Valentine's has come on gone. For some of us, it was a love-filled occasion, and for others, just another day. Sadly, some of us might have received our welcome to the broken hearts club this year. If that was you, here's a empathic wince and an over-the-internet fist bump of solidarity. Regardless of how your 2017 has gone so far, we can all relate to the sting of walking away from a relationship, feeling irritated with a friend or family member, or replaying hurts from the past over and over in our minds.
Maybe you're having a rebuttal thought right now - I've never been one to hold a grudge. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising. So many of us miss the symptoms of unforgiveness that we never consider it to be one of the root causes of stress and suffering.
This week we're working to clobber those hidden woes, so here are a few questions that we can ask ourselves to begin...
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, a source of the trouble could be unforgiveness.
Unforgiveness: Holding on. Waiting for payment owed to you. Keeping tabs.
The foundations of unforgiveness are waiting and holding on. For instance, have you ever felt miserable waiting for an apology that never came? A situational "fix?" For others to discover that a person is unfair, self-seeking, or unkind behind closed doors? Expectation precedes frustration, frustration melds into anger, and anger into bitterness and hostility. Before long, a grudge has taken root in the heart, evidenced by twangs of irritation whenever that person is around.
A grudge can grow from a simple expectation not being met or from the feeling of not being valued. It stems from perceived judgement or breaches of important boundaries. Our sense of justice is rattled when we don't see people getting the consequences we think they deserve.
Have you ever believed that the only way bad feelings will disappear is if the other person changes, apologizes, or leaves? Depending on our family patterns, some of us might pretend that we don't experience negative emotion at all, sweeping them under the rug. It's wishful thinking that simply "capturing a thought" or distracting ourselves will make a problem disappear. In her Emotionally Healthy Woman series, Geri Scazzero* says this about emotion:
Feelings unaddressed never die, they just get buried alive.
We can all agree, that's the brutal truth...
It's mind-blowing to remember the plight of the "wicked servant" in the book of Matthew*, chapter eighteen. You may recall that the servant owed a lot of money to his master, begging for forgiveness of the debt, which was granted to him. He then turned on his coworker, who owed him little compared to the great amount of debt he'd just been released from - grabbing him by the neck and throwing the man in prison. When the master was informed of the grievous injustice, the wicked servant was handed over to the jailers to be tortured until he paid the debt back the money in it's entirety.
Jesus promised this consequence as a warning to the unmerciful and unforgiving:
"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart."
God will treat us how if we don't forgive? He'll deliver us to the tortures. Now that's not a popular Sunday school lesson, is it? Harsh. What is it that Jesus is really saying? In Dr. Bruce Wilkinson's book, The Freedom Factor, he describes an important take on God's teaching tactics:
"This is for your liberation, not your incarceration. [God] is too good a teacher to do your work for you. The consequence of unforgiveness is torment before we die, whereas the consequence for rejecting Christ is torment after we die. When God decrees a discipline contract against you or me because of our unforgiveness, it's serious. He removes inner peace from us as a part of the discipline process intended to turn us back to Him, so that we humble ourselves and choose to forgive and end the contract against us." (paraphrased for length)
The word used for torment in this paragraph is basanizo, meaning physical, emotional, childbirth-like, and eternal suffering. I don't know about you, but there are some areas of my life where I'd love to recapture the inner peace Wilkinson describes. To do that, the answer is simple: Release the debt and practice real mercy. It seems like hard work, but there's good news:
The sad truth is that some of the people who've hurt us will never choose to change, apologize, or make amends on this side of heaven. Be encouraged, God assures us that we don't have to wait for their hearts to come back to Him to experience His peace for ourselves.
What has you "stuck" these days?
With you and for you,
*Emotionally Healthy Woman, Geri and Peter Scazzero
*Dr. Bruce Wilkinson: The Freedom Factor
*Matthew 18:23-35, Verses in full
M.S. in Marriage and Family Therapy. Earns Crossfit participation trophies. Disaster cook. Enthusiastic wife. #Boymom. Clutches her faith, not her pearls.