I have a confession. I am the only Christian on Earth to ever- in the history of the universe, mind you- harbor bitterness and unforgiveness in my heart toward another person.
...At least that's how it feels at times.
I have struggled with the issue of unforgiveness for years. Although, to be honest, it feels more like UNFORGIVENESS when you carry it around for that long.
Let me be clear- I do not spend my days storing up unforgiveness, willynilly, toward anyone and everyone who wrongs me. If you cut in front of me in the church fellowship buffet line, I may poke you with my fork but I will not be praying for a pox upon your house ten years from now. I'll get over it and move on. My problem is with a few very specific people who have done very specific things, and/or have a long history of hurtful behavior. More to the point, the crux of the thing is this... How do I experience true forgiveness for someone who:
- not only isn't remorseful and/or repentant for their actions, but...
- is going to continually repeat those actions... over and over again, and then over and over again?
See, up until recently, I think I've confused forgiveness with "letting things go" (which, for me, has been mostly about trying not to dwell on the offense; trying not to be angry or hurt, and pretending I'm not in pain- even though it's eating me up inside- until I can no longer stand it and I explode or meltdown. It's basically Denial, with a side of Rage. This method isn't exactly workin' for me. I do not recommend it.).
Carrying these feelings around have left me feeling guilty and emotionally exhausted. When I try to share my burdens and questions with other Christians, I'm often left feeling even worse- inferior, alone, defeated and horribly-terribly sinful. And this is why: Some of the 'counselors' I've trusted fall into one of two groups regarding unforgiveness: Superheroes and Judges.
Superheroes are the Christians who make forgiveness (and everything else) sound So. Very. Easy. They appear to live perfect, spotless, victorious lives. When asked how they forgive, they rattle off simple, quippy comments, like: "You just do. You make the choice to lay it at the Lord's feet and you leave it there. You simply choose to let it go." Gee... Why didn't I think of that before? I suspect some Superheros may just be good actors, or they, too, live in denial. Or they are Cyborgs. I dunno.
Judges, as I'm sure you can guess, are those Christians who are very quick to tell you how you should be living. They love to quote Matthew 6:15 ("But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins"). They speak of holding grudges and being unwilling to let things go, as if you are doing these things on purpose. They don't get it. I'm sure most of these people meant well, but just didn't know how to help.
And then... Along comes Suzie Eller. Do you know who she is? Suzie is a Proverbs 31 author, speaker and radio show host, who has overcome some really dark, difficult circumstances. If anyone could understand why a Christian might harbor unforgiveness, it's her.
*I'm currently reading her book "The Unburdened Heart: Finding the Freedom of Forgiveness" and WOW! It's good, guys. I've listened to sermons on forgiveness and read books about it (Eller has, too- she quotes quite a few others in this book). And this one is different. Suzie uses the stories of real people and pairs them with a Hebrew or Greek word which emphasizes and explains a different aspect or type of forgiveness. These words are ones which are translated simply as forgive(ness) in the Bible.
As a lover of words (I mean, seriously, look at the length of this post), this format is right up my alley. It highlights the fact that forgiveness is so much more than letting things go. It requires different things at different times. God is not a One-Size-Fits-All kind of God!
Through the study of these words, Suzie shows that forgiveness is not a one-time event (as I previously believed it should be, if I was really doing it right), but is, instead, a process that God completes in us that won't happen overnight. She stresses the fact that it is not something we can or should do on our own. And I love that! I think I've often tried to rely on my own strength and ability to feel forgiveness, instead of trusting God's ability to provide forgiveness through me.
While Eller does address the meaning of Matthew 6:15, and the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18, she doesn't make the reader feel like a horrible-terrible sinner for struggling. In other words, she's not a Judge. In my eyes, she's certainly a Superhero (in the best sense of the word), but she never comes across as feeling spiritually superior to her reader. She speaks to you as one who has been where you are. Her words are full of compassion and empathy.
Even though my exact set of circumstances has not been addressed in the book, the questions and feelings I shared at the beginning of this post are well-covered in a way that made real sense to me. The Biblical truths combined with practical, realistic applications and Suzie's experience and wisdom are all a source of comfort, help and hope to me. I feel like I'm making real progress for the first time!
If you are like me and have carried the weight of unforgiveness for far too long, I really recommend giving this book a chance! And I pray this post has reignited your hope. You can have peace. You can feel free and whole. I also pray you will not waste years feeling guilty and condemned by your dirty little secret, as I did. May you understand today that God does not hover above you with a giant foot poised over your head, ready and eager to squash you like a cockroach. He sees you. He sees your heart. He sees your hurt. He sees your desire to change. He does not view you as a horrible-terrible sinner. He sees His child in pain, wanting to be emotionally well and needing His help. He wants to help and heal you. That's what He's here for! Ask Him to show you how. Trust Him to do the work for you and in you.
He loves you! Be blessed!
*I purchased Suzanne Eller's book on my own and received no compensation to read or promote it. She's not my cousin or anything, either. I just liked the book and wanted to share!