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Cup
July 4, 2024

Cup

5 min read

I was so surprised.

While washing out an empty yogurt cup, the plastic shell that was shrink-wrapped to its exterior suddenly slipped off, so that I was holding a plain, white container in one hand, and a colorful label in the other. For months, I had been pitching both of them in the recycling bin together without realizing what I was doing. Now that I had the knowledge to properly separate “skin” from vessel, I could ensure that I was not inadvertently adding to a landfill or polluting the ocean (ongoing concerns of mine) with recyclable items. I could do my part to dispose of my waste responsibly, reducing harmful impacts on the environment.

Odd how the smallest things can speak to us so powerfully. I cannot say for certain, but I believe this little incident in my kitchen was preparing me for another type of separation, one that needed to happen inside my soul. About the time it happened, I was sitting in church listening to one of our pastors recount an episode in his life when he felt God was treating him unfairly. Quite understandably, his response was to get very angry with his Maker, letting Him “have it” in prayer as he lifted his complaints from the spiritual pit he was in. The result? “A sense of peace came over me,” he said. No, circumstances didn’t change—at least not right away—but he had landed in an emotional space where he and God eventually were on the same side. No longer opponents, but allies.

Sitting in the sanctuary, I thought, “I’ve been angry at God for far less.” In fact, quickly passing judgment upon God has been a hallmark of my journey of faith from my teenage years until now. For decades I have harbored an inner adolescent, one all too ready to accuse God of being the ultimate Faker—one who can spread all kinds of promises in the Scriptures and in the church that He doesn’t actually have to keep. “God is always good.” “God never disappoints.” “God is never late.” Yeah, right, says my inner teen, arms crossed across her chest as she projects the abuses of her fanatically religious father onto her Heavenly Father, again and again.

Believe me, I have been trying to work on separating the wheat from the chaff for a long time now. My adult self can tell the difference between human mistakes and failings and true divine character (at least most of the time). Bad people do not mean God is bad, but growing up under someone who acted righteously in public and heinously in private sure confuses that spiritual equation—especially if the individual in question proclaims he acts in God’s name.

I remember inwardly saying to my earthly father: Nothing—but NOTHING—you or anyone else says to me will EVER convince me that any of this is right. You are a total hypocrite, and God is complicit in your hypocrisy. Because He lets it happen and it hurts me.

Again, none of this was new for me as I sat in the congregation, ears attuned to another’s story of indignation. What was new came next, in the form of a quiet conviction that I could not ignore.

You’ve cherished your grievances against God to keep sane during a traumatic childhood. But you don’t need them any more to survive. It’s time to let them go.

The verb “cherish” hit me like a ton of bricks. I envisioned my inner teen holding her hurts to her heart like precious treasure. How was I supposed to cling to Jesus when my arms were already full? Something needed to slip loose so I could properly dispose of this refuse. And it needed to happen now.

And so, I confessed. Surrendered. Prayed to want Him more than what I had been clutching to my chest.

There was no fanfare, no beams of light, no scales falling from my eyes. In fact, I suspect I may have to revisit this issue and re-make the decision more than once. But now, I am oriented, guided by a true north star.

When I think about this whole experience, I marvel that despite all the emotional and spiritual intervention I have undergone, this revelation came to me as a still, small voice, not a blast through a megaphone. I could have so easily missed it, and I am so grateful that I had been sitting in church that day to hear the words that ensured I didn’t.

Days later, my older brother looked over at me and said, “In general, I believe you can do more than you believe you can.” We had talking about what a nervous driver I have become lately, and how I have been taking measures to regain more confidence on the road. It wasn’t till hours later that that statement came back to me like an echo in my head. What, exactly, did my brother mean by that and how could I almost have missed it? Would his words ultimately liberate me from something else I needed to part ways with—some form of fear?

So, I wait, straining to hear the inner word that will show me what I have been doing and where I need to go. Something tells me that shedding another “skin,” another defense mechanism that I no longer need, will be well worth it. I hope I will be able to cling more tightly to my Maker in other areas of my life as a result.

Let me ask you: what do you really need to survive now? I’ll bet you anything that it’s clinging more than clutching, that it’s hanging onto God rather than cherishing old hurts that only get in the way of your growth as a person. You are a survivor. You are stronger than you think. And God stands ready to be your ultimate ally as you journey forward, ready to try walking out your life in a substantially different way.

As I participated in the worship portion of our church service days later, singing songs that extolled God with abandon, I felt that old tension tighten up in me. Yes, something in me still wants to reach for that old grievance like a security blanket, asserting that God is good, but not always. Or at least not always good to me. It’s going to take time and repeated relinquishing of my “right” to judge God so that I can experience more spiritual freedom, more closeness to Him. I suspect He is okay with that, patient as He is. He knows my heart strains toward Him as I run my race, even if my steps falter now and then. Old habits die hard, but thankfully, new revelations break through even the most stubborn of strongholds within us.

Sometimes we need to separate things out to rightly dispose of something we no longer need. I’ll keep offering up my old grievances for as long as they surface, believing that by doing so I am choosing a better way. Won’t you join me?

 

You who created the world

By dividing

Light from darkness

Land from sea

Cleave from me

Anything that keeps me from You

That I no longer need

 

Even as I squirm in discomfort

May I rejoice in my

Newfound freedom

Knowing better days

Are coming

As we walk more closely

Together, You and I

Hand in hand

Allies always

Never to part

 

Amen