Before I dig too deeply into this subject, I want to make sure all of you know this simple fact: these words are coming from someone who has been there, done that, and is still tripping over the potholes in his heart. I haven’t got it all figured out. Indeed, I often wonder if I truly have anything figured out. All the same, I am merely a fellow traveller. While each of us is walking down our own paths, those paths do intersect from time-to-time.
It is at those intersections that life moments happen. Some moments are absolutely joyous, blissful, peaceful, exhilarating.
And then, sometimes…
I was raised in rural Indiana. Where I’m from, when you meet someone along a two-lane road, you wave “hello”. Whether you know him or not, you signal a friendly greeting. Why? Simple kindness. Courtesy. Caring to some small degree about the stranger you happen upon along the road.
Then Ma Kettle and I moved to suburban Chicago. And I learned that, if someone was waving at you along the road, you had probably done something to offend them (driven too slow, cut them off, looked wrong at them in the rear-view mirror), or maybe they were just overly stressed with all the hustle and bustle of traffic and traffic jams and life in general. Not only that, they waved differently than the folks back home.
They used only one finger.
There are times when we encounter people along our path who aren’t so friendly. Worse still is when we think them to be something kinder, more noble, than they turn out to be. We experience all sorts of hurt along life’s path: betrayal, disappointment, depression, doubt, mourning, loss… The road ahead is riddled with potholes and eroded shoulders. Misgivings, misunderstandings, misconceptions, mistakes – they all add up to some occasionally treacherous travel.
And, as humans, we perceive a need to blame someone. Sometimes is it particularly – and painfully – obvious that someone has wronged us. We’ve been intentionally undercut, undone, unfairly treated, attacked, abandoned, lied to, led down the primrose path, stabbed in the back, robbed… Go ahead, use your own words to describe what you’ve faced.
These encounters, if allowed, can harden the heartiest traveller. We find ourselves jealous, jaded, guarded, limping wounded and lonely through life’s path. The journey is no longer a joy. All because of something somebody else has said or done. And, pretty soon, you find you don’t wave at the people you pass in the same manner you once did.
You use only one finger.
The blame for all this misery gets placed against other people. But… there’s a problem with our unforgiving attitude. Simply: we have no business holding grudges, remember and replaying hurts and slights. We have to forgive. We have to let go. Why?
1. We have all been the offending party along the path at some point. Somewhere in life, each of us has hurt someone else. Intentionally or not, we still did it. An unkind word. A selfish motive. A hurtful deed. The fact of the matter is that we are all sinners in need of forgiveness, and sin is the great equalizer. We all need God’s forgiveness. And that forgiveness is predicated on our forgiveness of others: “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25, NIV). More to the point, “if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15, NIV).
2. We have all sinned against God. Talk about someone who did not deserve mistreatment, Jesus Christ took it all for us on the cross. At some point, each of us has acted and spoken in an offending manner against the Lord. When we mistreat God’s children, we mistreat our Heavenly Father. None of us deserves anything good from God. Indeed, we His children should all be eternally grateful that He hasn’t given us what e deserve. “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. Review the past for me, let us argue the matter together; state the case for your innocence” (Isaiah 43:25-26, NIV). “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12, NIV). “The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him” (Daniel 9:9, NIV). “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19, NIV). “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NIV). “Then he adds: ‘Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more’” (Hebrews 10:17, NIV).
3. People aren’t our problem anyway. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12, NIV). The issue is sin. That is our problem. Not people. The battle is spiritual.
So, today, let me challenge you. Look deep in your heart and see if any unforgiveness is lurking. If so, let it go. Understand the problem is the sin, not the person. Find a way to love that person – in the same manner Christ loves us, despite the fact that we do not deserve it. Love and forgiveness are gifts freely given. And gifts, by their very nature, cannot be earned. Nobody deserves a gift. The giver gives out of the motivation of love.
And, the sooner we realize the depth of our depravity is great, as is that of our brothers and sisters, but not nearly as deep as the love of God and His ability to forgive us… when we begin to apply the lessons of Jesus and forgive others – truly let go of the hurts and the grudges… we will each find this trip to be a lot more joyous, our travels a lot lighter.