Thursday, December 01, 2005

wrestling with shadows

"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Ephesians 6:12, KJV).

I've been thinking a lot about betrayal the past couple of weeks. One day, you're plugging along at your life and everything feels fine. It might not be fabulous, and you might kind of sense that something is not right. The occasional thing might seem just a wee bit out of place, and you might start to suspect that some rough waters might lie ahead. Then it hits you... hard. And you realize how completely unprepared you really were for what actually happened. The rough waters you had anticipated might come years down the road rush in over your head, and you're not sure if you have the energy or drive to keep your head up. Currents of anger, hopelessness, and heartache pull at the stability you've come to cling to, and the very people you've always turned to to sustain you through rough times are either shut down, shut out, or clueless. You feel isolated, resentful, and lost, at the same time knowing that somehow you have to find it in you to use what you know to be true, to call upon the God who will never fail you, and to pull yourself out of your river of self-pity.

It sucks.

In my 12 years as an "adult," I've experienced 3 major betrayals. Three times, someone who has had my heart and my trust has completely torn me to shreds. The first time was the discovery that someone I loved romantically had been living a double life for over a year, all the time without my knowledge. The second was when someone who had been a mentor, employer, mother-figure, and friend was revealed to sometimes be a liar, an addict, and a fraud. The third... well, two weeks is not very long. There will come a time when the shock has settled a bit and life has reestablished itself (albeit a completely different life, with family relationships that are forever altered)... that time may open a door that makes it less painful to talk details. But for now, the wounds are fresh enough to hurt like hell, but beginning to heal enough that I can reflect a bit more clearly.

And truthfully, after a bit of reflection, I don't want to wrestle against principalities and powers. I want flesh and blood-- a real, live person to blame, to hate, to label my enemy and seethe over forever. From the weakness of my anger, I want to know that there is someone to punish-- someone who can be made to hurt as badly as I do, to cry as much as I have. This is what makes a complete and total betrayal so frustrating: you have all these hateful and confused feelings targeted at someone you've loved, trusted, and protected. You have a mind full of loving memories that you now want to erase-- that you feel like an idiot for ever taking as reality in the first place. You think of how many times you've put your ass on the line, sacrificed your own goals, and given nothing but support and encouragement to the one who betrayed you, and the more you think about it, the more you want SOMEONE-- flesh and blood-- against whom to channel all this anger.

And it starts to hurt so badly that you lose sight of who you are, what you're really capable of accomplishing, and what you believe. It hurts so badly that you almost wish you could go back to blissful unawareness of everything that was going on all along, right underneath your nose, even though you KNOW deep inside that ignorance is never a solution. The place of ignorance is a place where things seem to be okay, but the longer you go without knowing or understanding what truth is, the harder it will be when the blinders are finally removed from your eyes. Truth sometimes hurts. Truth sometimes reveals betrayals. But truth, however painful, is the only foundation upon which we can build lives that are well-rounded, centered, and healthy. Truth is the only space in which integrity can exist, and is the only option for true seeker. Lies, manipulations, excuses-- they only deceive us into believing in our safety and security, particularly the lies we tell ourselves.

I want flesh and blood. I want my anger. I want to gather up everything I know could spiritually bolster me or lift me up and lay it aside. I want to rage against everything and everyone who has ever kicked me down, to throw them up against the wall and show them that I am bigger than their stupid and selfish betrayals.

But I won't. Because as much as my heart may stray, out of the sheer shock and confusion of the situation, toward malice and revenge, it also belongs to a Power that is greater than me. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, even if it means reigning in the emotions of my human nature, validating and blessing them, and then letting them go-- offering them on the altar of my being as a sacrifice to a God whose compassion is sufficient even for me and my heartache. I have allowed these human thoughts to bounce around in my mind and heart for a few weeks, and they have brought me no solace. I have prayed, every morning, every day, and every night (and many times in between), for God to take this burden from my heart and replace it with a peace so profound that rushing waters only pour through, without disrupting, without displacing, without disturbing. I offer it all up to You, my God, so that perhaps, through whatever my family and I are experiencing, Your power to overcome will be revealed to someone whose faith is faltering... someone like me.

It also occurs to me that if we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, then we cannot win with flesh and blood as our weapons. Whatever it is we are battling, it will not be overcome through violence, stubbornness, vengeance, anger, human will, force, or reason. It can only be overcome by the principalities and powers opposed to those of the rulers of darkness. It can only be overcome by truth, honesty, integrity, love, prayer, faith, and justice-- all poured into a situation by the One who is their source. Acknowledging God as the source of all that can bring me to victory in this, and any other situation, a great weight is lifted and the need to exact a justice of my own diminishes. I realize that even on my best day, I am thoroughly unequipped for dealing with those things that hurt me, and must rely, for my very existence, on the One whose power is infinitely greater than my own. What I am going through now-- what we all go through when we question ourselves, feel like life as we know it is falling apart, or are utterly betrayed by someone we loved-- cannot be fixed or battled with flesh, blood, tears, anger, legal systems, or earthly justice. These things may all be part of the process we go through as people, but they are not part of the ultimate solution. It is so much bigger than we can fathom from the closed-in confines of our simple minds-- so much more awesome and ineffable. And whoever betrays you-- they aren't your real enemy anyway. Throwing darts at shadows is a silly pastime.

I think that I'm starting to crawl out of whatever hole I had allowed myself to be thrown into these past few weeks. I didn't cry today, and didn't cry yesterday. Two days-- small victories. But it means so much more. Because inside, I'm starting to feel stronger... like someone who is going to emerge from a hole as more than just a survivor. I feel strengthened, empowered, and confident, because I know my heart, however human, is blessed by a faith that can overcome anything. The process isn't finished-- Jesus overturned the tables of the money collectors in the temple; he didn't just sit silently praying until they overturned themselves. I know what I'm up against, and I am ready. Not because of me, but because of the principalities and powers to whom I've devoted my life. If I must wrestle, God, please let it be using the blessings and weapons You've placed into my hands, and with a courage, strength, and grace that would reflect Your love and mercy.

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