Continuing on from God Is Good, Part 1: During my second year of seminary, I drove every Sunday afternoon from my home near Seattle to the seminary in Portland, Oregon; every Thursday afternoon I drove back to be with my family. And every night in between, I rolled out a self-inflating mattress and sleeping bag on the floor of a closet in the big, old-fashioned house that was the girls’ home. Yes, you read it right – a closet. It was free; it was perfect. God is good.
And then it happened.
I’d been sleeping in the closet four nights a week for several weeks. One Sunday I arrived, books and clothes in hand, to find the closet filled, floor to ceiling, with empty cardboard boxes. Why on earth would they would fill the closet – my closet, as I thought of it – with boxes, leaving no room for me? Why would they do such a thing? The house was huge – they could have stacked their boxes just about anywhere. Why fill up the closet when they all knew I slept and studied there? I felt pretty unwelcome. I don’t think there could have been a more succinct way to communicate rejection. All that week my mind simmered with embarrassment, pain, and anxiety.
First there were excuses like, “We have no place else to store our boxes” or “We don’t want to leave them out – it doesn’t look nice.” I soon discovered, however, that at the heart of this hurtful behavior was sheer resentment on their part that I had been given free accommodation in the same house for which they had each paid a pretty penny.
“Yeah, but I’m sleeping on the floor of a closet” was apparently no excuse. It was still free housing for me versus expensive housing for them. At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate their feelings. All I could think of was my own feelings. Their actions hurt me deeply and I responded as I always do when hurt. I got angry. Really angry. Burning, churning, spitting mad.
Itt was Thursday and I was driving home.
Late fall in the Northwest means dark skies and rain, lots of rain. I drove out of Portland into sheets of rain pouring down on my car the long journey home. I could barely see the cars in front of me. Semi’s drove past, soaking my windshield over and over, further reducing visibility. Already tense with anger and anxiety, I started shouting at the truck drivers. Before I knew it, I was shouting at God.
“What am I supposed to do now, God? Where can I stay? They don’t want me and I don’t want them! You can’t possibly ask me to go back there! They treated me badly! I only had the floor of a closet! It’s not like I had a whole room to myself. What do you want me to do? Do you want me to stay in a motel? How will I pay for that? What am I supposed to do, God? What am I supposed to do?
I screamed and yelled and cried all through that long, long drive in the pouring rain. Poor visibility pushed anxiety to the limit. There I was, crying and shouting out to God, “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO, GOD? WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO? WHERE SHOULD I GO? WHAT SHOULD I DO?”
Suddenly a car pulled in front of me. My eyes went straight to the only part of it I could see – its back bumper and license plate. I was screaming and shouting, “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO, GOD? WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?” when I read the car’s license plate:
“FORGIVE“ it said.
I fell silent. God had clearly spoken. I’d like to say I fell prostrate with grief over my bitter anger (well, maybe not prostrate since I was driving). I’d like to say that, but in fact, after only a few seconds, I opened my mouth again.
“Forgive them! Why should I have to be the one to forgive?”
I spent the last hour of the trip home arguing that I didn’t want to forgive and they didn’t deserve it. I complained about it most of that weekend, yet all the time I knew that God had spoken and there was no getting around it. Forgiveness was the only recourse.
I thought a lot about what it means to forgive. It means letting the other person(s) off the hook. No strings attached. It means no longer using the incident as a weapon against them. It means I could not stay angry, fight or ignore them. I must not gossip, especially in the ignoble guise of a pretend prayer request. Forgiveness means choosing to actively do good to that person, no holds barred. This is not mere neutrality, but positively seeking to bless and pray for those involved. It means confession, repentance, forgiveness, and faith. More important, it is doing so without any guarantee, expectation, or demand that others do likewise. It is admitting and accepting the consequences of my part in the conflict. Most of all, it means obedience to God.
I chose to obey God.
When I returned to seminary the following Sunday afternoon, the first person I saw was a girl from the house. She saw me and flinched. Before she could turn tail and run, I walked up, hugged her, and asked for forgiveness, explaining my change of heart. She met me halfway, apologizing for their harsh maneuver. By the end of that day, we – all of us – had worked through confession and repentance, and came out of the conflict through forgiveness and faith. We could appreciate the other’s perspective. Lastly, we came to a mutual agreement on the matter of the boxes. The haze of selfishness disappeared and we saw God clearly in our midst.
God is so good.