Lately, our pastor has been talking about the Frog Prince. He’s been telling us that we are all frog princes and princesses, but we have been kissed by our Savior and redeemed from the swamp. When we exhibit selfishness, pride, self-righteousness – any sin really -it is as if we are crawling back to the swamp and trying to climb back into our slimy frog suits. Well, I don’t know about you, but my suit of shame looks a lot more like the thick, tough, scaly skin of a fire-breathing dragon.
In one of my favorite books, C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Eustace, a whiny, selfish, arrogant, greedy, lazy and altogether annoying boy, unknowingly seeks refuge from a storm in a dragon’s lair. The sight of the dragon’s gold, silver, jewels and other spoils, immediately fuels Eustace’s pride, sparking his lust for possessions, position and power. He soon slips a piece of the dragon’s hoard on his arm, puts some diamonds in his pocket and impatiently waits for the storm to cease. Then he drifts off to sleep, having no understanding whatsoever of the danger of sleeping in the home of a dragon.
Shortly after waking, Eustace realizes his mistake. He was most certainly in danger, but not as you may think. You see, the dragon of that lair had died a sad and lonely death earlier that day. Instead of suffering a dragon’s assault, Eustace wakes to find he has become the dragon. “Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.” (p.97) A horrible but merciful result. He was consumed, though not eaten, crippled but not destroyed.
For days Eustace suffers in fear and loneliness, is humbled by his own hideous form and eventually is completely changed by the kindness shown to him by those he previously despised and treated so terribly. Eustace comes to know his own weaknesses, see his own faults, feel his need for companionship and eventually, learns to put others before himself. It is after this internal transformation occurs that Aslan appears visibly to Eustace. And it is then that Aslan, with Eustace’s permission, does what Eustace could not do for himself. He digs his claws deep into Eustace’s thick dragon flesh and tears if off, then he throws him into a spring of healing waters, dresses him in new clothes and frees him to a new life. As Lewis writes, “The cure had begun.” (p. 104)
What an ordeal? After he is healed and free, can you ever imagine him wanting to put on that dragon suit again? Of course not. But I do it all the time.
A few weeks ago I had a brief encounter with someone* with whom I have unresolved conflict. After the initial conflict, many, many months ago, I sought reconciliation, confessed, asked forgiveness, and, like a good, little Christian girl, attempted acts of grace and service toward her, after all of which I thought “And now we move on!” Well, not exactly…because every volley has two sides and she isn’t playing.
Technically speaking, I did all the right things. I did my best to obey God and follow the formula, and I truly believe that, at least at first, my heart was in the right place. What did I get in return? No forgiveness. No apology for her part in the conflict. And, because I cannot completely remove myself from her circle of influence, I continue to be hurt both directly and indirectly. So now what? Well, you know the answer…I must persevere, return evil with good, forgive seven times seventy. I must have the humility and long-suffering of Christ. OK God! Yes! I can and I will!
Um….just so long as I never have to talk to her again.
Doesn’t that sound like a heart full of grace? Of course, that was not a conscious thought, but apparently that little, self-righteous qualifier lurked somewhere deep inside me. You see, I thought I had it all under control – then I had to talk to her. It seems that every time I see her, hear her voice, try to have a conversation with her – let’s be honest, at the mere mention of her name – little green scales emerge all over my skin. Tell-tale streams of smoke rise past my eyes from out of my nostrils. I feel the heat from a lick of flame on my lip and quickly clap my hands over my mouth. But to no avail! Before I know it, I’m breathing fire, burning up everything in my path, devastating the landscape and, in the process, singeing my own eyebrows! So now….I could be wrong…(feel free to challenge me!)…but that doesn’t quite sound like forgiveness to me.
For some time, I, like Eustace, was ignorant, blinded to my own form. Until that fateful day a few weeks ago. One encounter. One brief encounter.
Now ours was (at least for me) a difficult conversation about the practical logistics of a concrete matter carrying emotional weight. I chose my words carefully for all of it, saying hard things that needed to be said as succinctly as possible. Then, during our short-lived exchange, something she said struck a certain nerve…a prideful nerve, no doubt. And there it was: The Moment. I had a choice. A moment of pause. A moment to decide how to respond. A moment that would later, in the hands of God, serve as a mirror to my heart.
Perhaps the worst part is that I didn’t lash out in an uncontrollable, emotion-fueled rage. At least that would seem like an unintentional mistake. No. I stopped and thought about it. I chose my words carefully, considering the tone, effect and consequence. I didn’t spew fire like a wild mythical creature. Rather, I burned with the steady aim of a surgical strike. So masterful, I thought I was. For a second, I was satisfied, relieved even, at having finally made myself known. “Take that!” my attitude told her, “Ha! No more of you walking all over me!”
In another part of Dawn Treader, Eustace-the-dragon, before he even understands what he’s doing, ravenously eats the carcass of the dragon that died earlier that day. It is an ugly scene, but as Lewis points out “though his mind was the mind of Eustace, his tastes and his digestion were dragonish. And there is nothing a dragon likes so well, as fresh dragon.” (p. 100) And so it was with me, the formerly caring, concerned, compassionate, forgiving, long-suffering child of Christ, now just a hideous dragon feasting upon the flesh of another dragon!
Though I don’t wish this experience on another, I imagine there is quite possibly a recovering dragon or two in my reading audience. Those of you will understand what happened next. For starters, my stomach churned and my body ached. Everything about me felt wrong. Then, just like he was lifting up a mirror to my heart, the Lord brought The Moment before my eyes again and again. The first time I noticed that I was a little rough. The next that perhaps I was a bit beastly. Then, eventually, that I had indeed, with dragonish thoughts in my heart and mind, become like the dragon.
How did I let myself get here again? Oh Lord, I’m sorry! Take it off, take this dragon suit off me! And so, again, I endure the pain of confession and repentance so that I can be stripped and freed from that scaly skin, healed by the waters of life and dressed in new clothes, clothes suitable for a God’s child.
Looking back now, I see not only how damaging, but also how ridiculous my actions were. You can imagine that as someone who considers herself a writer must feel, when the Lord reveals to her how ridiculous, immature, pathetic and even nonsensical were the “carefully” chosen words of her “surgical strike.” They were words of nothingness, word fit only, perhaps, for the great debates of jr. high bathrooms across America. Oh, for heaven’s sake, it’s actually embarrassing!
After much prayer, reflection and thought on this matter, God is revealing to me new things about myself and this particular, as of yet, unreconciled relationship. Forgiveness is difficult; in fact, true forgiveness may be impossible without the presence of God’s grace in our own lives and the power of his Spirit in us to do the forgiving. Forgiveness is especially difficult when we are not accepted; and even more difficult when the hurts keep coming. Yet this is the very heart of Christ – to forgive in the face of sin and pain, to love even when despised and rejected. And now, I don’t fret over which words to choose. Only two words will do: God, help!
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26
*Dear readers, this letter is not about you or someone on whom I am seeking revenge. First and foremost, it is about me and God. Second, I believe the information is general enough to protect her identity. Third, the unnamed person included in this post is someone I have minimal contact with and is likely to never see or even stumble upon these pages. If she does, I pray she hears my heart and understands. If, for some reason, you think it’s you, call me. Love~Nichole