I can’t recall ever detesting the brightness of the morning sun like I did on that morning. On the contrary, I’m usually a morning person. I’m known for my annoyingly chipper daylight-demeanor. I’m the kind of person that can’t wait to get the day started. However, this morning, everything was different.
I took in a deep breath and opened my eyes. Much to my disappointment it wasn’t a dream. The events of the night before were reality. As much as I wanted to take an eraser and make it all go away, I knew that it was impossible. The choices that I had made finally caught up with me. It was inevitable, my life, as I knew it, was about to change drastically.
There are few things worse than having to face the fact that you screwed up royally. In this instance, I had no problem going through a public coronation of humiliation. In fact, I had concluded, a few years prior, that someday, someone would realize that I was a mess and confront the double-standard lifestyle that I had chosen. In my mind I had rehearsed attacks of ridicule, criticism, and hostility. However, when it all came tumbling down, the only pain that I could think of, was the pain that I inflicted on the people that I love. Furthermore, I knew that my actions had broke the heart of God.
My immediate reaction was anger, disgust, and self-hatred. I was angry with myself for being foolish in my decisions, and for not addressing the root-causes that led to my insanity. I was disgusted with myself, because instead of dealing with my personal issues, I had turned to self-destructive habits. In addition, I felt exposed, filthy, and with nowhere to hide. I hated the person that I had become. I hated myself for breaking the heart of the person that I loved most, my wife.
I believe that in His sovereignty, God uses emotions and feelings to lead us to a crossroad, where we are instructed to make a choice. I find it simply mind-blowing that an all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present God, who has the power to give and take life, empowers us with the gift of choice. I see this example throughout the bible. God, in all his sovereignty, always sets before His people the ability to choose between a blessing or a curse. I believe that God uses feelings to give us a similar choice. Feelings can be used as a launching pad that sends you on a pathway towards redemption, restoration, and change. However, if not dealt with, feelings can hold you prisoner to the things you hate most. Nevertheless, the choice is completely ours. We are left with to answer the question, “Which path will you take.”
My predicament, although difficult, became a much-needed and transformational season. God allowed me to face my worst, to guide me towards His very best. I can’t say that the transformation was an easy process. However, it was exactly what I needed during this season of life. I learned that, sometimes, pain has purpose…. And when God’s purpose is accomplished, the result is filled with hope, healing, and encouragement for yourself and those around you.
As I worked through my mess, I learned how to address the anger, disgust, and self-hatred that I originally fell-victim too. Each of these feelings has a God-given counteragent to help conqueror and rise above, even when facing the worst. I will share them below.
Forgiveness > Anger
All my life I’ve been taught the power of forgiveness. I’d be lying if I said that “forgiveness” has been an easy discipline for me. On the contrary, I’m quite prone to resent others and hold them captive to a punishment that I deem deserving for them. This usually lasts until the resentment becomes too hard for me to bear. Then, in my misery, I turn to the God, and through a, rather lengthy process, the Holy Spirit helps me to release the resentment and forgive the offender. I wish that my confession was more glorious than this one is. However, it’s the truth, and I know that others struggle with this too.
Despite this, I have found that forgiving others is a gazillion times easier than forgiving myself. Interestingly enough, as I was working though my failure, I remembered that the disciple Peter had once asked Jesus how many times he ought to forgive someone. Thinking of himself as a generous forgiver, he asked if forgiving someone seven times was enough. Jesus responded by telling him that he ought to forgive others “seventy times seven” times. In other words, sometimes the occasion calls for us to continuously forgive, whether we want to or not. It didn’t take long to realize that I was going to have to apply this same principle to myself. As much as I wanted to hold myself captive to a punishment worthy of my actions, and as much as I wanted to hold on to resentment, I knew that I had to turn this matter over to God. And yes, the process was lengthy. I tried to fight God every step of the way, but in the end the Holy Spirit empowered me to forgive myself not one, not seven, but numerous times. Now I can say that forgiveness is greater than anger.
Self-acceptance > Disgust
The daily choice to step out of the safe confines of my home and face the real world was excruciating. I felt as if someone had kidnapped me, drugged me, and slapped a hideous looking tattoo on my face. I felt as if everybody was staring at me, looking inside of my soul, and seeing every damaged piece of what used to be my heart. At the time, I would travel for work frequently. Most of my evenings were spent alone, in a hotel, with my face buried in a pillow full of tears. During the day I kept a professional composure. At night I cried in disgust and shame. How could I have allowed myself to get to this point? Why did I walk so far away from God? I tried to latch on to anything that would give me hope that there was still good inside of me. However, I could only list things that I disliked about myself.
During one of my travels for work, the Holy Spirit began to speak to me, reminding me of God’s love. The Holy Spirit reminded me that God sent his Son to live and die for me while I was still a sinner. Along came the life-changing truth that God loved me right there in that moment. He wasn’t waiting for me to be perfect, He wasn’t waiting for me to pay a penance, instead He was waiting for me to receive His love. The realization that God accepted me just as I am led me to believe that I can accept me, just as I am, too. I realized that it was OK to accept myself despite my struggles, insecurities, questions, quirks, and bad habits. I knew that I wasn’t who I wanted to be yet, but I began to have faith that I’d see progress. Mostly, despite my failures, I am completely loved and accepted by the one who matters most.
Radical Love > Self-hatred
My dilemma caused me to encounter a monster that I hadn’t seen since my early twenties, self-hatred. I remember sitting down with my wife and trying to find a reason to convince her not to leave me. At the moment, I couldn’t come up with a single reason. Instead, I found a million reasons to convince her to run for her life. Sadly, I realized that my heart was filled with hatred towards myself. I hated myself for allowing stressful situation to get the best of me. I hated myself for the health issues that had risen from the stress. I hated the accolades that I had received that did not improve my living situation. Even worse, I hated my existence.
Since I was a child, I have been fascinated with the themes of love that are interwoven throughout the bible. I knew that I was to love my neighbor as myself, the greatest commandments were based on love, and I knew that God was love. It’s as if love seemed to be the answer to every situation that one could face. Unbeknown to me, love was the antidote that I needed. As I turned to God and began to receive His love, I began to realize that self-hatred was going against His will for me. Loving myself wasn’t easy. At first, it felt like I was pouring heaping coals of fire on my head. However, radical love isn’t always easy to give. Radical love is patient, it is kind. it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. It does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Cor 1:4-7 NIV emphasis mine). In the end, this love is exactly what I needed.
John Eli Garay
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