When you are a pastor you are provided a very unique perspective. Pastors are given the privilege of watching hundreds of lives play out right before their eyes. They get to see all the goods and all the bads. When a family member dies and the rest of the family is left to grieve, the pastor is there. When marriages end in divorce often times the pastor knew it was coming before others because they did the counseling. When teenagers develop unhealthy dating relationships that end in an unhealthy breakup, the pastor is there to help pick up the pieces.
We are privy to people’s personal lives on a scale that is uncommon in most other fields, and I have observed a few things over the years being so involved in so many people’s lives. One of my biggest observations is…
Bitter hearts produce miserable lives.
Bitterness, anger, and lack of forgiveness in a persons life is like a spiritual cancer which slowly eats away at a persons soul. Robbing them of all joy and peace. When teenagers don’t forgive church members, it ruins their experience. When parents don’t forgive, it creates unhealthy homes. When a coworker won’t forgive, it creates unhealthy work environments. All of this bitterness leads us down a path we never intended or wanted to go down.
Allow me to give five reasons people so often hold onto bitterness, and tomorrow, I’ll be writing about how best to forgive those people who have wronged you.
- They don’t deserve to be forgiven. This is our go to mental response when our inner dialogue is discussing whether or not to forgive somebody. They don’t deserve it, and the truth is they might not. Neither do we though. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrated his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us”. Amazingly, even though we never deserved forgiveness, Jesus still forgave all of us.
- They hurt me too badly. This reason has legitimacy as well, and if you were to tell me your story I might even agree with you that they hurt you too badly. The challenge is that your bitter heart will never remove the pain they caused you. Even though they may have hurt you too badly, your residual anger and lack of forgiveness is causing you even more damage. You are continually allowing your joy to be robbed by somebody else’s poor choices. If your past is living in your present, then your future is going to robbed of its’ best life.
- They have hurt me too many times. This is the most difficult one for me. It’s easy for me to forgive the first time but after a few times I’m kind of over the whole forgiveness thing. Then scripture has a way of slapping some sense into me. Peter asks Jesus how many times are we supposed to forgive people. Is seven times good enough? Jesus replied to him not 7 times but 70 times 7. Jesus was not saying on the 491st time you don’t have to forgive anymore. Jesus was teaching Peter that Christ-like forgiveness has no limits. Jesus moved from heaven to earth to demonstrate his willingness to forgive, and he is asking Peter to be willing to move heaven and earth to extend forgiveness as well.
- I’m still angry. On one hand most people would readily admit forgiveness is the best option, but on the other hand they would say, “I’m still angry so I don’t really want to forgive them”. Here is the challenge with this one: we all want to be surrounded by people in our lives who extend an abundance of grace to us, but when it comes time for us to forgive we struggle to share that same level of grace. What if instead of anger we choose grace? We choose to be the people we want others to be. We choose to allow the same forgiveness Jesus extended to us to be the same forgiveness we extend to others. Wouldn’t that be so much better than bitterness and anger?
- I don’t want to let them off the hook. The old quotes resounds with great truth here: “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” It just doesn’t work like that. Our resistance to forgive only hurts us, while forgiveness demonstrates a heart which is at peace with others. We forgive because Jesus first forgave us. Forgiveness isn’t letting people off the hook, but rather it is letting your soul live at peace regardless of how people treat you.
Check out tomorrow’s blog to find out how we can best forgive those around us.