(Feature photo by Rainy-Lain)
Christians often say that non-believers have a Christ-shaped hole in their heart. That once you accept Jesus, that endless pit will be filled. As though, once you accept Jesus, you will have complete satisfaction and contentment in your life.
It’s not true.
The moment you repent and submit to Christ as Lord and Savior, your soul will be saved from the consequences of sin and evil. And there will be tremendous relief and joy.
But that’s only the beginning of the healing process.
I was never “damaged” in the way society recognizes. My parents never abused me, neither physically or emotionally. But I remember resenting them. I’ve been angry with them ever since high school.
I wish I knew why or how this resentment began. It would be easy to point back to my senior year of High School when my dad accepted a position as academic dean at a small Catholic College in Corpus Christi. Our whole family moved from Pittsburgh to Texas my last year of high school. I made friends, but I felt so disconnected and hollow.
But Texas wasn’t the reason I resented them. In fact, looking back, I’m grateful for that move because it removed me from all my drug-taking friends, many of which had escalated from marijuana to cocaine or heroin that year. One of my “friends” from Pittsburgh died of overdose, and I can’t even remember his name today.
I remember joining the Army, shipping off to Basic Training and feeling glad to get some separation from my parents. And then, once I arrived at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and they shaved my head, I felt an ache in my heart because I missed my mom so badly.
I wrote letters to my father, and he always wrote back.
Then, I was glad again to leave them for college. I returned to Pittsburgh, a three-day car ride away from Corpus Christi.
Eventually my whole family (mom, dad, brother, sisters) moved back to Pittsburgh.
Once more, I escaped them in the fall, now six-years married. I moved my wife and son to Chicago for my Army job.
It’s been 11 years that I carried this anger for my parents. Eleven years.
Always, I felt like I needed to get away. Like I needed my own space, as though my parents were suffocating me.
Last night, I talked to my mom on the phone.
“Why are you so angry with us? What did we do to you?” she asked.
“The past is the past. I want to move forward,” I told her.
But she kept pressing. What had they done?
“Is it because we moved to Texas?” she asked.
That wasn’t it. I didn’t begrudge Texas any more.
“What is it then?”
The more she asked, the more angry I became. The truth was, I was angry because I was angry. They hadn’t produced this in me. They hadn’t provoked it.
I searched the reason. If I thought about it for more than 10 seconds, surely I could point to something concrete. Something I could hold over her. But there wasn’t a single thing I could personally hold on to. There were disagreements, sure, and some offenses made over time, but I couldn’t pretend those were enough to justify my anger.
I began crying. I didn’t have anything. I has that sense of emptiness pour out.
Can something empty be poured out?
It felt like it did.
I apologized. I asked for her forgiveness.
“Can I talk to dad?”
She put him on.
He asked me how work was going in Chicago.
“I’m sorry, Dad,” I told him in Italian. “I’m so sorry for the way I’ve treated you. The way I’ve talked to you.”
“Don’t think about it,” he told me, with a voice so tender that it must have taken a lifetime to cultivate.
“I have to think about it,” I told him. “I have to know why I’m so angry.”
And he, my father, is the one who pointed me back to Christ in that moment. He reminded me of the suffering we will always carry with us in our lives because of the original fall, and he reminded me that our burdens were executed on the cross. That we had to let them go.
I tore with tears spilling through my fingers.
I kept saying, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, and he told me that saying sorry once was enough. There was no need to keep asking for forgiveness for the same thing over and over again.
That’s the reality. Christ accomplished his duty and obedience once and for all, but even when we accept that, we wallow in our pain. We cut ourselves to reopen wounds that were supposed to have healed. We continue to hurt and to sin.
“Why can’t God fix us once and for all?” I keep asking myself. “Why can’t we be perfect here on this Earth once we submit to Christ?”
Part of the reason, I believe, is because God takes pleasure in the work of sanctifying us. He took six days to create the universe when he could have easily done in one breath. He enjoys the process, not of our suffering, but of our repentance and humility.
Non-Christians may find this concept cruel and oppressive. Humility. What a joke, right? Aren’t we better than to think less of ourselves?
But remember that God takes pleasure not only in our humility but in his own.