Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
It was a powerful sound--snapping sticks popping like popcorn in each service at Advent UMC on Sunday, symbolic of the bonds of bitterness breaking with the first steps of forgiveness. Bitterness can certainly hold us hostage, but it was truly awe-inspiring to see so many people make a conscious decision to be a quitter at being bitter.
I talked with one person today who took the two broken pieces of his bitterness board, drilled holes in them, and put them on his keychain as a reminder that the bonds of bitterness have been broken.
Many were inspired by Ann Gale’s story of forgiveness following the murder of her best friend and her children. Compared to what Ann has forgiven, the hurts done to me by others seem rather pedestrian and insignificant. Ann’s magnanimity was inspiring to me.
However, there were things that I wanted to share about forgiveness that time simply would not allow. So, I want to share them here in brief outline. In particular, I want to share some things that forgiveness is NOT:
- Optional--Jesus is pretty clear on this matter: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”--Matthew 6:14-15
- Saying it’s okay--forgiving somebody is very different from saying that what they did is okay. Heather and I have taught our children that when they apologize to each other for wrongs, the offended party should never say, “It’s okay.” Instead, they say, “It’s not okay, but I forgive you.”
- Forgetting--Forgiveness is harder than forgetting. It would be a lot easier to take a blow to the head and get amnesia, than to remember how you have been hurt and choose to forgive anyway. Forgiveness is remembering the pain and choosing to let go anyway.
- Reconciliation--There are some people who are so toxic that they have hurt you over and over and over again. You have to forgive them. But, sometimes, out of self-preservation, the relationship cannot be restored to the place it was before.
- Easy--This is a no-brainer. Forgiveness is difficult. It is oftentimes a process, a journey. There may be many times along the way when you think you have forgiven something only to have it resurface at inopportune times. Sometimes we have to wake up every morning, make a conscious effort to let go again, pray for our offender, and choose to push beyond it. There is nothing easy about forgiveness, but, it frees us from the bonds of bitterness.
Working at Being a Quitter at Being Bitter,