At first glance, the title of this entry may seem to negate the need for the post itself, but it doesn’t.
We have a choice in all things when we are slighted or crossed to either forgive or not.
The choice is hard. It’s meant to be.
Anger, bitterness and unfirgiveness are easy to hold onto. We experience them constantly in our walk with God. We get angry about illness coming in. About a less-than-tolerant neighbour who does nothing but complain. We get bitter about the problem as it continues and it wears us down.
Eventually, we withold forgiveness.
And the enemy wins another bout.
Back in December I wrote about unforgiveness I was experiencing and how I needed to extend the opposite towards my neighbour. He has a problem with our dogs barking, even though they have been forced – by us – to comply to the letter of the local laws regarding nuisance barking levels: six cumulative minutes per hour.
We have three large dogs, and currently not a lot of space for them. They grew up on our old home plot of 500 square meters. They now have less than half that. And fences instead of walls.
They bark when they see or hear something from next door. It’s a problem. But we keep them under 6 minutes per hour.
The point is both my neighbour and I have a choice: to forgive or not.
Forgiveness starts with a decision, not a feeling. If we wait until we feel forgiveness, we’d never forgive anyone. The feeling comes from a choice to forgive. Even Jesus on the Cross had to choose to forgive the men nailing Him to the beam. Stephen chose to forgive those who stoned him. The list of martyrs through the centuries who have chosen the route of forgiveness is immeasurable. DC Talk and the Voice of the Martyrs produced two books titled “Jesus Freaks”, volumes 1 and 2, which list the stories of martyrs and persecuted Christians from Stephen up to the present day who have been executed or tortured and imprisoned for their Faith in Jesus Christ. They all share one thing in common – a forgiveness for their murderers and torturers. They shine the love of Jesus through their actions.
Some days I choose to forgive. Others I struggle and choose grumpiness over forgiveness. For me it’s not a good thing. I long to be able to forgive wholly, but it is a daily struggle – especially when the offense is a daily offense. And it’s only a small thing in the scheme of things. How would I cope if it were something larger? I struggle with the thought. I hope the strength would rise in me.
For now I do my best to avoid the conflict so it’s easier to reach forgiveness, but am I just kidding myself? Is the “forgiveness” real, or simply an absence of anger?
Probably a little of both.
Unforgiveness is like a cancer. It eats us from the inside. Growing up I had an “adversary” I’ll call John who I had an ongoing feud with. The crazy thing is that neither of us by the end could remember how it had started or why there was such animosity. We didn’t see one another often as we went to different schools, but the conflict had been real. Eventually we simply forgave and forgot about the whole thing. Now I look back and wonder if we’d been more relaxed and communicative if we could actually have been friends!
Forgiving is not easy. We struggle frequently and it’s easier to hold onto a hurt than it is to let it go – even if we don’t remember the hurt.
But a final thought: If Jesus – who knew and knows all the offenses He took for us – could forgive us and accept us as we are to bring us back into His family, isn’t the very least we can do to emulate that sentiment and strive to do the same?
I’m going to keep trying. Please keep trying too.