Right now I’m learning about forgiveness. I’ve never had an issue with forgiving people in the past because I’m very much a “go with the flow” kind of person. I’ve always been really good at forgiving and forgetting. (especially forgetting. I’ve been told that’s a sign of aging but I certainly hope not. I’m only 20.) And if you think I’m kidding or trying to talk myself up, I’ll give you this bit of information: I’ve only been actually angry three or four times in my life. We all have different areas we struggle in; mine happen to be ones that don’t include forgiving others. It’s just never been much of an issue for me. So anyway, my point is that this is a new journey for me.
I could explain my journey, but that’s not important. What is important is the lesson I’m learning along the way.
I thought I was fine. I’ve never struggled with being angry with someone for any length of time or harboring unforgiveness toward someone so I certainly didn’t expect it to be an issue during this journey. But when I was sitting in church today, I discovered that, rather than throwing out my bitterness and anger, I had buried it deep down inside and it was slowly brewing and growing. I prayed. I told God that I had tried and thought it was gone but apparently was still there. I asked him to scoop it out because I didn’t want to push it down again. I didn’t want it. But it didn’t go away. Instead, during the entire service I could feel it there, in the pit of my stomach, slowly, slowly, feeding off my thoughts, trying to grow.
The sermon, as is par for the course with God, was exactly what I needed to hear. I was like, “Okay, I’ve got the tools now. I can deal with this. Maybe.” But God wasn’t done. Right before closing the service in prayer, Pastor said, “If you’re trying to make a decision, whether it’s a relationship, a sin, or anything, come down and talk to someone.” I was like, “nah, I really don’t want to. But I should… No.” Pastor: “Don’t let this chance go by. Take action and make your decision. We want to talk with you.” Brain: “I should. But it’d be so uncomfortable. It’s fine. Just pray. It’s between me and God anyway.” Pastor: “Don’t leave without talking to someone.” Brain: “FINE.”
So I did. I went down and talked to Pastor. I told him I was having trouble with forgiveness and about how it was buried after I thought I had scooped it out and asked him how to get rid of it. He told me something unexpected. “Do you remember when Jesus told Peter how many times we’re supposed to forgive our neighbor?” “Yeah, every time.” “Seventy times seven. Obviously we don’t keep track and stop at 490. But forgiveness isn’t a one time thing. There are times when you have to wake up every morning and choose to forgive the same thing. Every time your mind comes back to it, you have to actively choose to forgive that person. Write it down somewhere: I forgive _______. Obviously not where people can see it because then people will ask about it but put it somewhere where it will be a reminder to you.”
I’d always thought forgiveness was something you did once and then it was all better. And if it wasn’t, then there was something wrong with you and you hadn’t really forgiven in the first place. The thing is, that’s partially true. There is something wrong with me. I am a filthy sinner who can never cleanse herself of her old sins or stop herself from committing new ones. Which means I can’t stop myself from being angry. That’s why I have to forgive every day. That’s why I need God’s help to forgive. Because, on my own strength, I can’t forgive even once. I need God. If I didn’t have him and was trying to do this entirely on my own, that anger wouldn’t be buried deep in the pit of my stomach. It would be raging through my entire body, wrecking me. “What a wretched [woman] I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25)
So rather than dwelling on how I think I’ve been wronged, I need to choose to forgive and dwell on how much I’ve been forgiven. Daily.