I had a conversation with my husband last week that I’m still laughing at today. The subject of our talk was a serious one, but the imagery I used to describe how I’ve been looking at the subject was unforgettable. In all honesty, I hadn’t been intentional about the imagery, but putting words to the way I felt about it and how I had been choosing to respond to the topic we were discussing couldn’t have been more perfect.
Our conversation was about keeping a clean heart – dealing with the stuff that gets in the way of having healthy relationships with God and each other and the people we love. We each, being very different people, have different “triggers,” things that make us want to shut our hearts down and pull away. But we both understand by now the importance of not repeating that pattern, and the dangers which are very present when we do.
He struggles with harboring bitterness when someone has offended him or hurt him. He has been slow to open himself up to people, so the ones that have enough access to hurt or offend him are usually people he has invested trust with. People he given effort to building relationship with. I think most of the human population can relate to the struggle of forgiving people in that context. It is much easier to hold a grudge and protect our hearts from such relationships.
The problem, however, is that pain, when it isn’t dealt ruthlessly with, becomes a stumbling block. It morphs into a knawing ache which screams for relief, and humanity has been groomed since the Garden of Eden to reach for something to hide behind when we don’t feel good.
God made everything good in the beginning, even us. Until we chose to take what He told us not to, we knew no lack of peace or perfection. But the moment we fell for the lie that there might be something better than good, a pattern of brokenness became our new normal. And within that pattern, addiction thrives. Whenever we have pain, discomfort, failure, shame, or any other joyless feeling (because we were created to know and live in true, perpetual, unbroken joy), we almost mindlessly reach for a solution. And because shame always comes with choosing outside of what God has chosen for us, we almost never instinctively reach for God.
So, when we’ve been hurt or offended, it tends to quickly fester and ooze and become an excuse for some unhealthy behavior. Especially when there are layers upon layers of undealt with offenses.
The thought makes me shudder, and want to break out my cleaning gear!
That might sound judgmental, but it’s actually empathetic. It’s a terrible thought to me because I’ve lived in that mess before. My own heart has been entrapped in those layers of bitterness and resentment and pain, and I know what it’s like to be driven for solutions that bring some kind of relief from the discomfort of living that way.
Which is why I am now very quick to deal very ruthlessly with my hurts and offenses. I don’t give them any time at all to become embedded in the soil of my heart, because I remember how hard it was to uproot the tangled mess of bitter roots that once held me captive.
When my husband and I had this talk last week, I told him that I don’t struggle with unforgiveness (or holding onto grudges) anymore, because I’ve learned to treat offenses like cockroaches. The last time I found a cockroach in my house, I wasted no time at all before getting the exterminator to come and kill any trace of that rotten scoundrel that had invaded my home. This is my house, and I refuse to share it with creepy, crawly things that multiply with a quick vengeance. This is true for ants and spiders and any other thing which belongs outside, but cockroaches get a quicker response time, because I know how quickly they multiply and take over.
This might sound extreme to you, but I hate cockroaches. I lived with many of them growing up in poor and dirty places. Now that I am grown, I refuse to give them even an inch of my territory (if you detect a slight bit of trauma in my history with roaches, you’re right).
So, if I place that much importance on keeping my home free of cockroaches, why wouldn’t I treat my heart – which is home to the Spirit of God – the same way? Why would I allow things to invade and multiply there that will take over? Because I’ve witnessed that takeover, I refuse to give any more room for it.
So how do I keep my heart free from the cockroaches of offense – especially since we live in a world where relationships are very broken and offenses happen every day?
When offenses come, when people hurt me (either deliberately or unconsciously), I deal ruthlessly with the hurt. I waste no time, and I take it quickly and violently straight to the exterminator of unforgiveness. I pray and I stay in prayer until it has been wrestled free from the bed of my heart. Some offenses go quickly. Others take a real wrestling match to get rid of (especially when I am more invested in relationship with the one who has hurt me). But I know I can’t afford to ignore it and let it breed, because it absolutely will.
Unforgiveness becomes a prison that enslaves me, and I cherish the freedom of having a clean heart. I understand what it cost Jesus for me to have it, and I cherish Him above everything else. Sometimes, when the cockroaches of offense invade and I pray them out, I have to follow up with a deeper process to make sure there was no trace of them left. Even when dismembered, cockroaches multiply! They’re tricky little things, and so are offenses, because there is a shrewd and deceptive enemy behind them.
But our God is greater, and He is invested in helping us to keep our hearts clean. All we have to do is ask for His help, invite Him into the process of extermination. He will gladly answer that prayer!
Dear Woman of Breakthrough, a clean heart is a free heart. I don’t always have the energy to clean, and therefore I sometimes tolerate – especially when life gets busy or overwhelming- some degree of mess. But when something like cockroaches show up, that’s a whole different story. My world stops to deal with that kind of a mess, because I know the stakes are too high not to.
If you have any kind of unresolved hurt, anger, pain or offense harbored in your heart, NOW is the time to deal with it. We are women of breakthrough! We cannot settle for something God never intended for us to be bound by. Start by praying with me, and then listen for God to direct your next steps. He most surely will. When He does, cooperate with Him. Remember that He wants your freedom more than even you might want it. The path may not always feel pleasant, but it will lead to what He has promised.
And vow today to look at all offenses differently, and to deal with them immediately, so they will never again have any territory in your heart. Living with a clean heart is amazing. It’s how we were designed to live, and it is much easier to grow in relationship with God and everyone else around you when the mess of offenses has been dealt with.
Dear Lord, thank You for dealing with my offenses at the cross. Thank You that You have chosen to hold none of them against me. Not the sins of my past, nor the sins of my present, nor the sins of my future. Although I don’t want to sin against You, I know that I am not yet perfected, and I sometimes will. Help me, when I do, to seek and walk in Your forgiveness, which has already been promised and accomplished, quickly.
And Lord, help me to look at others’ offenses against me the same way that You look at mine. Help me to forgive quickly. Help me to recognize the pain and bring it immediately to You, instead of letting it fester into a wound and then picking up a stone to throw. Instead of holding onto grudges against those who hurt me, help me to see them as I now see myself: imperfect, and in process. And still worth forgiving.
Because You have loved me this way, help me to live in this love, and so love others the same. Help me to value a clean heart, and to treat any attack against it as an unwanted invasion that I have the authority to deal with. Help me, Lord, to deal with it in the way You have empowered me to, by bringing it to You in prayer.
And Lord, please lead me in any other steps that may be necessary for dealing with old resentments and offenses (or new ones that become quickly rooted). If there is anything I can’t see living beneath the surface of my heart, embedded and entangled there, please address the roots of it, and help me to pull them out. Connect and lead me to any people or resource You desire to be a part of this process.
I want to have a clean heart, and healthy relationships with You and with those around me. When I feel unwilling, give me the desire for this, because I know it is what love looks like.
In Jesus’ perfect and reconciling Name I pray, Amen.