“Long enough, God — you’ve ignored me long enough. I’ve looked at the back of your head long enough. Long enough I’ve carried this ton of trouble, lived with a stomach full of pain. Long enough my arrogant enemies have looked down their noses at me. Take a good look at me, God, my God; I want to look life in the eye, So no enemy can get the best of me or laugh when I fall on my face. I’ve thrown myself headlong into your arms— I’m celebrating your rescue. I’m singing at the top of my lungs, I’m so full of answered prayers. (Psalm 13, The Message)”
King David’s words trickled from the electric silence of my screen and flushed out the wounds of the day before with the cleansing burn of disinfecting resonance.
The previous afternoon I had stood with my elbows on a table and my face in my hands, angrily pleading with God for justice, to be delivered from years of relentless derision and near methodical verbal abuse. Decades of falling short of the expectations of loved ones and my own overwhelming feelings of worthlessness and shame at my own failings and weakness were being routinely affirmed by outside voices that continuously told me that I “sucked” and “wasn’t worth a fuck”. When the harassment started, I resolved to put what I claimed to believe about the whole Jesus movement to the test, and meet the blows of their hateful words with a meet-you-where-you-are, turn-the-other-cheek kind of love. I felt that I had been placed in my abusers lives to show them the loving light of Jesus, and, by modeling my own love after his self-sacrificing love, I would take everything they threw at me and respond in truth and unearned friendship. As I stood at the table that miserable afternoon, I was exhausted and dangling at the end of my rope. It was time for God to release me from this crucible. As I railed against all I’d endured for the vision he’d given me, I was overwhelmed by the deathly silence that comes after an argument, the silence when you realize you’ve overstepped your bounds, that you’ve said too much and may never go back to the way things were.
“If God hadn’t been for us —all together now, Israel, sing out!— If God hadn’t been for us when everyone went against us, We would have been swallowed alive by their violent anger, Swept away by the flood of rage, drowned in the torrent; We would have lost our lives in the wild, raging water. Oh, blessed be God! He didn’t go off and leave us. He didn’t abandon us defenseless, helpless as a rabbit in a pack of snarling dogs. We’ve flown free from their fangs, free of their traps, free as a bird. Their grip is broken; we’re free as a bird in flight. God’s strong name is our help, the same God who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 124, The Message)”
Six months had passed since I demanded deliverance from my mission. My depression had deepened to complete despondency. In the quiet moments in-between the hopelessness and the just getting by, my mind fluttered like a broken-winged bird, desperately searching for either safety or a way to escape or end the pain. It was all too much to bear, and suicide peered over the edge of the bluff on my commute home and swung in the back of mind like a homemade noose hanging from the high places of my desperation. As I read my daily psalm, I felt God release me from my mission. Hope split the frosty morning twilight. It was time.
The attacks that day were endless and creative.
I fought to hold on, to stay true to my mission just a little longer.
In a burst of chaos, they used their knowledge of depression against me, overpowered me, and brought me to knees. The message of morning’s psalm replayed in my mind as I desperately sought the best moment to get away.
“And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart.As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.’ (Matthew 10:11-15, English Standard Version)”
I sat on my counselor’s couch and laid it all out. I told him how I’d felt called to what I’d felt called to. I told him, word by hurtful word, all the things that had been said and done to me over the years. I told him how I felt like I was being delivered from the abuse and into a life of deeper pursuit of my calling. I told him all of the advise I’d been given; advise to use all the means at my disposal to bring them down for having treated me and others the ways that they had. I told him how destructive that would be to the work I’d put into ministering to and loving them.
He quoted Jesus: “shake off the dust from your feet”.
My meekness was being mistaken for weakness, and it was time to stop the cycle of repeated abuse and repeatedly defending myself.
My decision was made, but final confrontations had to take place to feel like I’d done my best and could leave in peace.
“’You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ ‘But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.’ (Matthew 5:38-42, English Standard Version)”
As I faced each of them in the following days, I heard the ways my presence and friendship had enriched their lives, and over the course of several conversations, I saw them, only in glimmering fragmented moments, not standing above me, taunting and insulting me, but down on my level, eye to eye, heart to heart. They showed me sides of themselves that gave voices to why they acted the ways that they did. In moment after beautiful moment, I saw their humanity, their fragility, and I saw in the faintest but most enlightening way, how God could love them and extend His grace in their brokenness, that I had somehow participated in that loving grace. With each word they spoke, I saw that all of the pain and tears and money spent on counseling and therapy and medications had been worth something. I saw hints at what God had done through me for these people, and I saw how God loves us all through all we do to abuse and insult Him and His good world. Somewhere in all that I heard, I saw and felt God’s vindicating resurrection power, and I forgave them.
I was justified in my anger and outrage. I was well within my right to seek retaliatory justice for the ways I had been treated. But that still small voice in the back of my mind told me to trust in God’s timing and God’s justice. After all, I had fought the good fight, followed the call of the Spirit, trusted the message of the Gospel, and believed the teachings of Jesus. And, miraculously, in the twinkling of an eye, I had glimpsed the Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. The wounds of the years had been flushed with the cleansing burn of disinfecting resonance of how God moves and acts in our frail obedience, and I’ll never see life the same way again. I haven’t yet arrived, but I’ve seen what’s ahead. The memories of what I’ve learned in this season will continue to propel me forward for the rest of my life.
***There is no excuse for abuse. If you are being abuse physically, mental, or spiritually, you should do everything you can to get out of that situation. I took a good bit of abuse, but I never took it lightly or without speaking truth to what was being said about me. Loving doesn’t mean you lay down and take it. While this story points to “love winning”, you should know your limits, know when enough is enough, and get out as soon as you can. You can love someone while demanding right treatment for yourself.