I like to think of myself as a person who keeps pretty short accounts with people. I don’t tend to harbor anger or bitterness for past interactions. Don’t get me wrong — I am certainly not someone who floats through life without anger issues. Those who know me can attest to my tendency to blow and lose my temper. However, I like to think I’m more like a firecracker. I have a short fuse, but once my fuse is lit and the explosion goes off, the anger is burned out and I’m over it.
For the most part, I have believed this to be true of myself. I have believed that I’m a fairly forgiving person.
I am really struggling to forgive.
Typically there are about three reasons that I feel sort of justified in holding onto a little bit of anger and unforgiveness:
- A repeated behavior that doesn’t seem to change — wet towels on the hardwood floor, playing with cell phones while driving, leaving an empty toilet paper tube on the roll and waiting for Mom to replace it. (These are just hypothetical examples.)
- Injustice — I believe this may stem from my middle child status, but I can get very riled about almost any level of injustice from someone cutting in line at Starbucks to the horror of sex trafficking. When it comes to injustice, I have very little tolerance, patience, or forgiveness.
- Injury to one of my children — As a mom, it is incredibly difficult for me to forgive someone who has physically or emotionally hurt one of my girls. That whole “Mother Bear” analogy is used for a reason, and if it happens more than once, look out!
Combine injustice with injury to my children, and I guess I have found my Achilles heel when it comes to forgiveness. I am actually horrified to admit it, but I don’t think I want to forgive.
I am angry.
I am hurt.
I am disappointed.
In these last days as I’ve wrestled with this issue, I believe that the Lord is showing me some incredibly valuable reasons why I need to choose to forgive.
1. Unforgiveness is distracting — I can be going through my day, marking off all the items on my “To Do” list, when all of the sudden, WHAM! I am reminded again of the injustice or the pain, and I’m back in the dreaded circle of disgust and anger. I expend all kinds of mental energy listing all of the reasons I am justified in holding onto my anger. I plot what I wish I could do to bring equal levels of hurt to the other person. When I finally feel like I have stewed long enough, I find myself asking, “Wait, what was I doing just now? Why did I come into the laundry room?” Distracted! It’s so annoying.
“Finally, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is praiseworthy — think about such things.” Philippians 4:8
2. Unforgiveness eclipses the light in my heart — I notice that when I think about this unresolved issue or harbor the anger and bitterness, I struggle to see the positive or to clearly articulate gratitude. I find myself starting to believe that I will only truly be able to find peace and contentment once this issue is resolved to my satisfaction. And, each time I entertain this thought, I can almost feel a shadow fall upon my joy. The reality is that this issue may never be resolved to my satisfaction, and I will still have to find a way to choose joy.
“Love must be sincere . . . Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer . . . Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12: 9, 12, 14
3. My unforgiveness has ZERO impact on the offender; it only impacts me — The reality of my refusal to forgive is that I remain distracted and angry and lacking in joy while the person who committed the injustice is already over it. It’s a futile crusade. I have to make a choice regardless of what the other person does.
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger . . . Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:30-32
As I reflect on this issue, I must admit that my previous self-assessment is WAY off base. I struggle to forgive because I somehow believe I deserve better or that I am more worthy of forgiveness than the person who has offended me or my loved ones.
Once again in the reflection of God’s truth I find myself woefully lacking.
In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the parable of the unmerciful servant. The parable is the story of a man who owed more than a million dollars to the king. When the man begged for mercy, the king granted it and canceled the debt. However, when the man left the king, he encountered a fellow servant who owed him about ten dollars. The man attacked the fellow servant and demanded his money and had him thrown in jail for his inability to pay. When the king found out, he brought the man back in and said, “‘Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (Mt. 18:33).
“If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.” Psalm 130:4
When I’m honest with myself and consider my own standard, I am unforgiveable.
- I continue in repeated behaviors that I know are irritating or hurtful to the people I love.
- I commit injustice in a multitude of ways.
- And, even though it pains me to admit it, I have grievously hurt my children on more than one occasion.
Yet . . . I am forgiven.
Several years ago in graduate school, I asked a question that I have continued to ponder. Which is more powerful — forgiving or being forgiven?
In the light of the truth, there is only one answer — being forgiven.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
I am unforgiveable sinner, yet God has chosen to forgive me.
Because I am forgiven, I am choosing to forgive.