Salvation ... comes from the Lord ... because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Pass the Spinach

             So, forgiveness is a little bit like eating your spinach.  Most people know it's extremely healthy, but very few actually do it.  What is it about the fundamental truth of forgiveness that eludes even the most seasoned leaders of businesses, organizations, and churches? 
            I believe one of the most significant ways to improve your life is to grow in your understanding and practice of forgiveness.  
            Okay, so we live in a broken world.  Life has its disappointments.  We need to deal with them, and just "let it go and move on," right?  Well ...  Too often this is an excuse for sweeping things under the rug.  If you don't take time to identify your failed expectations and  "own" your critical judgments, there's nothing to let go of, and nothing to move on TO. 
            All of us have things happen that create offense and pain.  Maybe you went out of your way to help someone, only to have them turn on you.  Maybe you get dropped unexpectedly in a job or relationship.  Someone at work, church, or home makes you feel abandoned, rejected, incompetent, afraid, or mistreated in some way. 
So how do we keep from letting these sorts of things snag us in the trap of bitterness and resentment?  We know forgiveness is the answer, but why do we keep trying so many other options before we give forgiveness a chance to work?
            Well, let's just be honest.  Lack of forgiveness is about CONTROL.  Every person alive is a so-called "control freak."  Going back to the first man and woman on earth, Adam and Eve, the demand to decide for ourselves, right from wrong, is built in to our DNA.   When someone does something we don't like, we claim the right to decide whether it's right or wrong.  So, when things don't go our way, we feel anger, fear, or shame  because we feel loss of control.  This happens so automatically, we often don't realize it.
            You see, God's original design for mankind, did NOT include this need to know.  It was OUR choice, and now each person faces a dilemma.  We can't blame God, our parents, or the one who offended us for the way we feel.  WE must own the disappointment, dissatisfactions, discomforts, and failed expectations.
With anger, for example, feeling frustrated, annoyed, upset, vengeful etc. are very normal.  However, these are surface feelings.  Anger is merely a symptom.  It's not the root issue.  Feeling upset or frustrated means there is something hidden under the rug. 
            The way I define forgiveness is this: "surrendering to God the right to judge."   Yes, surrendering control to God takes the burden of judgment off me, and puts it back where it belongs.  In the original design of mankind, as explained in Genesis, the Creator was the sole judge of good and evil.  God intended men and women to eat from "the tree of life," and not from "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."   Through every generation since the original sin, our rebellion against Creator's design keeps us from knowing our loving Father as  He wants to be known.  He wants us to know Him as his sons (or daughters) who look to him for their identity, protection and provision.  Eating from the wrong "tree"  messes up this relationship, but we CAN choose to eat from the "tree of life."
            Surrendering our heart to God is a lot like eating our spinach.  We know it's the right, life-giving thing to do, but we usually find something else to eat instead.  We come up with some way to cope that doesn't involve facing our pain.  This may be something as benign as over eating, or it may be forming an addictive habit using alcohol, drugs, pornography, or working too much.  In my opinion, all destructive behaviors are rooted, at least in some degree, to an issue of unforgiveness. 
            In order to change undesirable behaviors, the most lasting results will come as a result of experiencing true forgiveness.  It's more than willpower and making decisions.  It's about surrendering decisions to God.  It's about yielding your heart  for HIM to change.  Forgiveness was first God's idea.  Christians believe Jesus accomplished forgiveness.  It's not about OUR work, but surrendering to the work that's already been done through Christ's death and resurrection.  Christ is our pain bearer.  Christ died to forgive us our sins, and he also heals our pain if we let him access it.  The prophet Isaiah (chapter 53) describes Messiah as the one who carries our pain.   In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says of himself, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-29).
            For Christ to carry your pain, you must be willing to surrender it.  It's okay to admit unmet expectations.  It's okay to feel loss.  It's okay to grieve.  It's okay to let God make you a better person through forgiveness.  Practice the 3 R's.  R-remember what Christ has done for you.  R-repent for not surrendering to him.  R-release the offense to him for his judgment. 
            I'd like to leave you with a few questions to ponder:
Will you be among the few who REALLY surrender to God the right to judge?
What keeps you from surrendering?
Where might you be holding anger, fear, or shame you're not aware of?
How do you try to get rid of it?
Is your God big enough to take care of it?
Is there some other "burden" that you would be willing to let Jesus carry for you?
            Ask God today to help you.  His help is available for the asking.  If that feels like too big a step right now, reach out to a trusted Christian friend, or give us a call for help. 
            I've spent years researching this topic, and each day that goes by I learn more about forgiving offenses, both as an offender and an offended person.  I share many more themes about forgiving and healing at this blog site.  By the way, I wrote a book called Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart.  I include a study guide to help you process the information.  I also include resources like sample prayers.   I try to make myself available if you want me to come and speak to your group.  Whether you read my book, or someone else's, learn all you can about forgiveness and practice it more than you eat spinach!
by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry