When I was nineteen years old I moved back to Minneapolis after living in New York to transfer to the University of Minnesota. My thoughtful mom secured an apartment for me, owned by someone she and my stepfather knew and trusted. I lived with two other young women, one the daughter of our landlord. I loved my first fall back in Minnesota. But-- by the time Thanksgiving rolled around something bitter and challenging had crept into the relationship between one of my roommates and I. I had found out that she had spoken behind my back unkindly, and I felt so hurt. It was entangled with my boyfriend at the time, which felt like my world at that that tender, innocent age: a second betrayal by someone who I desperately wanted to stick up for me.
Without sharing too much information, I’ll conclude with what the outcome was: she accused me of doing something I didn’t do and had the other roommate and I kicked out of the apartment in the middle of a bitter cold, Minnesota January. I felt broken and bruised and furious by the course of actions—so very much directed at me, it was clear she and the landlord (her father) held strong, personal distain for me, an experience as someone who wanted to be loved by all, found highly disturbing. I distinctly remember walking under a bridge weeping, snow and ice all around me, a boy stopping by in his vehicle to ask if I was alright. It had felt like I’d lost nearly everything to my then 19-year-old self: my boyfriend, my living space, and worse- my dignity. It was a gigantic, ugly situation involving our families and had far-reaching consequences from where I lived to how I now perceived my parent’s church where my former landlord (who had broken the law in his dealings with myself and the second roommate) still attended.
As time went on my mother and I would discuss the course of events in detail. And there were many details, since there were many characters. It became a pastime of ours, when my stepdad left to go hunting, I’d come home to spend time with mom and almost like clockwork we’d talk over what had happened. Late at night we’d recall the cornerstone moments, the missing parts, the scenes where things went from a solvable conflict to something gigantic and ugly. We had made a painful experience precious, and by that I mean we were preoccupied with it. It wasn’t a beautiful thing to us, but we couldn’t stop looking at it, talking of it, reliving it. This continued for years, lessened to some degree, but still played its role in our relationship. An ugly experience becoming a fixture, like a framed painting in the room of my life. An image and collection of memories my mother and I couldn’t take our eyes off.
The painful, ugly, unjust experience had become a yoke. A yoke is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as this, “A wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plow or cart that they are to pull.” At the time I chose to wear this yoke I had neither the spiritual or obvious knowledge of how this would color my perception of what happened.
Here’s the deal here, the thing I keep realizing when someone does another person (or myself) wrong: people are out for theirs. They are neither all good nor bad, but there are opportunists and envy, greed, and ego are powerful toxins. Sure I have my God to help me stay humble, but even then- some of the worst offenders are those who professor Jesus as Savior. Even so, the feeling of knowing you’re in the right and stand in innocence is a cakewalk compared to the knowledge that you did someone terribly wrong.
The peculiar thing about God’s brand of justice is that sometimes we don’t believe He will take care of us. He always takes care of us. If not now then later. I know I’m a normal person who sometimes craves immediate fixings of a wrong. I’m only human in that regard.
Years after I ached and ached and ached for some sort of reconciliation God handed it to me: I sat in a coffee shop one August evening last year, almost a decade from the month I moved into that apartment. Across from me was one of the many characters who’d played a close role in that experience. There was grace and the knowledge that God’s justice had been done.
Ultimately while that felt blissfully victorious it was the truth that I’d worn this hard experience as a yoke for so long that made me pause. I hadn’t cast my burdens down, I didn’t give it to God, I clenched and held onto it for years until I finally got the news I wanted: justice. It became a vibrant example of the weight that comes from carrying something we aren’t supposed to.