Forgiveness and Freedom
Lately, God and I have been playing the same game over and over again. It goes something like this…
God: “Um, Child? That load sure looks heavy. Are you sure I can’t carry it for you?”
I look over my shoulder to see this huge bag of rocks on my back. “Oh, yeah, sure! Please take it! I didn’t realize how much this was weighing me down! Whew! That feels so good! I had no idea what a heavy burden I was carrying.”
We continue on in companionable silence. But suddenly I feel my hands start to itch and I ask God to stop a moment.
“Can I just look in the bag again, God? There’s one or two things I’d like to look at again.” We pause while God waits for me to do my thing. “See, God?” I ask, as I pull out the biggest and heaviest rock. “See, I just need to hold on to this one. It needs to stay close to me. It really hurt and I’ll feel better if I carry it.”
I get a look from God, but He says nothing. And we continue on our way.
But every few steps, I make us stop while I pull out another rock to hold because I just NEED to hold it. I need to feel its weight in my hands, it’s a familiar weight, and it makes me feel better to have it close by. And soon enough, one-by-one, each rock is taken back out and is once again hefted on my shoulders.
Until God reminds me that He’s there, and better equipped to carry my burdens for me. Then we start all over again.
These past eight months have been some of the hardest I’ve traveled in a while. The hurt, the feelings of betrayal, the anger, the hits my self-esteem has taken, I have carried them around like a badge of honor. I’ve held onto them with a tight grip. Quite honestly, I have felt justified in my decision to hold onto these feelings.
I’m currently in two different bible studies. We’re still working through Beth Moore’s “Believing God” study in my biweekly group, and Beth Moore’s Revelation study in my weekly group. I’ve been talking about this theme of moving on, and I hear you God, over and out. It is time to MOVE ON. Got it! But the other prevailing theme is forgiveness, and that too has been intertwined within the two studies.
A few weeks ago, Beth Moore made the point that we can only hold onto one thing with everything we have; we can either hold onto God, or we can hold onto unforgiveness. We can’t do both. It was a bulls-eye, right to my heart. And in that moment I realized something… I didn’t want to forgive. I confessed it to friends, and when I should have felt shame in saying those words out loud, I didn’t. My heart was so hardened by unforgiveness, that I didn’t care. Warning bells started ringing.
As I confessed to friends that my heart was angry and bitter and hard, I asked for prayers that God would work on my attitude. There it was, the first chink in the wall around my heart. I was ASKING for God to turn my heart back towards Him.
A couple of weeks later, we were reading through our notes in bible study and Beth Moore pointed out a play on words. There’s a word that’s used in both Revelation 2:4 and Matthew 6:12, ἀφίημι or apheimi. In Revelations, the primary definition is “abandon” and in Matthew the context is “forgive”. Don’t ask me why this stuck out to me because when I recount the story to friends, I get a distinct “huh?” look. But this spoke to me in such a way that I knew it was time to move on AND time to forgive. In forgiveness, I’ve decided to abandon my right to feel justified in my anger. I’m choosing to forsake my feelings of bitterness and resentment. I’m choosing to move forward. I was reminded that forgiveness is an action that is done over and over again. It’s a day-to-day, sometimes an hour-by-hour, decision.
Some days I am more successful than others. Other times, I can feel the anger and bitterness sneak in to take root, but then I’m reminded of something. I have done far worse things in my lifetime, things that have been forgiven by close family and friends and by my heavenly Father. If they can forgive those actions, then surely I can move forward and forgive these actions.
As I’ve studied up on forgiveness, I’m reminded that forgiveness is many things, but it is not…
- Waiting for an apology. I may never hear the words “I’m sorry” and I have to be ok with that. I had to ask myself if I could forgive without the apology, and thankfully (though at times, bitterly), my answer is yes. My forgiveness cannot be contingent on what I may or may not hear. Forgiveness is based solely on MY action, not theirs.
- Forgetting. I have come to despise the term “forgive and forget” because well, its not humanly possible. Words hurt, betrayals hurt. But I’m sure that in like a death, time will heal. I may not forget the hurt, but I can pray that time will dull the pain.
- Reconciliation. Forgiveness requires the work of one party, reconciliation requires the work of two. In order for there to be reconciliation, two parties must come to the table, both admitting fault, both seeking forgiveness, and both being willing to repair or rebuild the relationship. I can’t control their actions, any more than they can control mine. I can only be responsible for my response to God’s command to forgive.
I have come to the realization that the only one suffering in my decision to not forgive, was me. I allowed my heart to produce bitterness, I allowed my heart to grow cold, I allowed my heart to become hard. It was as though I woke from a fog, wiped the sleep from my eyes, and realized I no longer wanted to be that person. I understand the work I have ahead of myself, but at least I’ve taken steps in the right direction.