Sunday, 1 May 2011

The weight of unforgiveness

Here's something that happened to me.

I know someone who is an atheist and pretty outspoken and aggressive in his views. It's not the only thing he and I disagree on, and over the years we've got better at managing our differences than we used to be.  I should say at this point that we do have much in common and for the majority of the time we spend together, we enjoy each other's company and have a great time. Our families get on really well too.  However, when we do find ourselves in conflict he's not known for pulling his punches. 

On Palm Sunday when he was visiting with his family he shocked me with an attack on what I believe, and was very personal and vicious in what he said. He also made really offensive comments about my friends. At the time I was so taken aback that I made very little defence; I was so astonished that I left the room in silence. Normally I'm pretty quick with words but I have to say that over recent years I haven't had to respond to a situation where I've been directly insulted so vehemently and so I was well out of practice.

Some time later he and his family left for home and I found that although I managed to act pretty normally, this time he'd hurt me on a much deeper level than all the other times that he'd put over his views in a less than tactful way.  He'd damaged the heart of me; the most precious thing in my life. I couldn't get it out of my head.  I was furious at what he'd said and bewildered as to why on earth he would have said it when he knew full well that it would upset me. I had told him he was being offensive and he replied that he knew he was, he was trying to be.  I was deeply upset that he would want to hurt me, and I was frustrated and angry at myself that I hadn't said much.  Over the following days I went over and over it in my head, each time thinking of things that I should have said back to him.  Things that were cutting, defensive, assertive or just downright nasty in return.  I hated what he'd said, and found myself hating him too.  I resented his words and his attitudes and the fact that he was enjoying my hospitality while he said them.  I felt guilty that I hadn't been quick enough to defend my friends as I felt I should have.  I was consumed by the fact that he'd really managed to penetrate my defences this time in a way that he never has before in many many years. I considered phoning him up to continue this nightmarish conversation and get in a few barbs of my own but
Thankyou God!  I decided against it.  I doubt very much whether it would have helped.

So it went on. It made me cry, it made me sad and it made me angry every time I thought about it. It was on my mind as I tried to sleep and when I woke up and it kept coming back to me all week.  I couldn't get it out of my head.

On Easter Sunday night I came to the Songs of Praise service at Church and felt the presence of the Holy Spirit very strongly. It was a wonderful evening and I was loving the chance to worship and dwell on God's love and what he did for us that first Easter.  It was a happy time. Then Ruth stood up and said that she wondered if anyone present felt that there was a stone that needed rolling away in their life; something that was blocking the way, something too heavy to move on our own. I considered this for a moment or two and very quickly this person and his hate-fllled words came to mind.  I knew because of an immediate and powerful emotional response in me that God was speaking to me and so I went forward, prayed and told Ruth in a few words what was going on. 

I said, 'I think I need to forgive.'  

She gave me some words to say to forgive him, assured me that it had happened and anointed me with oil, prayed for me, and I sat down again.

It was simple; the next day was the first day in a week where his words weren't going round in my head. I was no longer planning responses and hating that I hadn't been quick enough to say them. 

I felt lighter. 

I had space in my head again, rather than the dark, heavy unhappiness and resentment that I'd been picking apart and feeding. I felt freed from my anger and hatred and guilt and although I still feel sad that it happened, and more aware than ever of his bitterness, I don't hate him for what he said and I know that next time he comes to visit I'll be able to welcome him in the same way I always have. The memory of it hasn't disappeared but it doesn't pack such a punch any more.  I realise that I love him and he needs my prayers, not my own hate-filled response.

You did a wonderful thing for me, Lord God. A small thing but a huge thing, all the same.  

It was damaging me - he was unaware of the devastation he left behind.  I wonder if he would have been surprised, or amused, or perhaps even sorry to have cut so deep?  But whatever his response, it would not so much have scratched the surface of the situation as it really was.  He would be incapable of understanding. Yes, I needed to forgive him for the sake of our relationship.  Yes, I needed to forgive him so that I could shed the load of bitterness and hurt, but most importantly I had to forgive him because you told me to. 

"Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us." 

It doesn't get any clearer than that.

Lord God, my Heavenly Father, who forgives so much more than I will ever have to, thankyou that I stand forgiven. 

Show me if there are any other areas in my life that need your special touch; if there are other people or situations that I need to let go of and give to you as you taught me this Easter.  Teach me to forgive as a matter of course; to forget and to keep on loving as you do, even though it sometimes hurts.  

Thankyou that you showed me the weight and shape and colour of unforgiveness because in this tiny way I have taken another step towards understanding what you did for me on the cross. 

What an Easter present you gave me this year.   

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