“Seriously?” was all I could think. “This happened again?”
I was finishing my term as president of a small, local non-profit. This organization has a tradition of the incoming president making a presentation of gratitude to the outgoing president. This time, I was the outgoing president. I had worked hard for more than a year, first stepping into the role when another had to step out, which put the whole organization in jeopardy. I’d worked to maintain the group and move it forward in spite of a number of challenges. An organization that was expected to fold was still here, thanks, I thought, in no small part to my awesome, brilliant hard work. It was time to get some well-deserved recognition, right? Right?
The time for the presentation came…and passed. Nothing happened. I was the first president in six years to not receive public acknowledgement of her contribution.
Later the incoming president pulled me aside and apologized. Due to family circumstances, she just couldn’t do anything for me that day. Outwardly, I said it wasn’t a problem. I understood. It was fine. Family comes first, doesn’t it?
Inwardly, however, I asked God, “Again? I mean, really?” It was just like that time I told my dad and brother that I finally had signed a publishing contract for my novel, only to have them not ask a single question about it and start talking about scouting or the military or long-dead family members instead. Or that time I poured myself into a youth ministry program to the point of burnout, and when I resigned, I didn’t even get a farewell card from my fellow staff members. Or like that time I dressed to the nines as a surprise for my brand-new husband with plans for a romantic evening at home, only to have him come home too tired for anything but eating chips in front of the TV. Or that time I shared a very moving spiritual experience with my retreat group in college, only to have a special needs person on the retreat interrupt me with his sharing, so that I couldn’t get any of that feedback I so desperately craved. Or that time when for no reason, I--
I stopped. I prayed. I realized that this time was going to be different. After all, I had since read Unleashed by Sonja Corbitt. I now could see that I wasn’t being ignored and discounted for no reason. I was being taught something precious. I just needed to stick around the pain long enough to find out what that is.
It’s no exaggeration for me to say that Unleashed has changed the way I live and think and feel and pray. I have the distinct honor and challenge of distilling some lessons available in Chapter 4.
One lesson: God is speaking to me, drawing me closer to Him, grafting me more and more into His Body, through the repeating patterns in my life.
As Sonja says in Chapter 4:
As adults, the people we choose to allow into our lives can trigger negative emotions and even emotional eruptions that call forth deep-seated pain and wounds. These are places that are bound up in anger and pain, places in which the Holy Spirit wants to unleash us. God can use the negative emotions to change us.
Reading this and all the examples and scriptures she gave throughout this chapter, I was able to see that I have deep pain that circles around memories that left me with the feeling that what I feel and say doesn’t matter to those who are “supposed to” care about me. Is this because I am not worth the care of others?
No. Hardly. The King of the Universe took the time to make me. I can only have value--infinite, precious value. And so can you. And so can the people who act carelessly towards us. Which brings me to…
Another lesson: God doesn’t want me to ignore the sinful behavior of others. He wants me to experience it (and the emotions it evokes within me) so that I can whittle down my own sins with and through His grace. This will unleash me to love more fully, more generously. Sonja points out:
Jesus has something revealing to say about the people who trigger our negative emotions. They are our mirrors. God shows us ourselves through these people, especially the parts of ourselves that are unacceptable to us, the parts we repress and deny a voice. They are our teachers.
I don’t want to see myself as someone desperate for attention and recognition. But I am. Can I open my selfish eyes enough to see those people around me who really need attention, recognition, care, love? Sure I can, as soon as I pry that giant log out of my cornea.
Healed eyes are transformed eyes, and transformed eyes are conformed to the love of the Holy Spirit. If that love transforms, perhaps those who bothered, hurt, or downright destroyed me will themselves be transformed as well. Then we can all be healed.
And yet another lesson: the subtitle of this chapter is “Surrendering Judgment to Peace.” By living with those things that upset us, both in others and even moreso in ourselves, we experience on a visceral level how the pain of this world cannot destroy us. We don’t just learn, we know that Christ’s admonition to “judge not” is the way to peace, both now and eternally.
Another gem from Chapter 4:
Whether we judge or forgive, the measure of judgment or forgiveness we offer him or her will be the measure we receive ourselves (Lk 6: 37-38). Seen in this light, those who seem to be our greatest enemies are actually a source of rich blessing. They are opportunities for humility and love, opportunities for more of God, opportunities to be unleashed.
I think this ties into Chapter 1 where we talked about hospitality. There was some discussion on both suffering (through cleaning—ha!—or our own pridefulness) to make others comfortable and hoping that others would pay us the honor of suffering through our imperfections when our cleaning wasn’t perfect enough. So this is hospitality, too, when we suffer our enemies’ foibles, whether they come into our homes and hearts or we buck up enough to finally enter into theirs.
[On a personal note, I’d like to take a second to speak to those of you reading who may, in fact, have a person in your life who is not safe to be around. Even if someone is too dangerous to keep in your life, you do not have a right to hate that person. So how do you love someone who must, for the sake of life and love, be kept absent from your life? Pray for that person. Perform acts of charity and penance in the name of Jesus and on behalf of your enemy, and ask the Holy Spirit to heal that person. Imagine the delight God will give you when you get to heaven, healed and whole, and that person is there, purified and made whole as well, because of your love! Being willing to share heaven with your enemy? Now that’s hospitality! That’s forgiveness. That is heaven.]
There’s more—a lot more—in this chapter, but I have to stop somewhere! So now it’s your turn. Talk to us!
To Ponder, Reflect, and Discuss:
- Take a moment to look for just one pattern of rejection or pain in your life. What were you hoping to get from those who hurt you? How are some ways God already has given you exactly that?
- Does your irritation with someone else’s sin automatically mean that you are guilty of the exact same sin? Why or why not? If not, what message is God sending about you through that other person’s sin?
- Can you share about a time when refraining from judging another person brought you peace?
Feel free to comment on your own thoughts from this week's reading, your impressions and reflections, and/or your answers to these questions.
Next week, we'll cover Chapter 5. For the complete reading schedule and information about our Book Club, visit the Unleashed Book Club page.
Copyright 2015 Erin McCole Cupp
About the Author
Erin McCole Cupp is a wife, mother, and lay Dominican who lives with her family of vertebrates somewhere out in the middle of Nowhere, Pennsylvania. She's working with Our Sunday Visitor on a book about parenting spirituality for survivors of family abuse and dysfunction. Find out more about her novels and other projects at ErinMcColeCupp.com.