Last year, I was invited to speak at Sandy Cove Conference Center in North East, Maryland. Since their facility is within driving distance of my family in New Jersey, I thought, You know, Donna, why not fly in early? Spend some quality time with your family and impart to them the joy of the Lord.
You can probably already guess I was heading for trouble long before I had my boarding pass in hand.
I arrived at my sister’s house, and within an hour we got into a ridiculous debate about something that had happened when I was in eighth grade. The disagreement centered around one particular incident, but for me it symbolized something greater. It wasn’t just that this person had hurt me one time. I wasn’t talking about a one-time disappointment—the kind of thing you can eventually get past. This person routinely hurt me. It was, for me, a disappointing relationship. There’s a huge difference between a disappoint-ment and disappoint-ing. It’s the “ing” that gets you. Have you ever experienced that? Just when you think you’ve forgiven that person (or group of people), they do something else to hurt you. The pain never seems to end no matter how hard you try.
That’s why I wanted my sister to acknowledge my right to feel hurt by my relationship with this particular person. Instead, we just went round and round. My sister and I are best friends. We rarely fight about anything, but we were ready to tear each other’s heads off.
Now, this next bit is the most important part of the story, so I don’t want you to lose sight of it. If you miss it, you’ll miss my whole point: I was right.
I was right and, furthermore, my sister was wrong. Let’s face it: I think I know a little better than she does what happened in my life. I think I can tell when someone isn’t treating me right.
Well, so much for the joy of the Lord! I was in such a state of mind, you can’t even imagine it. Well, okay, you’ve probably been there many times yourself. I could not think of anything else except: I was right and she was wrong. I couldn’t read my Bible. Couldn’t pray. Couldn’t even think straight. This one topic and this topic only consumed my every waking moment: I was right; she was wrong. My mind was filled with all the good points I could marshal to prove my case. I spent day and night rehearsing the sermon of the century, which I would deliver to her someday when I had both the courage and the opportunity. Then she would finally have to admit what I knew to be true: I was right and she was wrong.
In short, I was an emotional wreck. Over something that had happened twenty-eight years ago. Why? Because I had been wronged. And because my sister refused to acknowledge just how wronged I had been. It was vitally important for her to acknowledge that I had been wronged, because how else could she see how God had helped me rise above it all until she acknowledged just how low I had been!?!
Am I scaring you? Or maybe even reminding you how melodramatic you can be sometimes?
Well, after two miserable days, my precious father agreed to drive me, spiritual leader that I am, down to Maryland so I could impart deep spiritual truths to my fellow human beings. As I stepped onto the elevator, I couldn’t miss the poster with my picture on it. The one that described my upcoming spiritually uplifting, life-changing seminar. Just then, the Lord spaketh unto me. Guess what he said? He said: “Who cares? You’re right; she’s wrong. Look how far being right has gotten you. You’re nothing but a porcupine! It was twenty-eight years ago. Let it go already.”
A porcupine? I thought to myself. Did God just call me a porcupine?
Do you know what a porcupine is? It’s a creature with a lot of good points, but nobody wants to be around it. The world is just filled with porcupines; so is the church. A porcupine is a woman with a lot of good points, but nobody wants to be around her. She is absolutely right. And if the people in her life would just listen to her and get with the program, she knows the world would be a much better place. Given half a chance, she could easily straighten out her husband, her kids, her church, you name it. Yet, strangely enough, nobody wants to hear it from her. I wonder why that is.
Have you, by any chance, noticed that despite your vast storehouse of wisdom and insight, people aren’t exactly flocking to you for counsel? You may keep busy—in fact, you may even create a frenzy of activity to mask your loneliness. But I’m not talking about running around like a crazy woman. I mean do people seek a deep, personal relationship with you? Are they eager to know the real you, to listen to your heart and share their deepest concerns with you? Or do people keep you at arm’s length?
Let me give you a few examples:
Just one more clue to help you determine whether or not you may be a porcupine: if you routinely deliver silent sermons in your head, you are most definitely a porcupine! To be honest, I used to deliver a hundred silent sermons a day, to everyone from store clerks to my pastor. I was always rehearsing all my good points in preparation for the big moment when I would rise up and set the world straight.
I shared the Seventeenth-Century Nun’s Prayer in my previous book Becoming a Vessel God Can Use, and I often read it aloud at my conferences. But it’s so good I think it bears repeating.
Lord, you know better than I know myself that I am growing older and
will someday be old.
Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion.
Release me from the craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs. Make me thoughtful, but not moody.
Helpful, but not bossy.
With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all,
but you know, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.
Keep my mind free from the endless recital of details;
give me wings to get to the point.
Seal my lips on my aches and pains.
They are increasing, and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by.
I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of others’ pains, but help me to endure them with patience.
I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and a
lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of
Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally—I may be mistaken.
Keep me reasonably sweet.
I do not want to be a saint—some of them are so hard to live with. But a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the Enemy.
Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places, and talents in unexpected people.
And give me, Lord, the grace to tell them so.
If a frightening number of those “you could be a porcupine” scenarios rang true for you, I would urge you to make the Seventeenth-Century Nun’s Prayer your prayer. It’s not enough just to read it through once. You need to pray it aloud. Write it out in your prayer journal, over and over again. Meditate on it daily. Let its message seep down into your soul and change your way of thinking. Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” It’s up to you, friends. Do you want to be right? Or do you want to live in peace? Take it from a recovering porcupine: being right is way overrated.
Let me tell you a revolutionary truth. Few things matter less in this life than who’s right and who’s wrong. It just flat-out doesn’t matter. Yet how many of us devote an inordinate amount of time, energy, and phone conversations to that very subject? I know women who talk about nothing else. I urge you to think about what you are thinking about, and listen to the subjects you talk about. If you are fixated on who’s right and who’s wrong, you’ve got a problem. The Bible says:
Fix your thoughts on Jesus.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and
sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured
such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols
on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.
Fix your eyes on Jesus and stop trying to fix people! Repeat: it does NOT matter who’s right and who’s wrong. This is not a melodrama in which someone has to be the villainous villain so you can be the innocent heroine. What matters is who’s willing to repent and who’s willing to forgive. In point of fact, being right can be very dangerous to your soul. Because being right is such a comfortable place. You can just sit yourself right down and refuse to go anywhere else. You are right and you shall not, you shall not be moved.
Listen to me: If there’s one thing I have learned from ministering to women around the world, it’s this: What trips up most Christians is not our own sin, but our sinful response to the sin of others.
I’m completely in earnest when I say our sin, honest-to-goodness, is not the problem. In fact, we are not the problem. They are the problem. (We all know who they are!) We are nice church ladies. We’re not drug addicts. We’re not alcoholics. We don’t have a gambling problem. We’re not even addicted to soap operas anymore . . . except . . . well. Okay, next subject. We’re not floozies hanging out in bars. We’re not surfing Internet porn sites.
If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a million times: We are not the problem. They are the problem. And that’s the problem. Because when you are not the problem, and you know perfectly well that you are right and the other person is wrong, you are drowning, but no one’s going to come rescue you.
If you are drinking, or gambling, or doing drugs, or sleeping around, eventually one of your fellow Christians will pick up the phone or stop by your house and say, “You really shouldn’t be doing that.” But if you’re just a church lady trapped in the Porcupine State of Mind, chances are no one will ever say a word. Not to your face anyway. Truth be told, you’ll probably blend right in at your local church, where you can sit around and swap stories with other miserable women with lousy husbands, ungrateful kids, and thankless friends. You can take turns fashioning the scripts of your very own Major Motion Picture in which you star as the most ill-treated, unappreciated person in the history of human civilization. And you can sit in the pew forever and never find the hope and healing you need just as desperately as the woman who’s living in flagrant sin. Sad to say, she’s often more likely to get the help she needs than you are—except that now you’ve picked up this book.
I often tell the story of a divorced woman I met at a Christian conference some years ago. Her husband was chronically unfaithful and eventually left her for another woman. She was clearly right; her husband was clearly wrong. She stood before me, her whole body trembling, as she shared some of the cruel things this man had done. My heart just broke for her. But as more details began to unfold, I realized something wasn’t quite adding up. I had assumed this man had just walked out on her a month ago; the wound seemed so fresh. So I asked her, “How long ago did your husband leave?”
“Twenty-two years ago,” she said.
I just about fell on the floor.
She didn’t sign up for a painful marriage. Certainly didn’t sign up for divorce. But until she forgives her former husband, she is signing up daily to let the enemy have a field day with her life. It’s interesting to note that not only was her health a wreck, but she said her grown children were having health and relationship problems. I mean Major Motion Picture–sized problems.
But she was right. And how far did that get her? Not very far.
The church will deal with outward sins of behavior, but it is the inward attitude of the heart that God cares about. Believe me when I tell you, because I know from personal experience, that your sinful response to the sin of others is often more defiling and more damaging than the sin that was originally committed against you. It is the inward sins of the heart that drain the life from our souls.
Here’s the hard, cold truth we’ll be facing throughout the pages of this book: we all endure tough times. It is inevitable. But it’s not what happens to us that determines the type of people we become; it’s how we respond to what happens to us. Your husband, your kids, your boss, your church—they are not your problem. They may have a truckload of problems, but those are their problems. Your problem is how you are responding to their problems. Do you want to smack me for saying that or what? Go ahead and swing away. But I promise what I’ve just said is true.
That divorced woman had a lot of great points. She had every right to be devastated by the collapse of her marriage; but she also has a right to hope and healing. Unfortunately, she can’t have both. At some point, she’ll have to let go of the need to be right and start pursuing the need to be healed. At some point, she’ll have to put her pain into perspective, realizing she’s not the first woman to be betrayed by a man, and she certainly won’t be the last. I know, because that’s the point I finally had to reach in my own life.
I have a picture that was taken of me on May 4, 1999, and someday I’ll have the courage to include it for all the world to see on my website. But I’m not there yet. If you saw that photo, you would conclude that I was a fiftysomething woman dying of a terminal disease. Now, there’s nothing wrong with looking like you’re fifty when you’re sixty. But I was in my thirties. By the way, I did have a terminal disease at the time. It was bitterness. And was it killing me!
I was such an expert on everyone else’s sins. Over and over, I pointed out to God how everyone had done me wrong. Then finally he held the mirror of truth before me and said, “My child, I know all about it. But I am afraid for you. Look at the woman in this mirror.”
I was right; everyone else was wrong. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. So why was I the one who looked—and felt—like I was dying? You have probably heard this before, but I think it’s excellent:
Holding onto unforgiveness is like drinking rat poison and expecting the rat to die.
I hope you caught the line from the Seventeenth-Century Nun’s Prayer that said, “A sour [or bitter] old person is one of the crowning works of the Enemy.” That’s why the Bible warns us in Hebrews 12:15:
See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root
grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
I often tell people, if you won’t let go of the bitterness for your own sake, do it for your children. They are the ones who suffer the most. They are the ones who are defiled. If you don’t believe me, spend an hour with someone whose parents went through an acrimonious divorce. Such people usually have lots of free time because they are almost always single (they either never marry or can’t seem to stay married). I want to hasten to add that it’s not just divorced people who can become embittered. I happen to know the Queen of Porcupines, and she has been married to the same man for forty-five years.
I believe the key to forgiveness is asking God to help us see those who’ve hurt us through his eyes. A little compassion goes a long way when you’re trying to put your problems into perspective. Everyone has a story to tell, and that’s the truest sentence in this book. Yes, even the person who has hurt you most could write his or her very own Major Motion Picture script, and guess who the hero would be? Now here’s a frightening thought: guess who the villain would be? YOU! Everyone who has ever hurt you has been hurt, too. And maybe that’s why they hurt you.
Significant people in your life have disappointed you . . . some in small ways, others profoundly so. You didn’t sign up for disappointing relationships, but they signed up for you. Now the question remains: What will you do? Will you live your life consumed by the bitterness? Will you be a porcupine? Or will you allow God to heal the hurt?
Only you can decide.