Focus – The Bitterness That Hinders

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by Lt. Amanda Reardon –

Here, in my opinion, is one of life’s great ironies: when a person has been offended and refuses to forgive the offender, it is the offended, not the offender, who suffers most. Bitterness, even justifiable indignation, cripple the victim, though the perpetrator may be sorry or indifferent or even oblivious. But generally, the perpetrator moves on. It is the one who has been wronged who will stagnate if he or she can not forgive.

I once met a boy named Manuel. Manuel was from a country which was under martial law. When he was a very small boy, he lived with his mother, siblings, and cantankerous, oft-drunk father. One day, his father became irrationally angry with his mother for some reason, and wanted to do her harm. He reported her to the government as an enemy of the state. Apparently, he had portrayed his young wife as such a threat to the government that armed police and militia invaded their house and prepared to shoot the woman where she stood, in full view of her own children. Her evil husband watched on, nodding his approval. Somehow, a family friend of influential position in the government caught wind of the man’s plot against his wife. Dramatically, he arrived on the scene just in time to stop the execution.

Manuel recounted this story to me and said: “I desperately want to ask Jesus to be my Savior. But I can’t. I can’t because I can never forgive my father.” “You don’t have to forgive your father before receiving Christ,” I tried to explain. “Christ will teach you to forgive. He is the one who does a good work in us.” “No,” he responded. “I can never forgive. Never.”

He couldn’t move forward, immobilized by his own hatred. Manuel was poised at the starting line, ready to enter the Christian race. But anger paralyzed him like a ball and chain around the ankle.

The Bible commands that we forgive each other. That is not always too difficult if your offender comes to you, hat in hand, begging your forgiveness. But what about those who never ask for forgiveness? Those who don’t realize they’ve hurt you, or just don’t care? Mark 11:25 reads: “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” No conditions. No strings attached. Who am I to keep an account against another human, if I expect a holy God to forgive me?

This can all be very grandiose subject matter, and we may feel self-righteous for our benevolence toward others. But I wonder if it’s easier to forgive the rare, major transgressions than it is to forgive the little, everyday annoyances. What about the irksome habits of a loved one, like chronic lateness, or the tendency to leave a heap of dirty clothes on the bedroom floor? If we were to examine our hearts, would we find that we are holding grudges, and that they are growing larger? If substantial anger over a major offense is as a ball and chain, could it be that irritation over a petty offense is like the one-pound weights a runner straps on? Over and over weight is added, slower and slower we run the race, sooner and sooner we tire and want to quit.

I’ve been observing myself lately and find I am guilty of this. When a sufficient number of misdemeanors against me build up, I become, well…unpleasant. So, I have made it my goal to live forgiveness as a lifestyle. Though I want my husband to understand that the clothes hamper is a useful item, I’m trying not to chastise. I’m trying to forgive immediately, as I pick up those clothes yet again. A true test of my Christ-like ability to forgive is the opportunity to forgive the same offense “seventy times seven.” The funny thing is, since I’ve made this resolution, I feel like my occasional limp has been replaced by a healthy gait.

Six months after I met Manuel I received a letter from him. “I have received Christ as Savior,” he wrote. “I am close to forgiving my father now. I never would have believed it was possible, but the Lord is teaching me to forgive.” You’re off and running, Manuel.

“.. let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1

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