overlook the good. Not only did this strangle the joy, peace, and vitality from me, birthing in their place bitterness and agitation. It also routinely distanced me from Christ. I often felt disconnected from Him, confused regarding His guidance, anxious regarding my circumstances, and unfulfilled in my relationships.

I routinely blamed others and my circumstances for my inner disconnect. Or, I’d simply try to shove all the negativity down in an attempt to muddle through my dimmed existence in my own strength. But then, come Sunday, I’d enter into the church sanctuary, and praise music would begin to play. As was expected, I’d begin to join in. Before I reached the chorus, however, I’d sense God tugging on my heart: Forgive, and as if to halt any excuse hidden in feigned ignorance, a name or face would follow, and in this I was given a choice.

I could continue feeding the negativity brewing within me, or I could step into—bask in—my Father’s grace—a grace deep and strong and present enough to bring light and joy and life to the most deadened hearts, mine included, and lifeless situations.

1 Peter 2:1 lays this out pretty clearly. It says, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

In other words, we’re to do two things: Deliberately and diligently purge all that is dark and ugly within and seek out God’s light. As we do, He draws us closer to Himself and floods the deepest recesses of our hearts with those things that are good and lovely and pure.

My heart cannot be deeply united with Christ unless it is also deeply immersed in His will. I cannot simultaneously Woman sitting outside with text pulled from post. experience the full expression of His love and grace within me while withholding those same gifts from others. What flows in will necessarily flow out. Therefore, if God’s reconciling, forgiving, life-giving Spirit isn’t flowing freely from me, it’s quite likely my heart valves have become clogged.

The results of spiritual blockages are similar to what one experiences with obstructed arteries. We lose oxygen and energy. We lose our vitality and dilute and distort everything good both within and without. Within because those best parts of us, those unique personality traits God hand-crafted within us to add color to our world and strength and healing to our relationships becomes tainted with self-protection, distrust, and harbored offense. Without because this settled anger begins to blanket our thoughts and distorts our perceptions until we see more gloom than good.

In John 10:10, Jesus said that He came to give us “abundant” or “filled to overflowing” life. This speaks of a vibrancy that saturates to our core and spills out into every moment and on every encounter. Envisioning what this might look like lived out, I’m reminded of my daughter as a toddler. She had a joy about her that radiated so brightly from within, she often captured the attention of strangers. Her laugh could produce smiles on the gloomiest faces and often made one feel as if, but for a moment, they’d encountered the divine.

Woman laughing with text pulled from post.Because, in a way, they had. Whenever we see joy, we catch a glimpse of heaven, where joy abounds.

When we express joy, we experience a token of eternity in the here and now.

But when we harbor bitterness in the heart Christ gave His dying breath to cleanse, we quite literally become our own killjoys.

We all want to experience vibrant, joy-filled, thriving life. We all have access to that life through God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Why would we allow anything or anyone to steal that joy from us?

Let’s talk about this! We get to choose whether or not we’ll live with joy or bitterness, forgiveness or offense. When hurt, what are some things we can do to center ourselves and our hearts in Christ’s love? Share your thoughts and stories with us in the comments below.

Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

The Power to Forgive

ID-100161689I’ve often said, forgiveness is rarely a one-time event. Nor is it an emotion, at least originally. It usually begins with a choice, sometimes a teeth-gritting, white-knuckling, Lord Jesus please help me, choice. One that must be made again and again and again, every time old wounds and negative emotions resurface.

Forgiveness is rarely easy, but it is possible, with God’s help.

Today my friend, Janet Sketchley, Author of Secrets and Lies, shares her thoughts on Janet Sketchley headshot 350x350 (1)how we can begin to move toward forgiveness, and the freedom and healing that offers.

BUT FIRST I wanted to announce last week’s give-away winner.

LoRee, congrats! You won a copy of When Dawn Breaks! I’ll shoot you an email so we can talk about the best way for me to get that to you. 🙂 In the meantime, you can read the first two chapters here. 

And now, for Janet’s encouraging thoughts.

Forgiveness by Janet Sketchley

“He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” Psalm 103:12, NLT

Someone hurts you. Next day, she apologizes. Do you say it’s okay, not a big deal? Pretend nothing happened, for the good of the relationship? Or do you refuse to forgive? Can you forgive, if it’s a major hurt?

Forgiveness is more about the victim than the offender. We’ve all been both. As the wounded parties, we can find healing and wholeness by acknowledging what happened and letting it go. Otherwise it stays inside us and continues to do damage.

“But you don’t know what she did!” No, but I know the hardest things are beyond our power to forgive without Jesus helping us. It can take years to start forgiving a traumatic hurt, and that may be just the first step. It may need regular repetition until that forgiveness “takes” at our deepest levels.

Forgiveness (1)

Dismissing a hurt, or learning to work around it, isn’t forgiveness. Honest forgiveness is a hard choice and it takes time, and we still have the after-effects of the hurt. If I steal from you and you forgive me, wisdom says you shouldn’t put me in charge of your bank password.

God’s forgiveness is different. If we accept Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross to buy us back from destruction, He forgives us. Every time we ask with a sincere heart. Even for the same offense, again and again.

He never denies the effects of our sin, and we may live with  its consequences. He forgives, but He doesn’t brush it off—the chance at forgiveness came at a great cost. But He removes it.

People may struggle to forgive, or may say they do without really meaning it. With God, we can believe that once He forgives, He truly does put the matter away. Not forgets, not dismisses. He marks it “paid.” That allows us to see the depth of the cost, the strength of the offense. But it doesn’t leave us with a burden to prove ourselves or to earn our way back into His good graces.

God knows our hearts and intentions—and our weaknesses. He likely wouldn’t put an embezzler, for example, back into the same position of trust. There are consequences in our world. But He regularly forgives and cleans us up, knowing that despite our best intentions we’ll mess up again. He doesn’t keep a tally that will eventually cut us off. Instead He offers as much help as we’ll take. As often as we need it.

In the mean time, He acknowledges the weight of what we’ve done, minimizing nothing. Jesus Himself paid the price. Now He works in and with us to remake us. How strong a love is that?

***

Janet Sketchley is the author of Heaven’s Prey and Secrets and Lies, two novels of suspense and redemption. She also blogs about faith and books. Janet loves adventure stories, worship music, tea and Formula 1 racing. Like Carol in Secrets and Lies, she loves music and tea. Unlike Carol, Janet isn’t related to a dangerous offender, has a happy home life, and has never been threatened by a drug lord. May those tidbits continue to hold true! You can find Janet online at janetsketchley.ca. Fans of Christian suspense are invited to join Janet’s writing journey through her monthly newsletter: bit.ly/JanetSketchleyNews.

Visit Janet online at:

Website: http://janetsketchley.ca/

Join Janet’s author journey – sign up for her monthly newsletter: http://bit.ly/JanetSketchleyNews

Secrets and Lies page (includes purchase links): http://janetsketchley.ca/books/secrets-and-lies/

Read a sample chapter here. 

Facebook

Twitter

Amazon Author Central

Pinterest

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! We’ve all been hurt, betrayed, let down by someone we love. So how do we handle that? How have you dealt with past pains? Did you find forgiveness took effort and perseverance, or did God grant you a miraculous emotional healing and change of heart? Or perhaps you’re still hurting, still trying to fight for forgiveness. If so, did Janet’s post help you? Share your thoughts in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook. 

Other posts and articles you might find helpful:

Fighting to Forgiveness

490 Forgiveness

Freedom in Forgiveness

How to Trade Bitterness for Blessings

For those of you not on Facebook but who would like to follow my book-launch blog tours, signings, and interviews and such:

Yesterday on Bonnie Leon’s blog, I shared the time I asked God for permission to quit. You can read that here.

Tuesday I chatted with Greg Vogt, station manager of Omaha’s KCRO about my new release and the inspiration behind it. You can listen to our on-air discussion here:

Monday and Tuesday I participated in two blog interviews.

Join me on Kelly Liberto’s blog here.

Join me on Grid-iron Granny’s here.

On Saturday, I visited with Alexis from Capturing the Idea. You can read our chat here.

Letting Go and Clinging On

Today’s post comes from a very dear friend and prayer partner, Elaine Stock. Ephesians 4:31 tells us to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.” I believe there are two reasons for this (if not more). Bitterness taints our witness for Christ, but more than that it–it holds us in bondage. Christ died to set us free. Don’t allow a painful past keep you from experiencing the freedom He’s offered.

Letting Go and Clinging on by Elaine Stock

You’re 17 and live with your dad in Troy, New York. He drinks. You sneak behind his back with his ATM card. He confronts you. He yells. You yell. He threatens to kill you and then himself. You plead with him not to. He pulls out his gun. Says the only way out is for you to shoot him instead of him killing you. You cry no. He says do it. You aim for his head. You pull the trigger. You’re arrested.

I wish I were pondering this scenario for a new plot. This is not fiction, though. It recently happened. But while the sensation is playing out across local TV news coverage and local newspapers, all I can think about is what has happened in this girl’s life to lead up to such a horrific event, and what will happen for the rest of her life? She’s a girl; not even a woman. Has she known Jesus as her personal Savior and loving Father, feeling His unconditional love, a love that would never push her up a brick wall like this? Will she ever be able to forgive her human father for this awful bind? Will she ever be able to forgive herself for her actions? Will she turn bitter toward others, figuring no one is worthy of her love?

Please do not misunderstand me. I make no condemnation toward this girl. It is not my role.

However, I do understand about forgiveness. And bitterness. Life is rough. I never asked to be a daughter of a schizophrenic mother, or a daughter of a hard-working father who was away from home more than not. Or, a wannabe writer still striving for publication past the glamorous age of thirty-five.

And, I’m an American. Shouldn’t my husband and I have two homes, 2.9 children, brand new cars in the driveway to take me to my high-paying executive career in some posh office because of course Americans never get their hands dirty working in—gasp—the food industry business?

Having experienced some of the things I have I could be really sour, but I’m not. Why? Because God loves me and I love Him. Sure, I have my moments … hours of downtimes. Yet, it all comes back to believing in God. As I’ve said often to friends, if it weren’t for my belief in God I’d never get out of bed each morning.

These past handful of years have presented me with a few other unexpected kinks to detangle. It was just a matter of a few weeks past that I realized I needed to let go of grudges, disappointments, and bitterness a wee more. Sure, these are human emotions, but lingering in this pit of muck serves no purpose. It takes me away from God. It pulls me away from what He wants me to offer others: His light and love.

But what about this 17 year-old-girl who killed her father? Please pray for her, all those who struggle daily with disappointments, sorrows, bitterness, and deeds gone wrong.

And what about you? Are you letting go of the bumps in your life? Are you, instead, clinging onto God’s loving hand?

Elaine Stock never expected that a college major in psychology and sociology would walk her through the see-saw industries of food service and the weight-loss business; co-ownership with her husband in piano restoration; and ten years in community leadership. All great fodder for creating fiction.

Elaine’s blog, Everyone’s Story  has been graced by an awesome international viewership. Everyone’s Story hosts weekly interviews and reflections aiming to uplift the spirits of writers, readers, and all those in-between.

A former RWA member, she has presented writing workshops. Presently involved in ACFW, she was a 2011 semi-finalist in the prestigious Genesis Contest in the contemporary fiction division. She would enjoy making new connections on Twitter and Facebook. Her first short story was published on Christian Fiction Online Magazine.

With her own childhood void of God, and becoming a Christian first in her twenties, she hopes her writing will bring His love to many and show how His light shines in troubled relationships.

***

Congrats to Amanda M! You won a copy of Katie Ganshert’s debut novel, Wildflowers From Winter. I’ll be contacting you shortly for your address.

Join us at Living by Grace as we talk about getting rid of all anger and bitterness as we cling to the hope that doesn’t disappoint.

This doesn’t come easy. I often use the term “fighting for forgiveness” because emotions can be unpredictable and intense. But I don’t believe God would give us a command if it weren’t possible–through and in Him.

On our own, I’m not sure we can do it. But through Christ who strengthens us, we can do all things.

Freedom in Forgiveness

About four years ago, I was hurt deeply by a member of my church family. Somehow wounds always sting more when they’re inflicted by a believer, perhaps because we expect more of them. So, when our saintly friends act in human ways, it blind-sights us.

I’ve never been good at letting things go. I have one of the strongest defense mechanisms there is. Oh, I don’t fight and scream and hurl nasty insults…I withdraw, and fester.

But the problem with festering is it infects. This wound stayed with me, and grew to bitterness. Praise be to God, He has an infestation magnet and rapidly moved in for a heart-check. During this time, we attended a small group Bible study. First visit, guess what they were talking about? Yep, forgiveness. Or more accurately, getting rid of the root of bitterness. Outside, a small fire burned. Each of us were given a slip of paper and asked to prayerfull consider who we needed to forgive. I didn’t have to pray. One name radiated throughout my brain, and brought tears even then. (Actually, I think I cried the entire study, that’s how deep my wounds were. Rather humiliating. “Hi, sniffle, snort, I’m Jennifer…”)

Scrawling the name came easy, it was releasing this person from my heart I struggled with. But as I approached the blazing fire, paper clutched in my hand, reality settled in, and my pain turned to praise. Yes, God wanted me to forgive this person out of obedience and as an active demonstration of my love for Him and gratitude for all He’d done. But it was so much more than that! Christ paid for my freedom when He died on the cross, but this root of bitterness had infested me, hindered me…enslaved me. Christ wanted me to let it go, because only then would I truly be free.

So I did. I threw the paper in the fire and walked away.

Anger and bitterness are secondary emotions. Most often, they begin with pain. When someone hurts you, you have two choices: hold on to that hurt, and work it until a root of bitterness grows, or pluck it out by turning to God and asking Him to heal your wounds.

As with any roots, the quicker you pluck it out, the easier it will be. The longer the bitterness remains, and the more we feed it, the deeper its roots penetrate, wrapping tighter and tighter around our hearts, extending their reach until they color everything we do. It holds us in bondage.

Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “And don’t sin by letting your anger control you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.” (NLT)

Let me repeat verse 27: “for anger gives a foothold to the devil.”

This truth is reiterated throughout Scripture, begining with Cain, the world’s first murderer.

Cain was jealous of his brother and his brother’s close relationship with God. Perhaps initially he felt hurt and insignificant, but over time, his pain grew to jealously, which grew to bitterness, which grew to murderous rage. (Genesis 4)

Then there are the sons of Jacob. Their father openly favored their younger brother Joseph. That had to cut deep! But instead of turning to God for comfort and aid, they focused their thinking on their wounds, working each injustice in their mind until it turned to jealousy, which grew to bitterness, which grew to murderous rage. (Genesis 37)

Then there’s Saul, Israel’s first king. He reigned on the throne, but his people loved David, God’s annointed. Perhaps at first his people’s open admiration for David hurt. No one likes to be ignored. No one likes to be outshined, and why was this young shepherd boy receiving such attention? The more he worked it, the more his wounds of injustice grew until they turned to jealousy, which grew to bitterness, which grew to murderous rage…and insanity. (I Samuel 19-27)

Psalm 4:4 says, “Don’t sin by letting your anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent.” (NLT)

This verse appears to imply that we have a choice in the matter. Don’t let your anger control you. Be rational. Don’t rehash it again and again, turning every conversation into a venting-fest. Let it go.

We live in a fallen world filled with fallen people and emotional scars are inevitable. But I believe God has provided examples in His Word for deeling with these scars effectively before they fester and infest our hearts and minds.

I’ll leave you today with some questions to consider. As you read this, did a name instantly surface? And a slew of emotions along with it? Think about those emotions. The increased tension, the surge of adrenaline, the knotted stomach. When you hold on to bitterness and unforgiveness, who does it hurt most?

David experienced some deep wounds in his life, yet he managed to remain free of anger and bitterness. Come back Thursday as we examine his life in greater detail in order to apply a few concrete steps to our lives the next time our hearts are sliced.

What Do My Emotions Have to Do With It?

I pause with my hands on the steering wheel to suck in a few breaths of air, then scan the church parking lot. Daphni’s red Toyota sits a few stalls away, glimmering in the early evening sun. A wave of bitterness washes over me as our previous conversation comes to mind. I shake it off.

Forgive and forget. Love, joy, peace, patience.

And if not love, a steady dose of tolerance–or duck tape.

Yeah, I know. Not loving, but Lord, help me out here. You remember what she said. You’ve seen how many times she’s slammed on me, with that painted smile of hers and those narrowed eyes–as if she’s Your gift to the entire congregation.

A familiar passage fills my find, adding a twinge of guilt to my already heightened senses.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? (Matthew 5:43-46 NIV)

I sigh, jump out and lock my van. Footsteps shuffle behind me. I turn and smile as Yana approaches with her three children.

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” She smoothes a stray lock of hair in place.

“Absolutely lovely.” I lift my voice to hide the bitterness fermenting within and cast a glance to the metal door leading to the fellowship hall. Forgive and forget. Gentleness, patience…love. Good thing love is an action, not an emotion.

But then there is David from the Old Testament.

*      *      *

Relax, that story was fictional. I’m not secretly seething every time I go to church, but I have struggled with bitterness and unforgiveness on occasion. And in those moments when my blood boils and negative thoughts fill my head, I console myself with the oft quote phrase, “Love is an action, not an emotion.” But then I read 2 Samuel 1.

For years, David served Saul faithfully, but Saul mistreated him again and again. Saul promised David his daughter’s hand in marriage if he killed the Philistine warrior, Goliath, but come time, he gave her to someone else. Even so, David remained faithful, playing music for Saul when agitation set in. Over time, Saul’s anger and jealousy grew, until he began to hunt his trusted servant. David fled, hiding in caves, among the Philistines, and where ever he could to flee Saul’s wrath. Again and again, he had the opportunity to slay Saul, but again and again he refused, vowing to never harm the Lord’s anointed.

Rationally, we can accept this. David doesn’t murder Saul because he’s trusted God to exact revenge. It’s easy to lay down your sword if you think someone else will pick it up. But then we get to 2 Samuel 1 and read about the moment David learns of Saul’s death.

Put yourself in David’s position. You’ve lived on the run for so long, you can’t remember what peace feels like. You’ve been slandered, cheated and mistreated, and now, after countless nights of anguished prayers, your enemy is dead. How would you feel? What would you do? Would you rejoice or mourn?

David mourned. Granted, much of his mourning was for the loss of Jonathan, his dearest friend, who was also killed. But he mourned for Saul as well. In fact, he didn’t just mourn. He composed a song. (You can read it here.)

In the NLT, he calls Saul Israel’s pride and joy. Does that sound like an embittered man?

As I read 2 Samuel 1 this morning, having followed the story from 1 Samuel 16, when David was anointed, to 1 Samuel 17 when David slew Goliath, to 1 Samuel 19 when Saul tried to kill him, and on and on, I was a bit taken aback to see David display such genuine love for his enemy. One question burned: How did he do it? How did he overcome the bitterness I know had to spark at least on one occasion.  What enabled him to forgive so deeply, so completely, that his bitterness turned to love?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could travel back in time and ask him ourselves? Unfortunately, we can’t. But we can compare and contrast his attitude and responses from other biblical characters, including Saul, who took the opposite approach, and allowed bitterness to consume them. But I’m not going to be able to do that in one post. (Otherwise I’d break the cardinal rule of blogging–never go over 1,000 words.  lol) Over the next week or so, we’ll talk about the effects of bitterness, and steps we can take to move past it.

Emotions are a funny thing. Often it seems they have a mind of their own, and we poor, emotionally-driven humans are helplessly carried along in their unpredictable current. But I don’t think that’s the case, at least, not entirely. Our emotions are largely triggered by our thought processes, and vice versa. As we align our thoughts with the truth of God’s word, and turn to Him in prayer, He begins to align our emotions to match. It’s not a get-happy-quick deal. Quite the contrary. It takes diligence and determination, but I believe bitterness free living is possible.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions on this, and make sure to come back next post to discuss the destructiveness of bitterness. When we’re fueled by anger, we feel like we have the upper hand, but in truth, we are enslaved.

But Christ wants so much more for us. He died to set us free!

 

 

Fighting Back Mama Bear

About a month ago, I made a promise to you all that I would be authentic. No false superhuman Christianity acting like I had it all together. Well, today’s the day–the day when I don’t have it all together and the inside of my heart resembles a nasty old garbage can rather than the cleansed vessel it is designed to be. And as a result, my worship and prayer time has been dead. Cold. Emotionless and forced. And although I’m tempted to hide out in the shadows until this ugly monster is sufficiently tamed, authenticity and transparency doesn’t work on an agenda.

Last night at church we talked about how much deeper we feel things involving our children. We may give up our place in line or a new pair of shoes, but it feels like our world’s ended when our child is asked to do the same. Just watch the face of any parent whose seen their child drop an ice cream cone. Or even worse, watch a daddy who’s being told about a school bully. All talk of forgiveness and turning the other cheek goes flying out the window.

So that’s where I am, only God is starting to break through. He has a funny way of doing that. Of gently, yet consistently reminding me that I am the adult–the one He has chosen to train this child entrusted to my care. Not just how to make her bed or how to follow a budget, but how to live life. Most specifically, how to live the Christian life. And living the Christian life means forgiving the unforgivable, biting our tongue when we want to lash out, and demonstrating the unconditional, no-strings-attached, love of Christ.

It’s funny how much time we spend training our kids on so many inconsequentials. We’ll make sure they can catch a ball by three, can ride their bike by six, and can slam dunk by fourteen. And we’d never dream of handing them a calculus book, saying,  “Call me once you’ve figured it out.” But somehow when it comes to relationships, we think they’ve got it down. Like at twelve, thirteen–even sixteen, they’ll suddenly know how to make wise decisions and communicate effectively. But then thirty-five roles around and they’re throwing the same childish fits and pulling the same manipulative pranks we saw at twelve. But then again, if they’ve never been trained, should we really expect any different?

So that’s what I did today–I trained. And it wasn’t easy. Even though everything in me wanted to feed the bear, I fought it back and sought out my daughter. I think she’s grown to hate those, “We need to talk”, conversation starters. Almost as much as I hate starting them. Encouraging her to take the high road even if she didn’t want to, even if her heart fought against it, was even harder than fighting back my own dragon. But when she was done making that phone call we both dreaded, we were able to talk about it, with peace, knowing that God would take care of the rest.

In Kristen Heitzmann’s latest novel, Indivisible, one of the characters provides an interesting analogy. He equates our warring emotions to two wolves. One wolf is that of bitterness, anger, and unforgiveness. The other wolf is love, grace, and forgiveness. And, according to Jay, (the character who made the statement) the wolf that wins is the one you feed. How true that is! So starting today, I’m going to actively work on starving the wolf of bitterness so that my other wolf–my loving, gracious and forgiving wolf–will grow stronger. No matter how loud the mean wolf’s tummy growls. And even more importantly, I’m going to purposefully train my daughter to do the same.