April 20

unforgiveness

Somewhere, on the path of my Christian walk, I got the idea in my mind that a person needs to be repentant to be forgiven. That is true in the general sense. For the Lord of all creation to forgive a sinner such as me, repentance is required. Sinners need to confess their sins and believe that Jesus is the Son of God. In that moment the Lord forgives the sinner. That sinner becomes His for eternity: he makes peace with God and can never go back into the abyss of unforgiveness again. Yes, in the general sense, that is all true of forgiveness. And it is all huge. It is mind-boggling. but as mind-blowing as it is, this path of forgiveness is for another time.

But, just like everything else in life, there is more to forgiveness than that. There is another path. There is the individual’s path of forgiveness. That is what is on my heart today. It is the type of forgiveness I have to do on a daily basis. I have to forgive others and sometimes it isn’t easy. What I’ve been discovering is daily forgiveness is a completely inner exercise that involves me and me alone. It does not involve another person at all. Not ever.

I mentioned before that I got the idea in my head that a person needed to be repentant to be forgiven. I must have translated general repentance into some sort of weird, specific repentance and made myself the judge. If a person didn’t seem repentant enough to me, then I thought it was alright hold back forgiveness until I thought he or she was repentant enough to be forgiven. In order to forgive, I needed to hear certain words or see certain specific repentant attitudes. I needed to hear a person ask for forgiveness instead of just say, “I’m sorry.” To me, a person saying sorry really didn’t mean anything. To me, all that meant was he was just wished he hadn’t been caught or found out.

I thought it would mean something to the person who “needed” my forgiveness if I held it back. I thought that it might mean more to that person if they knew they needed to have the “right” attitude to be forgiven that they needed to make a change. It seemed right and proper, after all. Repentance was the right attitude. I had given repentance to the Lord when I became His. I was a stubborn, (but repentant) person when need be and asked forgiveness of others. So, what could possibly be wrong with my type of forgiveness?

C.S. Lewis said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.” That is so true. But, believe me, everyone has something to forgive whether it is something large or small everyone has something. So be careful with forgiveness. Be certain you aren’t doing what I was doing and requiring a person to change before you forgive them. Because when you do that it requires that person to change on your terms. That is never a good thing. Who has the right to require a person to change?

If you require someone to repent to receive your forgiveness and they seem to repent, what if that repentance isn’t genuine? Then what happens? It can cause anger in you, especially if the other person goes and does the same thing over and over again. The Bible tells us not to let anger tempt us to sin. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,” Ephesians 4:26. Withholding forgiveness by requiring repentance can build up in us the kind of anger the Bible warns against.

That anger. We are not to let the sun go down on our anger. I can’t tell you how many sunsets have gone down on my anger. That is because I honestly do not know myself. I don’t know if you’d believe it, but I didn’t even know I was angry until recently. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what it was. But, with me, there is always something wrong. There is always something to work on, always something I have to do to grow spiritually. If, we are like onions (which I’ve heard many times) I’m the biggest one you’ve ever seen. There are so many layers to peel back I feel like I’m still the same size I was when I started this wonderful pilgrimage even though there have been hundreds of layers peeled back!.

Recently something happened that hurt me so badly I did not want to cope with it. Not only that, I did not want to forgive it. The very worst of it is I purposely chose not to forgive it. It was three days later when I realized how angry I was on top of all the hurt. It occurred to me after crying for a couple of days and becoming exhausted from being angry that I needed to decide to forgive the hurt along with everything and everyone involved. I honestly couldn’t live with my unforgiving self and all the anger in that situation and I just wanted to be free from the pain. That’s when the miracle of forgiveness happened. I forgave. The anger disappeared.

The recent incident made me think about all the unexplained anger that’s been popping up during the last year. I realized I’ve been angry for a long time for things I did not even know I was angry about. Was this anger due to unforgiveness as well? If so, I had to get rid of it. I had to forgive everyone of everything and I had to do it immediately. That is when I learned a universal truth expressed by Lewis B. Smedes, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

As I said before I discovered forgiveness is an inner discipline that involves me and me alone. It never involves another person. Not ever. Once I make up my mind to forgive, the power of the Holy Spirit is loosed to do His miraculous work and finish it. He frees me from the prison that my unforgiveness built around my angry heart and mind and heals me. If no one else is ever changed, it doesn’t matter. I was!