Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Forgiveness-It's a Living Thing

King David-remember him?  He is described as a "man after God's own heart", the giant slayer, the great leader of Israel.  King David the ultimate perfect God follower.  If you read in the Old Testament though, you realize that he was just as flawed as the rest of us.  Maybe that's why he is included in so much of the Old Testament, as a reminder to the rest of us that God can use even flawed individuals to do great things!

So it was with great interest that I read Psalm 109 in The Message paraphrase which is noted as "A David Prayer".  It starts off in the positive:
"My God don't turn a deaf ear to my hallelujah prayer..."
It goes down hill from there.  Basically he is praying for God to obliterate an enemy.  Here's just a part of the Psalm:
"Give him a short life and give his job to somebody else.  Make orphans of his children, dress his wife in widow's weeds; Turn his children into begging street urchins, evicted from their homes-homeless.  May the bank foreclose and wipe him out, and strangers, like vultures, pick him clean.  May there be no one around to help him out, no one willing to give his orphans a break.  Chop down his family tree so that nobody even remembers his name." 
It goes on, but you get the gist.  This was not a lovey-dovey, warm and fuzzy prayer.  This was the prayer of a man at the end of his rope wishing that the person who persecuted him was wiped out!

Let's be honest, we have all had similar thoughts and prayers at some point in our lives.  Our prayers though, are not documented like David's prayers!  We have been wronged and yet, the other person just keeps on keeping on.  Why why why do they not get their come uppance?  Where is the delivery for us, the justice we seek?  Seriously, haven't we endured enough?  Good Christians are not supposed to think that way, yet we all have those moments.

There have been times in my own life when I have endured some things I would not wish upon anyone else!  There have been times when I wondered why a house didn't fall out of the sky (a la Wizard of Oz) or why someone didn't get struck by lightening because they oh so deserved that fate!  Forgiveness was not exactly high on my list.  I had done nothing wrong yet I was the one who was suffering.  They needed to ask ME for forgiveness, not the other way around!  THEY were the ones who needed to be stopped.  THEY were the ones who needed to pay.

Yet, Jesus told us to forgive.  Not just once but "seven times seventy", or in other words, forgive without end. "But God," we argue, "they surely don't deserve it and they definitely haven't earned it!"  But that's not the point.  Forgiveness is not about letting someone off the hook.  No, it's far more personal.  Forgiveness allows you to be free from carrying the burden.  Anger unchecked, festers and it turns into bitterness and bitterness will eat you from the inside out.  To become totally and utterly absorbed by bitterness is an ugly thing.  It clouds your perception and taints everything in your life.  How you live, your relationships with others, your work become driven by your need for revenge.  It not only effects you spiritually, but it can effect you physically.  The longer you carry the burden the heavier it gets and the more exhausted you become!  No wonder Jesus was so clear about the need to forgive!  Forgiveness isn't just a "thing", it's a living thing!  If you want to live, really live, then you have to make a choice to let things go.  YOU have to choose to forgive!

If I sound like I speak from the voice of experience, you're right.  I've lived out both scenarios.  One time, when I was younger and I couldn't let go of what had been done to me, I made myself so miserable that I got to the point that I didn't want to live.  I attempted suicide.  Not as a way to "get even", no, I just wanted the pain to end!  I wasn't sleeping, I certainly wasn't eating right and my only thought was revenge.  I was consumed with settling the score.  There was no room for forgiveness in my heart.  A wise friend talked with me about it and I described how I felt and I clearly said "I am the victim, I can't forgive, I don't have the strength to forgive!"  My wise friend said, "you don't have the strength but God does, give it to him!"  So I said a prayer, "not by my strength but by the Lord's strength I forgive."  And it wasn't easy!  I had to say that prayer over and over and over again!  After a time though, it got easier.  I had to say it less often.  It got to the point where my first thought in the morning was not about revenge on my assailant.  It got to the point when it wasn't the last thought at night.  Eventually I got to a point where I stopped thinking about it completely.  I went from victim to victor.  I learned to forgive and in the process I got my life back!

Fast forward to a few years ago when I was attacked and accused unfairly.  It was just as painful, I was just as angry.  The difference though was I refused to let the bitterness consume me!  It wasn't easy, but I had learned my lesson.  I didn't want to go back to the way I had been when I was younger!  So I said the prayer again and I kept going and kept living.  Lo and behold, there came an opportunity to get my revenge.  I could have filed charges and had this individual thrown into jail and had a lien put on all of his posessions.  He would have lost everything.  I had individuals telling me that I should go ahead because he had certainly earned it for the hell he had put me (and my family) through and he surely deserved it so why not settle the score?  I didn't do it.  In the whole scheme of things, my act of forgiveness was more important to me than the satisfaction I might gain from seeking revenge.  I had moved on and I wasn't going back!  I chose to forgive and then live and that mattered more to me!

In this life people will hurt you through no fault of your own.  Yes, you have been wronged.  You have a right to be angry about what you have lost.  But you also have a choice.  You can choose to nurse that anger or you can choose to forgive.  When you choose to stop carrying the burden you choose to live.  Instead of focusing your energy on what you have lost and the person responsible for that loss you are instead free to focus on moving ahead!  What you choose to focus on dictates how you live.  And living is a whole lot easier when you let go of that burden and choose to forgive!  Another word for forgiveness is grace.  Grace is the essence of living because it opens up new and wonderful opportunites.  It truly is a living thing!

So the lesson of David's Psalm is this-we may feel the exact same way as he did, and justifiably so!  We may even have times when we pray a prayer just like his prayer.  But we have a choice.  We can wrap that anger around us like a comfortable blanket until it encloses us in bitterness or we can let it go and choose to forgive. Our choice will effect how we live.  Choose to forgive if you truly want to live!

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