Imagine we are in a hallway that has a dark end. There in the dark is a door to a room. We go to the end of that hallway, and I ask you to open the door, but you refuse. The room is full of you. I mean the parts of you that you don’t let anyone know about. The parts that are seen in glimpses, and hastily covered or avoided. You DO NOT want to go in the room. And you most certainly will not allow ME to go in that room. In fact, you are afraid that if you or I even open the door, that we’ll both be swept away by the deluge of disgusting emotions and thoughts and motivations held at bay by that door. The door is off limits.
I am Jesus. You are you. I don’t want this door to go unopened, knowing that some day the locks will break, and you will be exposed for who and what you are. And I care about you. I want you to have a clean room that is full of good things, things that you would want to have exposed when the locks break. And they will break. We both know that eventually God will break down the door and sift through all the muck, and tell you who you are. I don’t want Him to find what is there now. I want to clean the room out.
So, after constant nagging, and some severe reality checks that cause you to realize that your room is revolting- more so than you had originally supposed- I convince you to open the door. But you are afraid. You are afraid (rightly so) that we’ll both be swept away. That is, you will be swept away, but I will not. I will stand firm, but you don’t trust me that much yet. Though we’ve known one another for a long time, you have never let me get near this door before because you are afraid that when I clean it out nothing will be left of you. You will be destroyed. But now you realize that you need to be destroyed, or else this ugly room will destroy all the good rooms. It’s already starting to smell, and you know that this can’t go on any longer. Pretty soon the walls that separate the good rooms from the bad room will rot out completely.
So you agree to open the door just a little. A crack, then you hastily close it again. It takes all your effort to keep the rest back. In the second the door is open, a dirty sludge oozes onto the the floor, but it’s so dark in this end of the hall that we can’t see the sludge well. I pull out a flashlight. I hand it to you. You switch it on, and shine the bright beam on the gross gelatin mass. Your face says it all. You look at me.
“What do you think?”
“I think it looks like bitterness.” I poke it with my toe.
“What should we do with it?” you ask.
“I think we should get rid of it.”
“It is gross,” you say, “But I’m not sure How to get rid of it.”
“You need to let go of it.” I respond, gently.
You realize that as disgusting as it is, it’s familiar to you, and you don’t want to let it go. It’s been your pet sin for decades. Somehow, when you heard me talk about being righteous, you figured this one didn’t count, since you “weren’t ready to let go of that yet” or this dirt “isn’t really that bad” or you “never do that sort of thing” and all that BS. You realize it’s the lies you’ve told yourself, and that you’ve listened to, that have enabled you to store up such a room of filth.
You whisper softly, ”I don’t want to let go of it.” You realize for the first time that you really have become bitter. That it is a part of your identity, and that in order for you to forsake bitterness, you will need to change. Who you are at your core will need to change, and you will need my help. And you are, when you admit it, completely terrified of my help. You’re afraid of being destroyed, afraid that I will make you spineless and weak and a pushover. Afraid that you will not like who I make you into. But you are more afraid of this bitter identity. You wait for me to say something.
I anticipated this. ”You are not this.” I point at the bitterness contaminating the floor at our feet. ”You are God’s child. You are who He says you are. But in order for you to live out the reality of who you are- who God has chosen you to be- you will need to let me take out this garbage and make you into someone like Me- God’s only actual Son. I am loving, kind, patient, good, meek, joyful, peaceful, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. If you let me, I will make you like me.”
“Okay,” you say, “But I don’t know how to let go of my old identity, or how to let go of bitterness.”
“I will help you.” I want to get into the meat of the issue right away, but I need you to engage in this, so I ask you a question. ”Why are you bitter?”
This question startles you. ”Why? Don’t get me started!” You have dammed up a river of words about how much you deserve to be bitter. The dam breaks. ”My parents never loved me, my friends don’t even know me, and life has dealt me nothing but trouble! I am so frustrated about EVERYTHING!” You go on an on, coming to an end of your grievances only at great length. I am listening, but thinking as well. When you have finally run out of words, I ask, “Why won’t you forgive?”
You are silent for a moment. Your energy is a little drained from your long-winded rant. “I don’t want to.” The simple answer to this long-avoided question is a surprise to you. You’d never really thought it through.
Another long pause. ”Because forgiving means I lose. And no one deserves my forgiveness.”
“I forgave you.”
You know what this means. You and I are the only realists when it comes to me knowing what I have had to forgive you for. We both know you don’t deserve it. We also both know that it is perfectly reasonable for me to ask you to forgive. You think, and wrestle with your thoughts and emotions.
“I will forgive. I will let You remake me, but I need You to know that I am not looking forward to it. It will be hard for me. Some things will take time.”
I anticipated this also. I smile. ”Don’t you think I know that already?” But I am glad. I am glad that you want to become a glorious child of the King. To have His attributes. To be who He made you to be.
As happy as I am, I know that the goo on the floor is not going to take care of itself, so I press on.
“So this is in the garbage? You will allow me to eradicate this bit, and each and every bit of bitterness each and every time I encounter it, as we clean this room? Whenever I see it, I can say to you, ‘This is bitterness. I am throwing it in the garbage’ and you will let me?”
You take a deep breath since you know there’s going to be some pain involved, and agree. We clean up the floor. It’s yucky work, but we do it. When it’s in the trash, we both have a sense of rightness with the situation. You are still scared of the implications of today’s decisions, but ready to face your problems head-on.
You look at me and ask, “Well, should I open the door again?” I nod.
This time the sludge that squeezes through the tiny crack in the door is anger. And, surprisingly, we don’t need the flashlight to see it. Imperceptibly the hall had gotten brighter on this end and we can now see, though not clearly, at least better than before.
“Anger? I’ve never thought of myself as an angry person. But now that I think about it, I have been angry a lot lately…” You are muttering. I am examining. I invite you to examine it with me. I have you shine the flashlight on it so that we can get a really clear idea of what it’s comprised of.
“What do you think?” I ask.
You tell me that you think it’s anger, alright. A little impatient at your obvious answer, I ask the traditional question of the untiring 3-year-old. ”Yes, but Why?” I mean, ‘Why are you angry’ but you understand.
You tell me that you are angry (you think about this carefully, remembering all the things you have recently been angry about) because other people never clean up after themselves, your husband always wants to spend too much money, and people say unkind and very hurtful things to you. These, you realize, are the main things you get angry about on a daily or weekly basis.
“Anything else?” I want to make sure you are sure.
“No, I am impatient sometimes, but I consider that different. More like selfishness than anger.” I agree with you.
“Okay. Let’s break this down. Why are you angry about others’ messes?”
“Isn’t there an obvious answer?” You are impatient with me, and you switch off the flashlight so that we don’t have to look at this fresher gloop on the floor any longer. We both know what we saw.
“Why don’t you like to clean up after people?” I am not going to let this go.
“Because they are adults! I am not their mother! They can clean up after themselves! I shouldn’t have to! It’s not fair!”
I look you in the eye, though you are avoiding my gaze. ”Why don’t you like to serve others?”
You are resigned. ”Because,” you say, grudgingly, but finally admitting the truth, “I don’t love others as much as I love laziness.”
I nod my head understandingly. ”So, this little bit isn’t really anger, is it. It’s laziness and lack of love.”
“Yeah.” You are not happy with this discovery. You are quickly realizing that I am not going to let you off the hook or let you pretend any that you are more perfect than you actually are.
“I serve you.” No more needs to be said about this, and I know you will be making efforts in the future to change your attitude about service.
“By the way,” I add gently, “If you want to complain about fairness, you should do so with someone else. No one understands unfairness as much as I do, so I don’t want to hear about it anymore, okay? If I ask you to serve, love, forgive, or anything else, it’s fair for me to ask, and it’s fair for you to obey, okay?”
“Okay.” You are otherwise silenced, head bowed.
“What about this?” I point at the gloop, a part that is clearly anger against your husband. ”Why are you angry every time your spouse wants to spend more money? You have savings.”
“I know we have savings, but they are not big enough to cover our insurance deductible and to cover our expenses for the time were are in the hospital (and recovering afterward) if we were to get in a car accident or something! We would not be able to pay off the hospital bills!”
You are crazy. Voicing this frequent, and frequently smothered, fear causes you to realize it. I raise my eyebrows at you. Then, understanding kicking in, I sigh and ask you, “Don’t you trust me? Don’t you trust that if I let that series of events actually take place, that I will take care of you? I promise, if this happens, I will make sure you are taken care of. I can’t promise that it will not be difficult, but I will promise to not abandon you.”
You are crying now. You had worried about this a long time, and it feels good to voice this fear and hear my answer- a better answer than you’d expected.
“So that wasn’t an anger issue either, was it? It was a fear, and lack of trust in Me issue.”
I let you collect yourself before moving on. “What about this last bit? The bit about people saying hurtful things to you?” I am pointing to the gloop which has, again imperceptibly, become more brightly lit and, consequently, more visible. ”Why are you letting someone’s words cloud your ability to love and forgive them?”
“They keep saying things to me that tear down my worth as a person. That I am unlovable or a disgrace or something.” I can see you are sad about this. Hurt. No longer angry, but unsure how else you are supposed to react to words of attack. Not sure how to deal with the aftermath.
I set my hand on your shoulder, and your head is bowed. You feel ashamed, and sure that what the unkind person said is true. I put my head at your level. ”Don’t you know that God, who decides who you are, has decided your life is worth the same as mine?”
Again, you cry softly as the realization hits you. I am freeing you from being blown about by the approval or disapproval of others. You are starting to become aware that your worth is great, and that God wants you for His own dear little one. That I want you for my beloved. You had heard this a million times in church, and read it in the Bible a million more, but somehow, it had never become real to you until today. That what we said was actually true.
You realize that there are other areas of the room (and all the rooms which you thought were clean) that will be affected by this simple truth of identity and worth. That the kids on the playground who told you that you are fat did not have the right to choose who you are. That God made you His little daughter, He chose you to be moderate. Self-controlled, not controlled by food. You are beginning to realize that God’s love means that you don’t need to pressure your husband to satiate your unquenchable thirst for love. You can love him and be loved by him without requiring him to meet the needs that only God can meet.
Even as you are thinking these things through, I bend down and clean up the mess on the floor. I know you are ready to be completely done with anger.
Then I open the door to the room that was off limits. All the way this time. I enter it, and we start to clean in earnest. It is dirty work. I ask you questions constantly about why you were keeping each individual item in here, and you give me honest answers – most of which boil down to: I don’t love You, I love sin, I don’t love others, or some combination of those three. Now that you are willing to face these realities of your character, we make fast progress. You are pained, but you keep moving through the decaying clutter. All the while I am coaching you in how to overcome these temptations and yucky thoughts in a practical way. You are willingly working beside me, holding things up, and letting me get rid of things that we had already talked about. Some things you don’t even ask me about. You just chuck them. Now that you recognize them for the junk they are, you don’t even need my prompting to remove them.
Once we’ve made a little progress you start to see the benefit of having me open up this ugly room. You begin to see that there was no reason to fear what I would find. That I was planning to forgive you for this mess all along, and that I was planning to make the room better. You would not be spineless, or a pushover, or weak. Just better in every way. Free. Free to be used for good purposes. And now you finally know what I meant when I said I would free you from sin. Today is what I meant- not when you die. Today.
And you are confident in my true care of you. There is nothing here I did not know about. I was not, nor am I, surprised at what you keep in the rooms of your mind. I knew all along that there was greed, pride, envy, lack of love for myself and for others. I knew you love food and other consumable things more than you love the restraint I made you for. I knew you cared more about money and safety and your flawed self-chosen, or others-chosen identity I knew that even your good actions were motivated by what others thought, or would think, and that you spent much time trying to improve others’ opinions of you. I knew and I forgave you.
Later, this room will be filled with light. It will no longer be fetid and gross, decaying, or oozing. It will be whole and healthy. Clean and renewed. Full of love and peace. You don’t know it yet, but this is how it will be. Because you let me empty you, and let me fill you back up again.
I will continue to clean out this room as often as it needs it, and we both know it will need it often. I hope our findings will never again come as a shock to you. That you will know that there are “uglies” and you will just open up the door to me whenever I ask, about whatever I ask. And I hope I will not need to convince you that the changes I am going to make are worth it.
I want God to see My goodness when He opens the door to this room. If you let me do what I came here to do, He will find only good.
Mostly, I want you to know that when I destroy you, you will like how I remake you.