Overcoming past disappointments are hard enough in themselves. But sometimes, our inability to move forward is self-inflicted, as we use our past disappointments to gain acceptance, love, respect, and pity from others. Biff was such a person. Clinging to the past, not only gave him an identity, but it was a manipulative method to control his friendships.
You may want to read:
- Adversity Is the Condition that Teaches You Contentment
- Contentment Comes from the Blessing of Disappointment
- Your Thoughts Reveal Your Functional Identity
How It All Started
Biff stared at the note that nobody wants to read. Years later, he called it the “note from hades.” After arriving home from a hard day at work, he found this short letter on the kitchen table: “You’re right. We can’t go on this way. I have left. I’ll call you this weekend.” – Mable
Seventeen little words.
Terror, shock, fear, guilt, shame, and anger collided at the intersection in his heart. It was like an explosion of the soul. Biff’s mind went racing. He had no idea what to do, so he slunk down into a kitchen chair and stared at nothing in particular as the numbness began to creep over his entire body.
Life, as he had known it, was forever altered. That much he knew, but what he was supposed to do next was eluding him. He cried. In the days and months to come, he cried often. The shadowy gray clouds rolled in and taunted him daily.
Over the next 12 months, Biff lost 40 pounds. The friends who had not seen him in a while and had no idea what was happening thought he looked fantastic. They wanted to know his weight loss “secret.”
Sometimes he would tell them what had happened. Other times he would spiritualize it by saying, “It’s the grace of God” and go on while leaving them amazed and jealous of his spiritual maturity. Whether talking about it or spiritualizing it, he was correct on both counts. Other times, he awkwardly wiggled from the conversation because he did not want to talk.
Finally, because of several appeals from close friends, Biff decided to get some help. He went to see his pastor. After a few insightful and probing questions, it became apparent that Biff did not want to get better, which startled Biff that his pastor would have that kind of insight.
Initially, he did not agree with his pastor’s assessment, but continued to persist in presenting himself as struggling, anxious, fearful, shame and guilt-ridden, depressed, and sometimes angry. Biff worked hard at convincing his pastor that he was not okay with all of this.
On the one hand, Biff was correct in how he felt, but he could not easily dismiss his pastor’s perspective, though he tried. At one moment, Biff blurted out, “That’s idiotic! Why would I want to suffer like this?”
In hindsight, his protest was somewhat weak, and he was secretly pleased that his pastor discerned the situation. At some level of his soul, Biff wanted someone to expose him. He hoped someone would figure out the mess he was in and walk him through the complexity of his heart struggles.
Ironic Suffering With a Regretful Past
Suffering and freedom converged in Biff’s soul, and they were tearing him apart from the inside. The real culprit was abiding fear that was born out of practical unbelief in God. The ruling fear inhibited him from fully pushing forward into the freedom that God offered in His gospel.
It was also his fear of the future that motivated him to disagree with his pastor’s assessment, though his heart was not fully committed to his protestations. Mercifully his pastor did not let it go. He continued to carefully, compassionately, and accurately press Biff.
Biff was using his suffering as a way to manipulate acceptance and pity. He became so comfortable and efficient at using his pain and suffering that he did not want to let it go. In a twisted way, Biff saw his trouble as a way of serving these inner cravings.
Here are a few ways Biff perverted the gospel by resting in his self-reliant means for survival. And though he knew he was manipulating the truth, he honestly did not see how complex, twisted, and exacting his heart was when it came to his true motivations.
1 – Pain was a connection to the past. Biff loved his wife. Though his motives for loving her were not wholly pure. His separation and the accompanying pain was the closest thing he could feel regarding the relationship.
From his perspective, to walk away from the pain (past) was one more degree of separation from his wife, which was one more nail in the coffin of his marriage.
Letting go of the suffering was an admission that he had to close the door. He had to move on with his life, which is why he was unwilling to make that admission. He was not ready to trust God, embrace a new life that God was holding out for him, and move on to the next season.
2 – Pain allowed him to receive sympathy. Suffering became his identity. Many people rallied around him during his season of turmoil. While it was the right Christian thing for them to do, Biff slowly began to twist their compassion into a means of gaining attention.
He lived alone, and it was an isolated nightmare. He believed that if he moved on, people would forget about him, and they, too, would move on to other relationships. From his perspective, he could not let go. To move on meant to lose the sympathy of his friends and the attention he craved.
3 – Pain said the past mattered. Biff had construed that the pain was the context that told everyone that his past mattered. If he embraced the freedom that God offered through the gospel, in Biff’s mind, it meant that the pain and suffering that he went through did not matter anymore.
He lost sight of the ongoing narrative that God was writing for his life. The truth was that he was not moving on to the next phase, totally disconnecting himself from the painful past. God’s plan is always to use the past to build upon and bring more redemptive purpose to the next thing that He is scripting for you.
God does not waste pain, but if we are unwilling to move forward from what happened by allowing the Lord to use the suffering in our lives for the benefit of others and His glory, we will waste the pain.
Jesus could have stayed in the grave and received the sympathy of many people. Or He could have walked out of the tomb into a new venture that would radically alter millions of people. Thankfully, He chose the latter. Biff did not want to leave the grave.
4 – Pain was a reminder to condemn wrongdoers. Though Biff would not admit this twisted truth at the beginning of his sorrows, he used the pain as a way to hold onto his bitterness, anger, condemnation, and unforgiveness of Mable.
He felt that if he walked away from the suffering and embraced the hope and restoration found in the gospel, he would be releasing her from what she did to him. Biff was not interested in Mable finding forgiveness.
He wanted attention because he was a lonely, miserable man. His struggle was a deep-seated fear, born out of an unwillingness to trust God. He could not see the yearning Savior calling Him to a better life. He believed in his conniving and manipulations of the situation.
Bringing the Gospel to Your Calling
For to this, you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin; neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds, you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls 1 Peter 2:21-25).
The pastor began to reorient Biff’s heart to the gospel rather than what his wife did to him or how he had suffered. He began to see that the love of God was actively working in his heart and life and that God had different plans for him. Biff’s brokenness was part of God’s redemptive work in his life.
Biff had to leap from his pain to the suffering that Christ made on his behalf. He knew that he would never experience healing by groveling in self-pity and self-absorption. He needed to trust God by returning to the Shepherd and Overseer of his soul. As the pastor walked him through a “theology of suffering,” Biff was able to see his idolatry.
- The first step required Biff to be honest and transparent about what was happening in his heart.
- From there, he began a process of daily repentance.
- He shared with a few close friends the real truth about his conniving.
- He asked them to not only forgive him for how he used them but to help hold him accountable.
He was bitter at Mable, and his evil attitude was not going to go away anytime soon. The hurt was deep. But he began to think less about the pain that she caused and more about the harm that he caused Christ.
Reorienting his mind around the gospel was a huge key, which helped him to work through his problem with pain. If you can bring the practical gospel to your situation, you will drastically alter how you see others, especially those who have hurt you. As you gain a gospel perspective, you are not only able to see more clearly, but you can respond to God and others more biblically.
Call to Action
- Is your past a building stone that has made you more redemptive in the Lord’s work? Or is your past a bitter memory that continues to cling to you?
- When you grumble about what others have done to you, what are the long-term consequences on your soul? Are you aware of the effects of not indexing forward into the redemptive purposes that the Lord has for you?
- Do you use your past as a method to gain acceptance, pity, compassion, or love? If so, what does that say about your relationship with God or how you view your friendships?