I went to church last Sunday, eager to try out my renewed attitude. It didn’t take long for it to fade. Once more I listened as someone told how the church had enveloped him and his wife in a loving welcome on the first Sunday they attended. It stung. At the core I suppose I am jealous that I had to work hard for something that came easily to others. I am acting like the prodigal’s older brother. My sister reminds me that I need to let these things go. It took several years, but we have a group at church, now, and friends that are there when we have problems or need help moving.
Stumbling blocks are everywhere. I felt like I had put on a better attitude, only to be immediately reminded the cause of my previous, negative attitude. And it isn’t just at church. I want so much to be patient at work. I get so worked up over some situations, and I want to learn to be steady and even-tempered. I arrive in the morning feeling ready to face whatever comes my way, but the vexations pile up and I am in the same state as always. The truth is, as much as I want to start fresh, I am still holding on to every past situation.
But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. . .But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
James 3:14-15, 17
I was thinking how we get attached to our “baggage.” We use it to define who we are: I am the person who was wronged in this way or had to deal with that difficulty. We don’t want to let it go, we want to make sure people know about it. We do the same thing with our achievements, in an attempt to make others see us in the way we want them to. All the baggage we carry around is our way of keeping score with the rest of the world. Somehow, we always think we’re winning. God wants us to let go of this game when we surrender our lives to Him. Jesus will carry the baggage for us. We cease to be the victim or the hero we painted ourselves to be. We get a new identity: God’s child.
My attitude won’t ever change if I am lugging a scoreboard around with me. It is just another way that pride wedges itself between me and a change in my heart. Learning to forgive others means not keeping score or allowing my past experiences dictate today’s response. I have heard it said many times that you can’t control situations or other people, you can only control your response to them. The past is just another thing we can’t change. We should learn from our mistakes and try make better decisions for the future, but we don’t need to carry all of the baggage around in order to do this. Yet, we long for others to see our forbearance and to care about our struggles. We are like children seeking attention. If we cannot get attention for our successes and good behavior, we seek attention in other ways. Where there is no affection, we try for sympathy. If we can’t find sympathy, we settle for pity.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
I have become frustratingly habitual in my responses to different circumstances. I’ve often thought that I could benefit from a shock collar like they use to train dogs. I don’t know any other way to retrain myself; the practiced, knee-jerk responses are so ingrained in me that I question how I have been a Christian for so long and still developed such bad habits. In the absence of a shock collar, I need to learn to listen to the Holy Spirit before I react. More than that, I need God’s help letting go of this weight that anchors me in the past.
How can I mentally achieve a clean slate? It requires forgiveness, both generally and specifically. I think I need to write a list so that I can pray through it. If I identify the people and situations that have hurt me, perhaps I can forgive in a way that isn’t possible when everything gets lumped together on the scoreboard of Leah versus the World. I can ask God to help me forgive and let go of each issue. I can ask Him to carry the baggage for me.
To some degree, I have let the jealousy and hurt build up over two decades of being single. Though I seek God and want to find rest as His child, part of me still clings to the hurt that I have identified with for so long. The result is a plaque of bitterness on my heart. I have often wondered if single women are more prone to bitterness. It is difficult to feel continually overlooked and continually barren. But I am probably only looking for an excuse to keep carrying it all around with me. I think it’s time to write it down, pray through it, and let it go. I am giving myself that assignment for the week. I suspect the process will take much longer, but you have to start somewhere.