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Sure, Mom and Dad thought it was just another excuse to stay awake longer. But what did they know? Adults don't believe what kids know to be the awful truth - there are monsters in your closet at night. And they expect you to close your eyes and just start having sweet dreams?
Actually I had nothing to fear from those monsters that lived in my overactive imagination. But then there are the real monsters that so many of us have locked in a closet, somewhere in our heart. The secret pain. The secret sin. The secret darkness of an unforgiving heart.
They're like vampires. They live in the darkness. But they start to lose their power when you drag them into the light.
I just saw that happen this past month. In the lives of some of the amazing young Native Americans I traveled with to nine Indian reservations. I say "amazing" because they brought visible hope to some of the most violent, most suicide-wracked reservations in America. They were fearless and relentless in telling their Hope Stories to all who would listen - stories of how a brown-skinned Savior named Jesus rescued them from a hopelessness that nearly destroyed them. And 849 Native young people experienced that rescue for themselves!
I felt like I was seeing the love and power of God Almighty unleashed on those dusty reservation basketball courts.
But I knew the story behind the story - where that power was coming from. Many of them had faced the monster in their closet, dragged it into the light and turned it over to Jesus.
Like Cindy. Often abandoned, often physically abused by a drunken mother, never knowing her father. Then horribly betrayed by her mother's boyfriend who she trusted so much - sexually violating her. The final chapter in a story that told her a cruel lie - "Cindy, you're worthless." A story line that brought her to the brink of suicide - with the gun to her head.
Thank God, Cindy was rescued by Jesus. But there was a monster in her closet. The bitterness, the anger - maybe even hatred - she harbored in her heart. Understandably. But unforgiveness never hurts the person we refuse to forgive. But it eats us alive and, strangely, ties us to the very person we can't stand.
The Native young people I've been with have been sinned against - and often responded with sin - at levels most of us could not imagine. And, like so many of us, they stuff it in the closet. There it grows into a monster of ungrieved grief, unrepented sin, and unforgiven hurt. A monster that morphs into all kinds of anger, rage, depression and self-loathing.
So one night I talked with our team about the Bible's revelation (1 John 5:5-7 ) that "God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another (healing our broken relationships with each other) and the blood of Jesus His Son purifies us from all sin" (healing our broken relationship with God).
That night many of these young warriors made a profound choice - they verbally declared, "Jesus, I forgive _____________." A decision to treat a person who's sinned against you, not as they've treated you, but as Jesus treated you. Forgiving someone who doesn't deserve it. One of those "forgivers" was Cindy. It was for her - and many others - the night they went free. After that, she exploded into an amazing spiritual rescuer, leaving a trail of changed lives. Dealing with the darkness detonated the power of God in her.
It did that with Eric when he chose to burn the photos, the music, even the clothes that kept pulling him back to his "old me" - ready to give up on life. It was hard to confront the monster in the closet - but that holy fire set him free.
The pain of your pass - the sin of your past - loses its power when you drag it into the light. Now you can fix it. Or forsake it. Or forgive it.
Jesus doesn't hang out in the dark. He's standing in the light, waiting to stand by your side to confront your monster - and shatter your chains.