When You Want to Pull Back, Try Leaning In
There’s a space between words being spoken by one mouth, and those same words being received by another heart. En-route, those words often get misunderstood. This is where imaginations run wild and minds try very hard to fill in the blanks and understand. And all too often, the wrong conclusions are reached. Hurt results, and hearts protectively pull back.
And this is the devil’s favorite playground.
He loves nothing more than to entertain us here. But he’s stealth, and we rarely recognize his presence.
God’s been teaching me a lot lately about just how destructive it is for me to hang out in this place. I quickly get confused and lose perspective. I filter all that was said or implied through my cloudy lens of past experiences and assumptions. I’m apt to attribute motive without all the facts. I assume the worst, and often draw conclusions that are far from the truth. And all the while, the devil claps his hands, delighted to see me watering these seeds of discord with my mental rehashing of all that was said. He knows that the more sad and discouraged I start to feel, the less likely I’ll be to get out in the spiritual battlefield and focus on what really matters.
What is at stake? A lot. There is a hurting world out there that is just desperate for the women of our generation to band together and do something about it. We often feel defeated as we focus on the culture or pending legislation or the mountain of problems. We see these things as the obstacles that are getting in the way of needed change. But I believe the real problem, the thing that really limits the healing movement of God, is the things within us that we ignore and justify. It’s gossip. Lack of forgiveness. Bitterness. Pride. Anger. These are the things that divide us. They weaken us and cause us to quit. They block the flow of the Holy Spirit within us.
This is a big enough deal that it’s one of the last things that Jesus focused on before He walked to the Garden of Gethsemane to face the cross. He prayed, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through [the disciples’] message, that all of them [He meant us] may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you,” (John 17:20-21). He prayed for our unity. I’m thinking this is because it’s a big deal to Him. He sees what division will cost us, and begs us to “not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27). Not even an inch.
Are you nursing a hurt? Are you rehashing someone’s words that have stabbed your heart? And has it caused you to pull back? Could it be that the devil has you exactly where he wants you because he is afraid of the good you might do if you released the hurt and forgave?
This is how St. Ignatius described the way the devil (the evil spirit) loves to derail people who are pursuing God: “It is proper to the evil spirit to bite, sadden, and place obstacles, disquieting with false reasons, so that the person may not go forward.”
He wants to hold you back. He wants you to be disquieted with false reasons. He bites you in a way that unsettles your heart. He saddens you as you dwell on your hurts. He wants you down for the count and out of his way.
I know this devil talk can seem a little extreme. But the battlefield is real, and the stakes are high. When we pull back and freeze our hearts, a wedge isn’t just driven between two persons. It’s lodged in the middle of the body of Christ. That division repels the very people who most need to see the God of love, the God who restores, the God who heals.
I want to challenge you to make a different choice when the hurt rushes in. Instead of protectively pulling back, draw close. Lean in to the relationship. Take a step towards the one who hurt you. Even though it’s hard, keep communicating and seek to understand. Distance demonizes.
Could it be that you have misunderstood? Is it possible that the other person is wounded, too? Might it be that things look different from his or her perspective? What would it be like if all our inner wounds were displayed on our bodies? Might we deal with one another a little more gently? Could we offer kindness to someone who we thought didn’t deserve it?
There are certainly times when we are wise to pull back. I am certainly not suggesting that anyone remain in an abusive situation. But even when we need physical distance in order to be safe and healthy, we still can forgive.
God asks us to fix our eyes on the cross, and remember how Jesus responded to those who hurt Him. “Father, forgive them,” He said, “for they do not know what they are doing.”
May we lean on God, letting His kindness and mercy infuse our hearts. May we let go of the hurts, and place them in Jesus’ nail-scarred hands. May God give us grace-healed eyes so we can see things from another’s perspective. It isn’t easy to live this way, but His grace will give us all we need to walk in His steps. May we, as sisters in Christ, be knit so close together that there is no room for the enemy to get in and cause God to be dishonored.
This post originally appeared on the WWP blog on Feb. 1, 2014. We are publishing it again for all of our new readers who have joined us over the past six years!