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...
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:
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:
- We can experience freedom now, instead of waiting on somebody else to change. We can remain confident in a God who's just, because offenders always come into account for their actions.
- We can understand that letting go is a choice and that feelings of relief are secondary - peace comes after the obedience.
- We don't have to confuse forgiveness with having to throw our boundaries out the window. You don't owe me anymore, is not the same as "continue to mistreat me." One of our bravest gifts to somebody else is being able to model a firm boundary, teaching him or her that we're worth more in Christ than the egregious behaviors that we've settled for in the past.
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