Forgiveness is like exercise, we need to stretch and do it constantly to stay in shape
I used to think I was good at forgiveness. One of the things that comforted me about my short temper was that at least once I've said what I need to say, I'm done with the situation. Over the years, I've had to work on (re: allow God to fix) what it is I say in these situations, but I've always been able to let go afterward. Near the beginning of the year, I realized that there were actually 3 grudges I held. All 3 are cases in which I bit my tongue and never expressed how I felt. This year, I've been working on letting go of these particular grudges; I've already succeeded with 1.

What the Bible Says About Forgiveness

One of the pastors at the church I attend has been doing a series of sermons on forgiveness, which has been extremely helpful in tackling this issue. We usually think of forgiveness as something we extend after someone apologizes for hurting us, but actually, forgiveness can and should be offered before the person apologizes. After all, Jesus died for our sins before many of us where even born.

Forgiveness is not Optional

Forgiveness is like exercise, we need to stretch and
do it constantly to stay in shape.
Photocredit: ShutterStock / Lee Torrens
One of the sermons the pastor did was entitled "If You're Not Forgiving, You're Not Forgiven." Think about it, if I can't forgive you for something minor, how am I to expect God to forgive me? Furthermore, if I think you are unworthy of forgiveness, is that not a judgment?

There are numerous places in the Bible where we are commanded to forgive (Luke 17:3-4, Matthew 18:21-22, Ephesians 4:31-32, and more). It seems almost unreasonable that Jesus tells the disciples we should forgive someone 70 times 7. In the context of the passage, it's safe to say that Jesus wasn't giving us a literal number to go by, but simply expressing that forgiveness is endless. One of the things that makes the Lord our God is that He is a forgiving God. This is a hard request to truly follow, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can learn to truly forgive the way God does.
21Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? 22Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.Matthew 18:21-22 KJV

In our discussions about forgiveness at church, we always come back to the issue of setting ourselves up for failure. For instance, an abusive husband may apologize after every offense, but that doesn't mean the woman should stay and continue to let him abuse her. It's important for us to recognize that forgiveness is not about keeping our relationship with the person exactly the same. It means not harboring negative feelings about the person and not wishing harm on the person.

My Grudges

I decided that to help me loose these grudges, I needed to confess and refocus. Perhaps you've experienced similar situations and are also in search of a way to forgive, or may be you have pointers. Nonetheless, I plan to share with you a little about each grudge I've held in this post. In a follow up post I plan to detail how a shift in focus is helping me let go of the grudges and forgive the people who angered me.

An Institution

The shortest grudge I've been holding is actually directed toward an institution, not an individual person. The combined actions (or inactions) of people who represent this institution have caused me to develop an extreme distaste for the institution. Despite the institution being located midway between where my parents live and where I currently live, graduating from the institution, and having numerous friends who attended the institution later and still attend the institution or live in the area, I have never been back—not even for my own graduation. In the years right after I left, any time someone mentioned the institution I was quick to explain all the horrors I experienced there. I left angry, but I never resolved that anger.

Less than a month ago, a coworker who also attended that university noticed that I have tons of paraphernalia from the other two universities I attended but not a single item from this university. When he questioned it, I didn't go into a tirade, but I could feel in my heart that none of that animosity had dispersed. I may not have unleashed the detailed explanation of why I refused to buy anything with their logo, but it was all bubbling beneath the surface.

I vented pretty much the whole situation to a person who actually is working to actively change the culture of the institution. When that person confided in me that I wasn't crazy and that it was a known problem, it may have subsided my anger a little, but it didn't pacify me. Perhaps it's because most of the people who created those negative experiences are still there. Perhaps it's because I've never seen the changes this person has made. I don't know.

What I do know, is that the Bible is very specific about forgiveness of individuals. Although my grudge may not be with the particular people who caused my distress, they are intrinsically connected to the situation. I cannot explain why I'm angry with the institution without reflecting on them. I know that negativity is not something God would want me to hang on to. That's not to say that I should deck my car out in stickers supporting this institution or go from house to house singing their praise. However, I should be able to discuss the university without feeling anger, disgust, and animosity. So, in the follow up post, I'm going to reflect on the good that happened while I was there and the blessings that came from the experience.

The "Racist"

In high school, there was a guy in my class that said the worst things. If microaggressions had been a word I knew back then, that's how I would have described his speech. He seemed to hate blacks, Hispanics, poor people, non-protestants, etc. He always had something rude to say, but I learned quickly that he enjoyed the argument and unfortunately, he was like Trump; you couldn't actually have a logical conversation with him. So, in a combination of pettiness and mere desire to simply get out with as much sanity as possible, I purposefully refused to debate him. I wouldn't take the bait or respond to his foolishness because I knew it ate him up that he couldn't express more of his ideas.

At the beginning of the year, he commented on my Facebook post with some foolishness in reference to "the flag protests"—sigh, it's not a protest of the flag people!—and I lost it. Although the comment I left in response wasn't particularly scathing, it was direct, straight to the point, and a little too harsh. To my surprise, he was confused. After the confrontation, I realized that I shouldn't have responded quite the way I did and sent him a Facebook message both explaining my anger and apologizing for the way I expressed it. Again, to my surprise, he actually apologized for his behavior in high school, explaining that he had grown a lot since then and though he couldn't remember specific details, I was right about his behavior then. He still doesn't understand #BlackLivesMatter or the fact that protesting police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem is not a protest of the country or the flag, but I walked away from the conversation with a neutral opinion about him. (It probably helped to find out that he did not vote for Donald Trump.)

This situation was actually a major player in my decision to work on letting go of the few grudges I do still have.

The Church

The last and oldest grudge I've held, once again, is not toward a specific person, but a group of people. That grudge was to the church I grew up in. If you've read many of my posts, you already know the story behind that.

This is the weirdest one because when I stopped to really think about it, I really love the people at that church. It just goes to show how a few dark moments can overshadow a lifetime of good. Luckily, that also made it easy to move past those moments that really tainted my view of that church. I still don't agree with everything they do or some of the doctrines they teach, but those are not personal disputes. When I sat and thought about the good that was accomplished by this group of people, the community that was created, and the values they instilled in me, I quickly realized I was focused on the wrong things. These realizations will also be in the follow up post.

Focusing on the wrong thing really might be the root of most anger and grudges.

Helping Others Let Go

God gives us plenty of examples of forgiveness in action and He explicitly commands us to follow His lead in forgiving our fellow humans. Forgiveness is a true act of love, and until we understand love, we can never offer true forgiveness. I'm really working to cultivate this area in my life. One of the things I realized is that who you surround yourself with also makes a big difference in how well you are able to forgive. Our friends and family are usually the first people we vent to in times of distress. Because they love us, they often pick up our grudges as their own. We dislike people because they hurt our friends, and we get angry about the situations too. So, when the topic comes up, we enable and promote their grudge. For instance, if you bring up the institution I mentioned earlier to my parents, they too will become angry and have negative things to say about the people/institution. This doesn't help me to move forward.

As friends and family, we have to remind ourselves when we are getting upset on behalf of other people, and we have to remind ourselves that our reactions should be Spirit-filled. By all means, we should advise our friends to get out of dangerous situations, but we should not feed into their anger nor should would bring up the past knowing that it will provoke anger. Our responsibility as their brother or sister in Christ and as their friend, is to help them heal.

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