Peeling Back The Layers
by Kelly Minter
I was making a homemade pasta sauce out of vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, fresh garlic, and zucchini on Valentine’s Day, or Galentine’s Day as my friend Paige likes to refer to it. (Horrifically cheesy, I know, but strangely comforting to be able to reclaim the day for the singles of my gender.) The recipe called for fresh or canned artichoke hearts, but some silent alarm of compromise sounded at the thought of buying something canned for my otherwise from-scratch meal. I knew that none of my dinner guests would know if I cut a canned artichoke corner here or there, but I figured if I was going to the trouble of rolling out homemade semolina pasta dough, I would learn how to cut a fresh artichoke in a way that laid bare its prized heart.
This was possibly one of the greatest errors of my young-adult life. After whittling away the pointy leaves of four artichokes, I think I came away with enough quartered hearts for one guest to have one sliver in one bite. Before sautéing these little remnants, I treated them to a delicate lemon juice bath like they were on the endangered species list, because—who knew—artichoke hearts oxidize immediately. I don’t think I’ve ever coddled a food more, except perhaps pine nuts, which can cost you a day’s wage if you over-broil them.
Eventually I decided to “supplement” with the silly cans. But for all my defeat, I found scraping the furry little choke out of the center of the heart soothingly therapeutic. This may reveal that I need other forms of therapy, but at the very least I liked the image of ridding a valuable delicacy of its thistly exterior. Forgiveness can be much the same way: often it involves a lot of peeling away of layers. We find ourselves rejoicing over one discarded leaf of bitterness here and another leaf of anger there, while still recognizing we have a few more of revenge and gossip to go. If we’re intent on seeking the Bible for its healing truths, we’ll find it as smart as a paring knife, sharp enough to discern the motives and desires of our heart. And that is essential when walking through forgiveness.
If you will indulge me with the artichoke analogy for one more paragraph (I’m really trying to get my wasted-artichoke money’s worth), it has been my experience that even after shedding my bitter leaves, the whole thing eventually comes down to one prickly center: the core of an old wound. It might be rejection, abandonment, betrayal, slander, loss of innocence; but whatever it is, you will always know it.
It will be the ugliest and most difficult piece to reconcile, and it will be the last thing to stand between you and the glory of a cleansed heart. It will take the grace of God to scrape the thing out, but it will be worth every supernatural release if you allow Him to do it—and you can take that straight to the lemon juice bowl. (I just went too far, didn’t I?)
Still, when we’re faced with the deepest betrayals of life, such as affairs, the losses from a divorce, childhood abuse, or a drunk driver who killed a loved one, just the idea of forgiveness can seem like a reckless invitation to throw our very last vestige of control out the window. In our most painful circumstances, unforgiveness seems like the one thing we still have left!
So what do we do with the idea that forgiveness threatens our control? Is forgiveness—even for the worst of offenses—truly synonymous with losing our grip on things? I know when I have worked through deep offenses, forgiving meant letting go, and yes, letting go meant losing control. But losing control to whom? To those who have manipulated and hurt us, or to the God who loves us and cares a great deal about justice?
I believe that forgiveness does mean losing control, not to the reckless offender but rather to the capable heart of God. “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (1 Peter 4:19).