The following tale is installment 2 of one pilgrim’s fictional journey up the hill of Golgotha to the place of Christ’s crucifixion. Read installment 1 to catch up.
After an hour or so of hiking, my stomach began to rage with protest. I glimpsed at my watch and realized I had hiked through lunch. Pressing on a little further, I finally stopped when I came to a slightly shaded resting place. Laying out my supplies, I unscrewed my thermos and took a long sip of water. Because it was warmed by the heat of the day, the liquid did little to soothe my aching thirst. I rummaged through my food supplies and decided to munch on some dried fruit and nuts. I wiped my forehead and examined the cloth. Dust and sweat were smeared across its surface.
The sunshine caught on the face of my watch, drawing my attention to it. The beautiful handiwork of this delicate treasure was obvious. This watch had cost the purchaser a fortune. My mind then drifted to the one who had given me this gift. He is the one I used to call friend. In an instant, feelings of regret and loss flooded my spirit as I thought of his transgressions. I allowed my mind to dwell on the details of his betrayal as I absentmindedly nibbled on my food. After a while, anger raged in my spirit, and I unclasped the watch and ripped it off my wrist. I threw it on the ground at my feet as hot, silent tears filled my eyes.
“He betrayed me, you know,” I spoke out loud, to myself more than to my Companion. The bitter words left a rotten taste in my mouth.
“I know,” replied the Lord.
For so long, I had stifled the emotional pain from this betrayal, only instead allowing an abiding anger to persist. But now that I had allowed myself to feel the pain, it descended upon me like an avalanche. The injustice of it all was almost too much to bear, and I at last allowed myself to release angry tears over the entire, unfortunate situation.
“Do You know what really gets me about it all?” I asked after a while.
“Yes,” He answered, and I laughed at my question. Of course He knew. “But speak it out loud anyway. Let Me hear what you feel.”
I bowed my head in determination as I put into words for the first time what really drove my bitterness. “I can’t stand the fact that You continue to bless him. People hold him in high regard, and You do nothing. Not once has he ever come to me to acknowledge his betrayal. Not once has he truly repented. Never. He continues on in deception and sin, and yet he succeeds! All of his success is like a punch to the gut after what he’s done to me.” I picked up a nearby rock and chunked it down the hill. I listened for God’s reply, but instead my ears were only greeted with the sound of the rock crashing and rolling through the brush as gravity pulled it downward.
At last, He spoke. “Why do you continue to wear the watch?”
Why do I wear that cursed gift? I thought as I chewed on a bite of fruit. “It’s a nice watch, and I need a watch. I could care less who gave it to me,” I spouted.
“That’s not true,” He replied gently. My cheeks warmed at His rebuke.
“I know,” I confessed. I took a deep breath as I replied truthfully to the Lord’s question, motioning to the watch that glistened in the sunshine at my feet. “Every time I look at this watch, I am reminded of my betrayer’s wrongdoing. I am able to rehearse in my mind what he has done to me. Even though time has moved on from his betrayal, I keep it all alive in my memory. This watch feeds my indignation, fuels my anger. I wear his gift as a way of nursing my bitterness and, truthfully, my hatred toward him. The way I figure it, if You aren’t going to do anything about it, somebody should. If no one else ever knows what he did, this watch will serve as a symbol of his betrayal, forever.” The spitefulness of my own words shocked me.
“Is this plan working well for you?” the Lord questioned.
I thought over my days since the relationship turned sour, of the season of my life when our beautiful friendship went wrong. I considered the countless sleepless nights that I had spent tossing and turning in bed, restless from my anger. I noted how my other relationships suffered because of my inability to love truly, to wholly give of myself. I remembered my bitterness and saw clearly for the first time how my hatred had driven me to any number of unhealthy activities to soothe my aching soul. No, my plan had not been working well. I was chained to the past like a ship anchored at sea.
“But Lord,” I argued back. “Do You not see the predicament You force me to be in because You do nothing? I could never allow such transgressions to go unpunished!” I retorted without thinking. Immediately, I covered my mouth with both hands as I regretted my careless words.
“Consider your words, child,” He said. He softened and continued, “An eye for an eye, then. Is that what you desire?” I shuffled uneasily in my resting place on the ground, uncomfortable with the silence. An unfinished snack lay by my side, for my appetite had since disappeared in the wake of this conversation.
I finally spoke humbled words: “Lord, I spoke carelessly in a moment of passion. What I really mean is this: no other person has caused such deep hurt in me as this one. I had trusted him completely and ate bountifully from the fruit of our relationship. His betrayal has cost me greatly. But what makes the pain even greater is how he continues on in life as if he has done no wrong.” I raked my fingers through my hair as I recounted my struggle to God. “My anguish affects him not at all. I grieve for the lost communion I once held with this friend. I mourn for our broken relationship. It is as if he thrusts a dagger in my heart with how he carries on without a care. O, that You would spite him and make him know how greatly he has hurt me!” Fresh tears poured down my face once more, but these quiet tears no longer carried the sting of bitterness. These were tears of brokenness brought on by the confession of my lips. All was quiet around me as I wept, and time passed slowly. I released the pain that had taken residence in my heart so long ago.
At last, I calmed. I watched as a lizard scurried across a nearby rock, and the Lord spoke again. “Do you recall My words on the subject? The words I spoke when I walked this earth?”
“Yes, Lord.” I silenced my heart and listened as His words came bounding fresh into my memory. I recited the verse found in Mark 11:25:
‘And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.’
“But Father,” I argued. “Will You do nothing to right his transgressions against me? Does my suffering mean nothing to You?” My questions hung unanswered in the air.
I picked at the dirt with my finger as I recalled a scene from Christ’s life on this earth: a woman, caught in adultery and thrown at His feet for condemnation. But Jesus did not condemn her. Instead, He drew in the dirt.
“What did you write in the dirt that day?” I asked with curiosity.
“What do people say that I wrote?” He asked back.
“Well, some say You wrote the ten commandments. Others say You listed out actual sins of the woman’s accusers.”
“The specifics of what I wrote were for the men at that moment, not for the curious eyes of those who would read about this encounter. I did not include the details because they are not the focus of this story," the Lord explained. "What did I ask those men who condemned her?”
I then spoke out loud Jesus’ words to her accusers. “You said to them, ‘If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her’ (John 8:7). Then You continued to write in the sand.” My mind played out the scene as it is recorded in His Word. As Jesus wrote in the sand, the men slowly began to walk away, the oldest leaving first, until only Jesus was left standing before the guilty woman.
“What happened at last, Beloved? What did I say to the woman?”
“Well, you first asked her who was there to accuse her. She looked around and realized that her accusers had all left, but only You stood before her. Then, You told her to go and to sin no more,” I stated succinctly. I knew where He was going with this, and I honestly didn’t like it. He had forgiven her, this woman who had sinned against Him.
“Do you remember any other of my words?” He asked.
I didn’t want to remember, of course, but the words rushed to my memory before I could block them out. So I answered Him, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Again, silence filled the air as Jesus’ words worked in my heart. “I see how my unforgiveness has broken my communion with You, Lord. I don’t want that. I know what I need to do.” I sighed deeply as a war raged within my spirit. I knew I needed to forgive this one who had so painfully injured my soul, but still I could not let go. I decided to speak honestly, “But Lord, the rejection, the betrayal, it cuts so deeply. My heart bleeds from the pain, and I find myself unable to release my offender! How do I let it go?”
“I know, Dear One,” He replied. “I, too, have felt such rejection and betrayal.”
“But who would dare…” I began, until I allowed my eyes to see clearly the reality. Every rebellious act I had ever done came rushing to the forefront of my mind. For so long I had allowed my self-righteousness to prevent me from seeing myself as I truly am, but now my own actions accused me as I sat on that dusty ground. “Lord!” I proclaimed. “I don’t deserve this communion I enjoy with You now. How dare I hold others in contempt when You have forgiven me of everything! Please forgive me for all I have done to betray You!” I shouted in distress.
“I already have,” He spoke into my brokenness. “You enjoy communion with Me because I have sought you out and purchased your freedom. Nothing you could have done would have earned you this right, but I have made a way. You deserve to be banished from My presence, but I offer You sweet communion instead. You deserve judgment, but I redeem you from the guilt of your offenses.” His words washed over me once more. “This, my child, is an act of mercy.”
I hesitated no longer, reaching down to retrieve the watch. Digging a hole in the hardened ground, I buried the watch, and with it all of my accusations against my betrayer. I laid my self-righteousness in that hole before I covered it with fresh soil. Then I gathered my belongings, took one more sip of water, and continued my journey with a pack much lighter than when my journey had begun.
Questions to Ponder:
- What offenses are you holding onto today? What bitterness or anger has taken up residence in your heart? Today is the day to dig up those roots that do not belong in us, and to release our offenders before the Lord. Offer the grace that Jesus has freely given you, not because they deserve it, but because you didn't deserve it, either.
- How is self-righteousness preventing you from loving others fully with the love of Christ? Lay it down today.