How about a pause from politics, hurricanes, and nuclear war today? Let’s do it!
I am probably the only one you know that struggles with letting go. I think I have a memory twice that of an elephant. Sometimes that is good. But often it creates difficulties for me. I hold grudges far too long. I find myself avoiding contact with people who have hurt my feelings, taken advantage of me, said something to or about me that stung, or hurt someone close to me or took advantage of them. I find it’s not only “other” people in my life. Sometimes it happens with close friends and sometimes even family members. But every time it happens it creates problems — but not problems for those people, problems for me. I struggle with unforgiveness.
Don’t get high and mighty here. I’m sure it has happened to you too. Wives, your husband does not notice your haircut, new dress, you’ve loss weight, made his special dessert. And he NEVER tells you he loves you!
Guys are guilty too. She just doesn’t appreciate that you work all day long while she lounges around the house. All she has to do is start the dishwasher, washer or dryer, and pick the kids up at school. She always plans things that conflict with things you want to do and then gets mad when you tell her you’ve got a conflict. She wastes money on silly things, never washes or vacuums her car. And she talks too loud and makes fun of you.
All in all, it’s pretty easy to get upset with others and hold grudges. Human nature leads us down that path far too often. Besides the social damage of holding on to unforgiveness, there are pretty serious consequences for “keeping it inside.” Unforgiveness contributes to heart disease, high blood pressure, anxiety and depression, and anger. All of these can cause serious damage to our bodies not to mention our minds. But what about our relationships?
Let’s face it, very few of us can make it without those we have in our lives with whom we regularly interact: family members, friends, bosses, fellow workers, employees, etc. Living as hermits is not what most of us are wired for. But we boil inside when someone does the wrong thing to us or takes advantage of us or just simply does the wrong thing — at least in our eyes. Keeping it inside has destroyed more marriages and relationships between parents and children than almost any other thing in our lives.
Forgiveness is pretty important. I’m no expert in forgiveness, but I DO know there are three kinds: God’s forgiveness for us, our forgiveness for each other, and our forgiveness for ourselves. Let’s look at all three, last to first:
- Forgiveness of ourselves
I really suck at a lot of things: I say the wrong things at the wrong times; I’m accused of being highly opinionated which is often seen as my feeling I’m better than others; I screw up a lot of times when just doing the right thing would probably have been easier and certainly better. Often I get really discouraged because I don’t feel like I’m worth very much to the people in my life.
In the Bible there are quite a few characters that probably share these same feelings. Take David for example. He did more than just kill the giant Goliath. As good a guy and king as he was, he did some pretty horrendous things in his life. From his palace rooftop he looked into the house complex next door and saw this beautiful woman that he decided he had to have. The problem was she was married — to one of the generals in his army. He wanted her so much he had to get rid of her husband. So he did just that. He sent his neighbor the general to the front lines of a battle knowing full well he would probably be killed. Sure enough, that is exactly what happened. The roadblock to taking that woman as his wife was gone. And David got what he wanted: his neighbor’s wife.
Don’t you think that David struggled with the fact that he — the King — had fallen to depths so low as to have someone who served him killed just so he could have that man’s wife? How could he ever forgive himself for the adultery that led to his friend’s murder?
As hard as this is to believe, David found a way to forgive himself. Wait: you may be tempted to say, “How dare he forgive himself for something so vile?” The only way he could do that was to accept the fact that even a king is flawed, has personality faults, is so human that he cannot throw down the lust that other men too feel and sometimes act on. He messed up. But to continue to live, he had to find a way to forgive himself. No, he could not do it alone. He had some help. Read on!
- Forgiveness of others
This is the big one. Those people that mess us up, mess with our lives, our families, our friends, those are the ones we feel are unforgivable. Forgiving others is probably the most important thing we can ever do if we hope to have healthy relationships. Forgiveness of others is one of the principles Jesus instructed us to carefully include in our lives every day. You have probably heard and said the Lord’s Prayer hundreds of times. I bet you’ve skipped over one verse every time — probably the most important in our pursuit of forgiveness: Matthew 6:12 says, “Forgive us our sins as we also forgive those who sin against us.” Hmm….what we were instructed to pray was that we want God to forgive us “as” we forgive others. “As” defined means “while, as, at the same time, to the same degree.” Stick those words from the definition into the prayer and it is shocking: “God, forgive me “as” I forgive others;” “Forgive me “while” I forgive others;” “Forgive me “at the same time” I forgive others;” “Forgive me “to the same degree” I forgive others.” So what Christ instructed us to pray virtually instructs us to ask God to forgive us but only if we forgive others and to the same degree we forgive them and at the same time.
- God’s forgiveness of us
The very fundamental of Christianity is God’s forgiveness for us brought by His Son. In the short ministry life of Jesus, He became the illustration of forgiveness of God for men. Ephesians 1:7 says, “Because of the sacrifice of Jesus, His blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people — free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our sin and other misdeeds.”
The beginning of all forgiveness is with accepting God’s forgiveness for us. Until we accept that love, we cannot have the love necessary to forgive ourselves and certainly not to forgive others. Love is not an emotion or a feeling. It is a power — the only power — capable of erasing the hardness and unforgiveness that plagues us all and ties us up in knots. Consider for a moment all those that have hurt you in any of a number of ways. There are many aren’t there? How much anger and bitterness have you held — often for many years — against those people. Imagine how much freer your life would have been if you would have just left that hurt, anger, and unforgiveness right there right then when you experienced the hurt. Doing so is possible.
The day I realized this I actually got down on my knees beside my bed and asked God to bring to my mind all of those in my life who I held unforgiveness for. As I thought of those, I asked God to forgive them for anything wrong they did to me. I then asked God to forgive me for holding unforgiveness all that time in my heart. It was if layers of an onion were peeled away one layer at a time. With those layers went layer after layer of heaviness, anger, bitterness, hurt, all ingredients of unforgiveness. It has changed my life to understand and implement this process again and again. It’s not that I’m better than others. It’s that I accepted a gift that I had been given but had not yet activated in my life. It was there all the time for me and I just had not understood what it was and how to use it.
I challenge you to think this through for you. Certainly your life circumstances are different from mine and probably have been more hurtful. But there’s plenty of forgiveness floating around to take care of those hurts that block you.
Give forgiveness a try. What could it hurt?