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A Fine Line between Hurt and Bitterness

The passages below are taken from Max Lucado’s book “He Still Moves Stones,” published in 1993.

TEN-YEAR-OLD PHINEAS was up before the sun was. He’d scarcely slept the night before. And long before a sound was heard in the house, he was downstairs with his bag packed, ready to climb into the wagon.

The year was 1820. And Phineas was about to see an island. His island. The island promised to him at birth. The day he was born, his grandfather presented newborn Phineas with a deed, a sizable portion of Connecticut land called Ivy Island. And today, for the first time, Phineas was to see it.

Not every boy is born a proprietor. Phineas’s parents were always quick to remind their son of this. They urged him not to forget them when he came of age. Neighbors feared that the young landowner wouldn’t want to play with their children.

Their concerns were legitimate. Phineas was different from his playmates. While they dreamed of dragons and knights, his fantasies were of Ivy Island. Someday he would be lord of his own territory. He’d build a house. Start a farm. Raise cattle. Rule his domain.

When you own an island you feel important.

When you own an island, you want to see it. Phineas had yet to see his. He pleaded with his father to take him to the island and, finally, in the summer of 1820, his father agreed.

Three sleepless nights preceded the expedition. Then, early that morning, Phineas, his father, and a hired hand climbed into the buggy and began the long-anticipated journey. Finally, Phineas would see his land.

He could scarcely sit still. At the top of each hill he would ask, “Are we nearly there? Can I see it from here?” And his father would encourage him to be patient and assure him that they were drawing near.

Finally, his dad pointed north beyond a meadow to a row of tall trees stretching into the sky.

“There’ he said. “There is Ivy Island.”

Phineas was overcome. He jumped from the wagon and dashed through the meadow, leaving his father far behind. He raced to the row of trees into an opening from which Ivy Island was visible.

When he saw the land he stopped. His heart sank.

Ivy Island was five acres of snake-infested marshland. His grand father had called it the most valuable land in Connecticut. But it was worthless. His father had told him it was a generous gift. It wasn’t. It was a joke . . . a cruel joke. As stunned Phineas stared, the father and the hired hand roared with laughter.

Phineas was not the fortunate beneficiary of the family. He was the laughingstock of the family. Grandfather Taylor had played a joke on his heir.

Phineas didn’t laugh. Nor did he forget. That disappointment shaped his life. He, the deceived, made a lifestyle out of deception. The little boy fooled made a career out of fooling people.

He even may have fooled you.

You don’t know him as Phineas. You know him as P.T. You don’t know him as a landowner; you know him as a promoter. You know him as the one who coined the phrase, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” He spent his life proving it. Such was the life of P.T.---P. T. Barnum.

And such is the life of many others, many others who have been told they’d be taken to the Promised Land only to find themselves taken to the swamp.

I shared a ride to the airport this week with a businessman who a decade ago had an income twenty times what he has today. That was before his industry slumped. That was before he went broke.

After last Sunday’s sermon a woman from another town asked what to do with her memories. I asked her what she meant. “I want to go to church, but I was abused by a preacher as a young girl. And now, every time I go to church, I remember.”

A friend tells me that her husband cares more about his golf game than he cares about her.

Even as I was writing, a co-worker stopped by to update me on the lawsuit he has filed against the builder who never finished his house.

Is there anything wrong with these people? No, their desires are healthy. One wants a strong business, another wants fulfilling worship. A husband who’ll honor his promise, a builder who’ll keep his word. Who would fault them for such dreams? Who would blame them for dreaming? Who would have thought their dreams would be crushed?

Certainly they didn’t.

But now they are faced with a decision. What do they do with their disillusionment? What do they do with their broken hearts? We’re not talking inconveniences or hassles. We’re not discussing long lines or red lights or a bad game of tennis. We’re talking heart break. We’re talking about what two friends of Jesus were feeling a couple of days after his death. Their world has tumbled in on them. It’s obvious by the way they walk. Their feet shuffle, their heads hang, their shoulders droop. The seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus must feel like seventy.

As they walk they talk “about everything that had happened” (v. 14). It’s not hard to imagine their words.

“Why did the people turn against him?”

“He could have come down from the cross. Why didn’t he?”

“He just let Pilate push him around.”

“What do we do now?”

As they walk, a stranger comes up behind them. It is Jesus, but they don’t recognize him. Disappointment will do that to you. It will blind you to the very presence of God. Discouragement turns our eyes inward. God could be walking next to us, but despair clouds our vision.

Despair does something else. Not only does it cloud our vision, it hardens our hearts. We get cynical. We get calloused. And when good news comes, we don’t want to accept it for fear of being disappointed again. That’s what happened to these two people.

Later on they say these words:

“And today some women among us amazed us. Early this morning they went to the tomb, but they did not find his body there. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels who said that Jesus was alive! So some of our group went to the tomb, too. They found it just as the women said, but they did not see Jesus.” (Luke 24:22—24)

 

When reading Scripture we can’t always tell in what tone the words were spoken. Sometimes we don’t know if the speaker means to be jubilant or sad or peaceful. This time, however, there is no question about what they’re thinking: As if it’s not bad enough that Jesus was killed, now some grave robber has taken the body and duped some of our friends.

These two followers aren’t about to believe the women. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Cleopas and his friend are putting their hearts in a shell. They won’t take another risk. They won’t be hurt again.

Common reaction—--isn’t it? Been hurt by love? Then don’t love. Had a promise violated? Then don’t trust. Had your heart broken? Then don’t give it away. Do like P. T. Barnum. Settle the score by blaming the world and hardening your heart.

There is a line, a fine line, which once crossed can be fatal. It’s the line between disappointment and anger. Between hurt and hate, between bitterness and blame. If you are nearing that line, let me urge you, don’t cross it. Step back and ask this question: How long am I going to pay for my disappointment? How long am I going to go on nursing my hurt?

At some point you have to move on. At some point you have to heal. At some point you have to let Jesus do for you what he did for these men.

Know what he did? First of all, he came to them. I know we’ve already mentioned that, but it’s worth repeating. He didn’t sit back and cross his arms and say, “Why can’t those two get with the program?” He didn’t complain to the angel and say, “Why won’t they believe the empty tomb? Why are they so hard to please?”

What did he do? He met them at their point of pain. Though death has been destroyed and sin annulled, he has not retired. The resurrected Lord has once again wrapped himself in flesh, put on human clothes, and searched out hurting hearts.

 

Read carefully their words and see if you can find their hurt:

Jesus said to them, “What are you talking about?”

They said, “About Jesus of Nazareth. He was a prophet who said and did many powerful things before God and all the people. Our leaders and the leading priests handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. But we were hoping that he would free Israel.” (Luke 24:19—21)

 

There it is. “But we were hoping. . .” The disciples had hoped Jesus would free Israel. They had hoped he’d kick out the Romans. They’d hoped Pilate would be out and Jesus would be in. But Pilate was still in, and Jesus was dead.

Unfulfilled expectations. God didn’t do what they wanted him to. They knew what they expected of Jesus. They knew what he was supposed to do. They didn’t have to ask him. If Jesus is the Messiah, he won’t sleep in my storm. He won’t ever die. He won’t defy tradition. He’ll do what he is supposed to do.

But that’s not what he did. And aren’t we glad? Aren’t we glad the prayer of Cleopas and his friend went unanswered? Aren’t we glad God didn’t adjust his agenda to fulfill the requests of these two disciples?

They were good disciples. With good hearts. And sincere prayers. They just had the wrong expectations.

 

When my oldest daughter was about six years old, she and I were having a discussion about my work. It seems she wasn’t too happy with my chosen profession. She wanted me to leave the ministry. “I like you as a preacher,” she explained. “I just really wish you sold snow cones.”

An honest request from a pure heart. It made sense to her that the happiest people in the world were the men who drove the snow-cone trucks. You play music. You sell goodies. You make kids happy. What more could you want? (Come to think about it, she may have a point. I could get a loan, buy a truck and. . . Naw, I’d eat too much.)

I heard her request, but I didn’t heed it. Why? Because I knew better. I know what I’m called to do and what I need to do. The fact is I know more about life than she does.

And the point is, God knows more about life than we do.

People wanted him to redeem Israel, but he knew better. He would rather his people be temporarily oppressed than eternally lost. When forced to choose between battling Pilate and battling Satan, he chose the battle we couldn’t win. He said no to what they wanted and yes to what they needed. He said no to a liberated Israel and yes to a liberated humanity.

And once again, aren’t we glad he did? And aren’t we glad he does?

Now be honest. Are we glad he says no to what we want and yes to what we need? Not always. If we ask for a new marriage, and he says honor the one you’ve got, we aren’t happy. If we ask for healing, and he says learn through the pain, we aren’t happy. If we ask for more money, and he says treasure the unseen, we aren’t always happy.

When God doesn’t do what we want, it’s not easy. Never has been. Never will be. But faith is the conviction that God knows more than we do about this life and he will get us through it.

Remember, disappointment is caused by unmet expectations.

Disappointment is cured by revamped expectations.

 

I like that story about the fellow who went to the pet store in search of a singing parakeet. Seems he was a bachelor and his house was too quiet. The store owner had just the bird for him, so the man bought it. The next day the bachelor came home from work to a house full of music. He went to the cage to feed the bird and noticed for the first time that the parakeet had only one leg.

He felt cheated that he’d been sold a one-legged bird, so he called and complained.

“What do you want,” the store owner responded, “a bird who can sing or a bird who can dance?”

Good question for times of disappointment. What do we want? That’s what Jesus asks the disciples. What do you want? Do you want temporary freedom—--or eternal freedom? Jesus sets about the task of restructuring their expectations.

You know what he did? He told them the story. Not just any story. He told them the story of God and God’s plan for people. “Then starting with what Moses and all the prophets had said about him, Jesus began to explain everything that had been written about himself in the Scriptures” (v. 27).

Fascinating. Jesus’ cure for the broken heart is the story of God. He started with Moses and finished with himself. Why did he do that? Why did he retell the ancient tale? Why did he go all the way back two thousand years to the story of Moses? I think I know the reason. I know because what they heard is what we all need to hear when we are disappointed.

We need to hear that God is still in control. We need to hear that it’s not over until he says so. We need to hear that life’s mishaps and tragedies are not a reason to bail out. They are simply a reason to sit tight.

Corrie ten Boom used to say, “When the train goes through a tunnel and the world gets dark, do you jump out? Of course not. You sit still and trust the engineer to get you through.”

Why did Jesus tell the story? So we’d know the engineer still controls the train.

The way to deal with discouragement? The cure for disappointment? Go back to the story. Read it again and again. Be reminded that you aren’t the first person to weep. And you aren’t the first person to be helped.

Read the story and remember, their story is yours!

The challenge too great? Read the story. That’s you crossing the Red Sea with Moses.

Too many worries? Read the story. That’s you receiving heavenly food with the Israelites.

Your wounds too deep? Read the story. That’s you, Joseph, for giving your brothers for betraying you.

Your enemies too mighty? Read the story. That’s you marching with Jehoshaphat into a battle already won.

Your disappointments too heavy? Read the story of the Emmaus-bound disciples. The Savior they thought was dead now walked beside them. He entered their house and sat at their table. And something happened in their hearts. “It felt like a fire burning in us when Jesus talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us” (v. 31).

Next time you’re disappointed, don’t panic. Don’t jump out. Don’t give up. Just be patient and let God remind you he’s still in control. It ain’t over till it’s over.(74-82)

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