Saturday, May 28, 2011

Whom have I in heaven but You?

When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.

Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
Psalm 73:21-26

I love seeing my own feelings written out in Scripture. When I read this passage yesterday, the first four lines especially stood out for me. It is comforting to know that there truly is nothing new under the sun, that the thoughts and feelings that I experience in my small, 21st century life, have been felt and experienced by generations of people before me. Including the wonderfully honest writer of this psalm.

Reading these words gives me courage to be honest about my own struggles and to bring them from the darkness into light. I understand what it is like to have a heart that is so grieved, a spirit that is so embittered that I have become like a brute beast. I have been senseless and ignorant to my surroundings, the people around me and my life, because of pain. Reading these words gives me hope, and a sense of God's love, no matter what I have done.

There was a time, several years ago, when my life was filled with so much pain that I struggled to cope with it. I was in a relationship with an abusive person, and was not coping well. Physically, I was experiencing overwhelming bouts of IC (interstitial cystitis) pain that lasted for weeks, and the anxiety I lived with led to almost constant angina. I was, for the most part, hiding the abuse I was living with. Only a few close friends and one family member knew. During this time, as the pressure of the anger and violence in my relationship grew, I turned to self-harming to find comfort. As odd as it sounds, hurting myself physically relieved some of the emotional pain. It left me open to ridicule from the abuser in my life, but the release from the pain was worth it. I didn't understand why I was doing it, why in the midst of the worst times of shame, fear, frustration and hurt, I felt overwhelming urges to hurt myself.

I told my closest friends what I was doing. I sought counseling with a Christian counselor. I took advantage of every tool at my disposal, especially prayer, and was able after a short while to stop the behavior. Today I have no temptation to hurt myself as I once did.

As I began to understand the effect of the fear and pain I lived with, I also became aware of my anger towards the one who was hurting me. Part of the temptation to self-harm came from a furious desire to strike out at the abuser. Instead, I relieved the urge by striking out at myself. I wasn't trying to induce guilt in him. I had told him about the first few incidents. He began to mock me for what I was doing, claiming that I was mentally ill and therefore my assertion that his behavior towards me was abusive could not be trusted. I then turned to friends that I could trust to help me, not to use my struggle to justify abuse. The fact is, even if I had been mentally ill, the proper response would have been care and concern, not abuse.

When I read the verses in Psalm 73, and I hear the psalmist talk about feeling so grieved and embittered that he became like a brute beast, something inside of me lifts. My feelings are not new. The psalmist is not speaking with shame. He has not lost his voice because his suffering had caused him, at one point in his life, to become senseless and ignorant, a brute. In fact, because he turned to God, his experiences have given him a new voice, a powerful voice of healing and hope. Because the psalmist is willing to be honest about what he has gone through, his words can reach across the generations to my bedroom, my crumpled spirit, my grieved heart.

There are those who would use our weaknesses to shame us into silence. There are those who mock and taunt us and say that our struggles taint our voices. The psalmist begs to differ. God Himself begs to differ. Even if our struggles and pain defeat us physically, our hearts are safe when we put them into God's hands. When we turn to God and courageously allow Him to use our pain and our stories, the world around us is changed for the better. The message? We are not alone. We have never been alone. God understands. God cares. When we tell our stories, we remove the weapons of shame and defeat from the hands of those who would see us silenced.

I have scars from my self-harming days. I have freely shown them to others who have timidly, quietly confessed that they struggle with self-harming. They are battle wounds. From my senseless and ignorant brutish days. The days when God held on extra tightly to me. Others may linger on the truth that I was a senseless brute. That's their choice. I chose verses 23 to 26. That's my choice.

"God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."

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