by Patty Morwood
Blessed is the woman whose heart is set on pilgrimage.
Psalm 84:5b paraphrase
It hurt when I was young. And it continued for years. The behavior finally slacked off but the disdainful looks and comments lingered. My heart broke. Over time I couldn’t see myself and didn’t even know myself. Pain does that.
I believed I forgave. I believed it for a long long time.
I would pray, searching the Scriptures for verses I could journal-pray from, in any attempt to climb out of rejection, someday. I wanted to be beautiful on the inside when God’s eyes swept by, not so barren.
Time passed. Children grew up, married and had their own children. I eventually shut down whole parts of my inside self. Because you see, bitterness had wrapped itself around my heart, and its root system was more complex than I was even aware of.
I didn’t see it at all.
Then, as I was teaching a Bible study just a few years ago, things changed. It wasn’t that years had worn away the imprint of rejection and pain. It was God’s viewfinder lens that did it.
It was the ancient people and that horrible desert. The Israelites wandered all over the face of Sinai, a forsaken land of red and black ground, crisscrossed with caravan trails but home to no settlement. The eye could scan 360 degrees from any given point and see no marked change of relief for miles and miles. No green. Just red and black, sand and rock everywhere.
Hot Kham-sin winds in spring and intense summer heat. Winters close to single digits. Sometimes water in trickling wadis, but mostly percolating here and there from deep underground reservoirs. No rivers or pools upon which to see the moon’s reflection rippling on a quiet night along the shore.
Years ago I visited that land and wandered it myself. My backpack held a Bible and notebook, my thermos brimmed with water. As I surveyed, I imagined young Israelite children playing on the edges of the trudging thousands as they walked and camped. Their elders’ had refused to warrior into the Promised Land. Though He had said He would lead them just as He had been doing since they left Egypt.
There would be glorious victory and a permanent homeland after 400 years, nine or ten generations in a foreign place, with God Himself as their mighty general King.
But even when Joshua and Caleb insisted they follow God and go, and even with abundant evidence of the land’s abundant produce – the people refused. Their slave-hearts couldn’t go forward, they were rooted in that desert.
So, wandering outside the boundaries of home became their chosen destiny. For an entire generation, as they trudged and died off, children and grandchildren were born and trudged along with them.
The kids grew up hearing of massive building projects, inordinate birthing of male babies and Moses’ little arc in the river Nile, great petrifying plagues, God’s promises and the craven fear of their elders when they refused to follow Him into the land.
Regret-filled voices and blaming accusations probably colored every conversation they overheard every day of their childhood.
I imagined them grown and newly married in the same red-black setting where they had frolicked as a child. Then in time, their own children trudged at their side too. It must have been a hard mix for them all, those forty years: positive anticipation in the youngers and bitter grudges in the olders. Hope and failure and nowhere to go to escape it all, except into the boulders and rocks, crevices and ledges ever before their eyes.
I realized that day as I lectured on a portion of Deuteronomy that I had spent near forty years wandering a landscape just like Sinai: the landscape of my unforgiving heart.
Sinai perfectly describes my bitterness. God saw it every day, and even though He faithfully sustained me with manna, I was certainly a slave-minded ugly. I was rooted there.
Just think of the hardest plant to root out of the ground, a fierce unyielding thing with a complex root system. When you attempt to remove it, you invariably rip off or cut into the smaller roots, which ensures a nightmare: a fresh new generation of that plant next season.
Therefore, you can’t leave even a hair of a root anywhere.
How to root it out? Well, first prune. Prune all, branches and greenery down to the trunk root.
Next, water what’s left and water it well. So when you’re ready to pull it out, there will be less breakage and thus less chance of regrowth. Dig a very wide hole around it, perhaps three times wider than the plant itself and carefully water and loosen, water and loosen. Eventually it can be lifted out. You don’t want to leave anything behind, so get on your hands and knees and search through the dirt for even the tiniest roots.
It’s a drastic job. Some have even said you can cover the area with plastic and build a raised bed in the same place and that will end it all. If you want to be really sure, if you’re absolutely intent on wiping it out, just remove all the topsoil and have new soil delivered. That should do it!
Do you have bitter unforgiveness that needs this kind of treatment? Have you given house to this horrendous thing, all the while telling yourself it wasn’t there?
Have you nursed it and let it live in comfort? Is un-love, then, your new personality type?
I’m urging you: the war to conquer must be fought. Search the scriptures, journal your prayers for deliverance. Enlist prayer partners for the long trek out.
BUT, most important, be honest with yourself. Ask God to show you what your heart really truly seriously looks like.
Then dig deep and wide, and water well with the Word of God.
Remember that the power in a good war is the power of the Holy Spirit. He can lead you out.
I look back now and see purpose in the unjust pain inflicted and the years of wandering in unjust bitterness. It wasn’t a waste; it was what God used to grow a strong woman.
I don’t think I could have ever grown as He has grown me without my sojourn through the desert.
He has walked beside me, a pillar of smoke by day and of fire by night.
And, when unforgiveness tries to grow again I know what to do. I first look honestly at my own heart. Then I cooperate with the Holy Spirit: prune, water, loosen carefully, root out radically.
Come my friends, and warrior into the Promised Land!
It’s a warring pilgrimage to victory. And I promise, victory is your destiny.
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