Unhooking from the bumper (On forgiving) part one

(Another small random piece of the Memoir…)

We cannot go back and undo the damage of yesterday, but we can undo the damage it is causing today. We do that with the act of forgiveness. Steve Arterburn

We must develop the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.  Martin Luther King Jr.

[Disclaimer:  I hope that the following doesn’t sound as if I’m implying that I am the one who had all the forgiving to do for our marriage breakup. In many ways I was as much at fault as she was for our failure to stay together and I hope she forgives me as much as I forgive her.]

From one of my journal entries…

Lord, I think you want me to trust you to do your thing with those who’ve sinned against me and that I don’t have to add to anyone’s judgment. While it seems to me that they are getting off scot-free I have to trust you to take care of your personal business to discipline and judge… It’s not my assignment to balance the scales… That’s only for you, and I’m not you (Yes, I noticed!)… I’m not righteous enough, merciful enough, or wise enough for it… I leave it to you, Lord.

“Do not take revenge, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written:  ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12)

On any number of gloomy nights I was afraid to close my eyes lest during that in-between dreaming and waking place I flash back on horrific incidents during the breakup of our marriage. I was tormented with panic, paralyzed with melancholy, and besieged with incessant musings of payback. Like E.B. White said, “One of the most time-consuming things is to have an enemy.”

I almost never watch preachers on TV. I don’t prefer the theatrics of so many of our TV-preaching brethren. I’m not saying that they’re all too dramatic, or that those who are, are insincere. I just don’t like the medium. I have other reasons not to watch, but that’s not my point to make right now.

However, a few years ago I was watching TV and came across a church service, which turned out to be quite a divine appointment. I really liked the pastor, especially his approach to forgiveness. I don’t remember who he was, where he was from, his text, or his main points. It was an illustration that he used that switched the light on for me about forgiveness. He said resentments don’t hurt the people we resent; they only hurt us. Furthermore, he said, it’s forgiveness that unties you from the person who has hurt you. Otherwise, it’s like you’re tied to their back bumper while they drag you through the streets and mangle what’s left of your life. The only way to unhook from them is to forgive them. He said that when you forgive you’re not letting them off the hook before God, but getting yourself unhooked from them!

A few days later I came across a teaching of Jesus in Luke 6, “Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” The version I was reading used the word “release” instead of “forgive.” “Release and you will be released.” I looked up the Greek text, and sure enough, the usual term for forgive (aphiemi) was replaced by a less common word – “apoluo.” It’s used in the passages describing the “release” of Barabbas from custody and in the parable of the unmerciful servant where the master was said to have, “canceled the debt and let him go (apoluo).”  In other words, he “released him.” I wonder if Jesus used a different term here in order to be more vivid in his command to forgive those who have hurt us. When I forgive someone I release myself from him and/or her; I cut the cord that ties me to them. They’ve hurt me, but when I forgive them the venom of the incident gradually loses its toxicity.

Since I have no power to grant them God’s forgiveness, my forgiveness makes them no less accountable to him. I can’t let them off of his hook. That’s between him and them. (I’ll say more on that later.) But as far as I am concerned – for my own sake – I have to let them off my hook. As I release them it sets me free.

Excerpts from a letter that I wrote to a friend about forgiveness…

I can’t say I’ve totally forgiven and have no more resentments, but it’s getting better, and I want you to get better, to have a free and healthy future too. Key to that freedom and health is forgiveness. You can’t do it all at once, but don’t wait too long before you begin…

Forgiveness, is easier when they ask for it. That may or may not ever happen, but you can forgive unilaterally…

When you forgive you’re not saying it’s OK what they did, but that you choose to be OK yourself. Holding on to resentment and bitterness will eventually sap your own life. The word, “resentment” means to “feel again,” which is what resentment does. It keeps bringing the pain up again. Nobody wants that, so we have to forgive…

[More to come in part two…]

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