Posted by: karanoel | July 27, 2018

Enough!

During the summer we get to visit with friends that time and distance don’t otherwise allow. One such family – an utterly delightful one I earnestly wish we could see more often – has a remarkably bright and creative preteen whom I love dearly and will call Emily. We had fun together; we always do. But I noticed something this visit. Every single conversation, no matter where it started, found its way back to the injustice she experienced at the hands of her best friend, Ava; a girl who hurt her deeply (and repeatedly) over the past few years.

I know the backstory and the treatment was undoubtedly unfair and heartbreaking, but what is even more tragic to me is that the memories have become toxic to Emily. They seem to be playing on a loop in her mind, keeping her tethered to Ava and to the hurt, even though the girls now have a healthy distance from each other. The only way she seems to know how to cope is to tell (and retell) stories of how heartlessly Ava acted and extract judgments about her character. As I said, Ava was unkind in significant ways and by no means innocent, but I think it’s possible that with each retelling, Emily is becoming more of a saint and Ava more of a villain. In fact, Emily said that in most (or all) of the stories stories she writes, the antagonist is based on Ava and bears some variation of her name. By the end of our visit, I almost felt like instead of spending time with “Emily,” I was spending time with “the girl Ava destroyed.”

Please know that I’m not saying any of this in judgment. It just made me sad, especially since she wasn’t yet interested in talking about any response other than a continual rehashing of events. She is a smart girl and I’m sure she’ll figure it out, but the whole thing impacted me pretty deeply. I found myself asking the Lord to show me any way I’ve been stuck in the telling (and retelling) of a toxic narrative. And, boy, did He answer. Immediately, in fact.

I decided early on that I’d been severely shortchanged. Everyone else seemed to have been created according to a cohesive plan that granted each pristine, usable parts of personality, ability, beauty and intellect. And then there was me; a mismatched set of leftovers that didn’t act or think or look quite right, and failed to do anything well. This is the narrative that I’ve told and retold – to myself, to God, to anyone who will listen. The memories that have played on a loop in my mind are the ones that evidence my inadequacy; keeping my victimhood in tact and the fear of failure fresh. It’s been the justification for all sorts of destructive tendencies, but none more so than standing on the sidelines and disconnecting from a heart that yearns to live in the present, as “Kara,” not “the girl fear destroyed.”

In one of my all-time favorite books, Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis, Orual has similar misgivings and has thrown herself herself into writing a book – a great book – of complaint against the gods for how little they give and how much they demand.

“‘Read your complaint,’ said the judge. I looked at the roll in my hand and saw at once that it was not the book I had written. It couldn’t be; it was far too small. And too old – a little, shabby, crumpled thing, nothing like my great book that I had worked on all day, day after day…”

“Yet I found myself unrolling it. It was written all over inside, but the hand was not like mine. It was all a vile scribble – each stroke mean and yet savage, like the snark in my father’s voice…”

“‘Enough,’ said the judge. There was utter silence all round me. And now for the first time I knew what I had been doing. While I was reading, it had, once and again, seemed strange to me that the reading took so long; for the book was a small one. Now I knew that I had been reading it over and over – perhaps a dozen times. I would have read it forever, quick as I could, starting the first word again almost before the last was out of my mouth, if the judge had not stopped me.”

This represents so perfectly what so many of us experience. Our rage at some injustice seems so noble; a truth that can be seen in no other light. We work on our “great book” of complaints against ourselves, others or God for days or months or maybe years and will entertain no other perspective. But “[our anger protects us] only for a short time; anger wearies itself out and truth comes in.” And oh, when that truth comes in, we realize that our book of wrongs is not a grand volume containing the weighty substance that we thought, but that it is only a little, shabby, crumpled thing filled with the vile, savage scribble of bitterness and ignorance… the same few words we have been reciting ad nauseam and would have continued forever without the interruption of truth. And we might even realize that in addition to our argument lacking its believed soundness, we are not so innocent as we judged. “For it had been somehow settled in my mind from the very beginning that I was the pitiable and ill-used one. She had her gold curls, hadn’t she?”

I don’t mean to make light of the pain caused by horrific wrongs or the deep struggle to understand God and His ways. I’m just realizing that in the revelation of the story of Love – the bigger picture our stories sit in – every single one of our complaints falls flat on its face. On the day the Father gave His Son, covering us with perfect forgiveness, righteousness and provision, it was as if the Judge said, “Enough!” Silence fell. And Emily and I – and each of His people – became the truest version of ourselves; “the one who overcomes.”

What is your complaint? Is it worth reciting?


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