Thursday, March 28, 2013

Restore to Me the Joy of Your Salvation

Last night was graduation from Living Waters. After 6 intense months with each other, my small group gathered for one last time in order to bless each other. I listened to woman after woman tell me how much I have either blossomed into a flower or broken out of my cocoon as a butterfly. It was hard for me to listen to because I still struggle. My Joy has seemed so fleeting. It is here for a moment, and then it is gone, and I collapse into tears or bitterness. And yet, these women have blessed my new found Joy.

This morning, my boyfriend told me to choose Joy. He says this phrase often, and this morning I found myself saying, "Oh, that's nice." But little did I know how important this phrase would be for me today.

I worked for my father today. He was teaching a class and I was to provide childcare for the participants. I was doing fine until my father introduced me to his business partner. The name struck a chord. Deep. Regardless of whether this individual is the same person that the name implied or not, my heart dropped. Doubt seeped in. My mind spun. And my mood quickly began to sink into the dark depths.

Is Joy really this fleeting? Have I truly discovered new Joy through the healing God has given me? Or is this just all a facade?

God has taught me a lot about forgiveness--a lot at the heart level. I am not sure I am even able to articulate it well here... Forgiveness requires one to admit the anger, and to allow the anger to drop in order to feel the pain. Then one must choose to release the pain to Christ. Along with the pain must also go the anger, the shame, the hardheartedness. Then appropriate and freeing reconciliation can be made.

Today, I learned that choosing Joy is an act of forgiveness.

As one of my leaders was blessing me last night, she mentioned the continuing work that I had to do with my stepfather and my father. I was taken off guard by this. But today was a reminder. Today was a reminder of how much anger I have against my father. And it all came because of a single name. I festered on this name for a good hour and a half. I thought about spewing my knowledge to my father--making him feel guilty--making him confess--making him correct how much he has wronged me. But then something stopped me. Why do I need this? Why do I need to know if this person matches up with the name? Why do I need to crush my father with my pain and my anger? Those needs imply unforgiveness. And this unforgiveness was stealing my Joy.

But what was the correct response? Do I suppress my feelings completely? Essentially put on a mask with my dad?

When my father came back to me, I spoke with him in a tone that dripped of depression. I still was unable to get past my anger and my hurt even though I knew I needed to. Finally I gave up trying to suppress; I broached the topic. I admitted my poor mood. I admitted that I was feeling distant from him--that I have even avoided him because of what I knew. I struggled to keep eye contact with him. I struggled to find words. But I was able to be honest. I felt the tears; held back only by a desire not to crush my dad further.

My father merely acknowledged that I have a right to be disappointed and angry; that he is disappointed in himself. Then he shared about his struggle to love his own father. He pointed out that his father will probably never change and he will never be perfect. He said, "We all fight our own demons. I fight mine. My dad fights his." "And I fight mine," I replied, quietly.

It was difficult. I wanted sweet revenge. Or at least sweet release from a father who has let me down. But the truth is that this is impossible. Our world is so entrenched in sin. No one is perfect. People are always going to fail me. (And I am always going to fail people--ouch.) My Joy is being stolen--not by sin--but by my belief in a lie that I can depend on people for that Joy. I wanted my father to restore my Joy to me this morning. But he can't. No one can. Only God can do that--like He did for me earlier this year.

My dad and I did not become buddy-buddy after this short and slightly vague conversation. But I was able to be honest with him. And I was able to extend grace to him. I still don't know the true identity of his business partner. But the truth is that I don't have to know. I don't have to hold my dad accountable to his own sins or weaknesses. It's not my job.

I think that the majority of the despair I feel is a result of me trying to take on the sin of the world (or a few select individuals whom I constantly come into contact with). But it is not my responsibility to take on the sin of the world. That is what Christ did on the Cross--and it is a FINISHED work! I can cry out to God for the pain that this world endures, but He never asks me to carry it.

So my father and I probably have a lot more to talk about, and I will probably have more to forgive him for as the anger and pain become evident to me. But I realized this morning that it is not my job to make penance for him. Nor for anyone else.

Instead I chose to say these simple words to my dad: "I still love you."

And I was able to genuinely choose Joy. It is a choice. It is always available to us because Joy--genuine Joy--is in the hands of the Lord. And that is something Satan or the world or our flesh can never tear away from us if we are found in Christ Jesus.

My happiness may fluctuate. But may I never anymore feel that Joy is out of my reach. That is a bondage that I have been freed of--and I need not continue to clutch onto the broken chains.

Psalm 51:10-13
"Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners will be converted to You."

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