When One Won’t Back Down
I am a bitter person.
It’s a rough thing to admit up front, but it’s an important thing to understand about me. It’s also a dangerous thing to admit, as we tend to adopt our deepest secrets as part of our identity. I don’t want to define myself as bitter, nor do I want to be defined by others in this way. I’m not always bitter towards the same person, and bitterness doesn’t occupy my thoughts often. What I have realized about myself over the twenty years I’ve been alive is that I bury bitterness deep in my grooves, covering and disguising it with words of repentance and surrender. How many times have I “gotten over something” only to discover a few months later that the very thought of the circumstance makes me ill with anger?
I have developed the idea that I am a positive person at heart. I can find joy in the most mundane of everyday things – a warm banana muffin, a cup of Costa Rica medium roast, a book of Yeats or even a misty day. I can allow myself the luxury of being overjoyed at the slightest passing “hello” from a friend. When it comes to bitterness, however, I have very little joy of which to speak of.
Is it possible to be two people in the same body? To be cheerful and accepting in one hemisphere but then to be cold, judgmental and unforgiving in the other? Am I a hypocrite because I strive to defeat that darker half while still allowing in to show its face? It’s not that I lie to people about my nature – when I’m negative or unfairly harsh, I’ll admit it. The danger is when we think our bitterness or cruelty is excusable simply because we admit we have a problem. An alcoholic husband who beats his wife may admit he has a problem and he may even go to AA meetings, but that doesn’t make his actions right or excused in any way. It never should.
Dewey Lee spoke to Houghton College yesterday on the subject of reconciliation and confrontation. It just so happened someone was present on campus that day who I still harbored outstanding feelings of bitterness for having been wronged a few months before. I had apologized for my small part in the incident, but the person on the other end who had delivered an inconsiderate blow and caused me pain had not apologized for their part. They gone behind my back, blew me off and then turned the situation on me and denied any blame they held. I had decided to apologize for anything, known or unknown, that I had done to worsen the situation, and then distanced myself. I discovered yesterday that I was still bitter. It wasn’t that surprising of an epiphany.
One thing I also know about this particular person is that they rarely admit when they are wrong. They don’t apologize often and when they do, it’s only after they blame other people and attempt to glean as much sympathy as possible to distract from the wrong they have committed. This spawns mostly from emotional immaturity and poor role-models and experience. I became so angry that we were both sitting in this chapel service and of course, I was going to feel convicted to reconcile for something that wasn’t my fault. Then, God struck me pretty hard. Even though the initial rift was not my fault and I had been wronged, I was committing an even greater offense in my heart by harboring such bitterness. I was also reminded of the bitterness I held towards am ex-boyfriend from a very shallow and hurtful relationship. I had a right to be angry, but no one said I ever had a right to be bitter, and I don’t, especially after this long and especially after I was very resolved about ending the relationship when I did.
When it comes right down to it, people who don’t apologize or realize their wrongs are not going to change overnight. Nothing that you say or do or hold against them will make a difference because if they haven’t changed yet after so many similar instances, they most likely will not be changing any time soon. It’s not to say that they are incapable of changing, but that’s up to them. Reconciliation doesn’t have to mean peace and happiness between two parties – it means doing your part to bring closure and forgiveness to a situation in which you had a part. You can reconcile with people no longer in your life by reconciling in your heart. How many difficult instances would be avoided if we had just let things go in the first place? How much of our short lives do we spend at odds with one another? Reconciliation may not make everything better, but it will make things better in your own heart.
Take airplanes for example. In an emergency, oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling. The stewardess tells you right from takeoff that if such an emergency were to occur, place a mask on your own face first before trying to help others. It’s the only time when a seemingly selfish act may be the most selfless and the biggest help. If we all try to help each other get our masks on, there is a chance we will all die. If one person takes a second to slide their mask over their face, they will have the air and protection they need to help the person next to them, starting a chain reactions throughout the plane. No one forces us to put on the masks and no one forces us to help the person next to us. If we don’t do something, however, we will not survive. Out of an instinct of self-preservation, we’ll put on our own mask, and hopefully out of a sense of immediacy and duty we’ll help those around us.
In life, we often let our oxygen dangle right in front of our faces – too stubborn to put it on to save ourselves and too self-centered to save the person beside us. How counter-productive and counter-intuitive is this? All we have to do is reach out and take what will keep us breathing. It only takes a little more energy to reach out for the oxygen for our neighbor. While reconciliation is much more complicated emotionally, we need to simplify it in these terms. I can get so caught up in details and definition that I forget the simple principles of such action. Sometimes self-preservation involves a little quid-pro-quo, and even though reconciliation shouldn’t necessarily be treated so lightly, if we are going to live happier lives with less stress and emotional burden, we might as well take a minute to evaluate those times when we haven’t really been the most forgiving or open. If we’re not in a safe state or if we are on the edge of danger, we need to make sure we’re secure before we can try to help other people. Otherwise, we will all fall. We will convince ourselves we’re fine when our air is being sucked right out of our lungs. We lie so well, especially to ourselves.
In the end, it comes down to two (proper) options: We can either forgive and reconcile or we can hold to these bitter remains that will bring us no joy and leave us burdened and cold. There should never be waiting to let the other person see their wrongdoing – that’s where grace and love must be essential in our lives. The other person may be the one in the wrong, but we must give them what they do not deserve – our forgiveness and love.
I tell you these things because I am a hypocrite and I am a liar. Please help me secure my mask.