Am I the only one who feels like “forgiveness” is elusive and difficult to define?
Once, I sat in deep conversation with a friend, and she said to me, “Have you forgiven them?”
I stared at her blankly.
I was racing through my mind trying to pin down exactly what forgiveness was.
Did it mean I was waving my hands dismissively and saying, “Oh, don’t worry about it.”
Did it mean offensive events that had transpired were suddenly acceptable?
Did it mean I was just to ignore past hurts and pretend they never happened?
Did it mean responsibility didn’t matter?
“It depends on what you mean by forgive,” was my answer.
I couldn’t come up with anything better.
I don’t remember when or where or how forgiveness became difinitive to me.
I remember someone saying to me, “When you pray for them. That’s when you know you’ve forgiven them.”
And somewhere along the road, God showed me what forgiveness was.
He taught me to take any and all pain and bitterness – gigantic or teeny tiny – and pack it up in a tidy little mental box and stamp it with His address.
Be done with it, and send it away.
Don’t worry about justice or responsibility. Just send Him the uglies, and He’ll send you peace.
Close up that container, and never look back.
Today was one of those days again.
One of the ones where I wasn’t sure what to write about, but I felt compelled to page through one of my favorite books.
Opening to a random page, this is what I saw:
The story goes like this:
I recently watched a television program about Rudy Tomjanovich, the former coach of the Houston Rockets basketball team. The program recounted an event in 1973, when as a robust twenty-five-year-old, Rudy was playing for the Rockets. In the middle of a close game, a fight broke out at center court. Rudy rushed over there, running at full speed, to try to break it up. Just as he got there, a player whipped around and without even looking, swung as hard as he could. Unfortunately, the punch landed right in Rudy’s face. It was called the punch heard around the world. It fractured Rudy’s skull, broke his cheekbones, and nearly killed him. Although Rudy was sidelined for months following the devastating blow, he eventually recovered.
One day after Rudy had recuperated, a reporter asked him, “Rudy, have you ever forgiven the player that did that to you?” Without hesitation, Rudy said immediately, “Absolutely. I’ve totally forgiven him.”
The reporter shook his head as though he was perplexed. “Come on, Rudy, that guy nearly killed you. He caused you all that pain. He stole part of your career. Do you mean to tell me that you don’t have any anger, any hatred or bitterness toward him?”
Rudy smiled. “I don’t have any at all.”
That reporter stared at him in disbelief. He finally asked, “Rudy, tell me, how’d you do it? How could you possibly forgive that man who hurt you so badly?”
Rudy replied, “I knew if I wanted to move on with my life, I had to let it go. I didn’t do it for him. I did it for me. I did it so I could be free.”
Osteen goes on to tell about a minister friend of his father’s who had suffered for years from severe arthritis, and after hearing Joel’s dad speak about forgiveness, he asked God to show him areas in his life where he needed to put forgiveness into action. As he started to see and act upon them, his bent, stiff arthritic fingers began to straighten and loosen up. The more forgiveness he practiced, the more freedom he had in his hands. Over time, his hands went from severely crippled to healed. He realized that his resentment and bitterness over past experiences had been crippling him – literally.
“You need to forgive so you can be free. Forgive so you can be happy. Forgive so you can get out of that bondage. You have to remember, when we forgive, we’re not doing it just for the other person, we’re doing it for our own good. When we hold on to unforgiveness and we live with grudges in our hearts, all we’re doing is building walls of separation. We think we’re protecting ourselves, but we’re not. We are simply shutting other people out of our lives. We become isolated, alone, warped and imprisoned by our own bitterness. Those walls aren’t merely keeping people out; those walls are keeping you penned in.”
You have to choose to forgive.
You choose to let go of hurt and anger and not to continue letting it eat away at you.
When bitterness rears its ugly head, you tell it you’re done. You choose not to engage; wrap it up in that little package and send it away. You give your hurt and anger to God, and ask Him to help you. You ask for peace in your own heart.
Then, you say a prayer for whomever offended you.
Say you are sorry if you had any part in it. Just say it in your heart if you can’t say it to that person. Say it in your heart, or to the air, or in a letter. Or – do say it to that person.
Because they are here doing the same thing as us.
Living and learning.
Don’t let them or their actions keep you from the joy of your own life.
You don’t have to like them if that’s too much, but let your hurt and anger go.
Wish them well in your heart.
And be free.