Forgiveness is a Choice

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There is a story of an old man and his dog sitting on a porch when a young boy comes by and asks the man, “Why is your dog moaning?” The old man states it’s because his dog is lying on a nail. The curious boy asks why his dog doesn’t move. The man replies, “because he’s not in enough pain yet.” Many times people can be similar. We may not want to feel some emotions, especially those that make us uncomfortable. Yet, life provides us with an array of experiences, some of which leave us in pain. How much pain is enough to motivate us to move, to grow, to change?
Unfortunately, our capacity to endure painful situations can be prolonged due to a variety of reasons. But living with hurts and fears that are unattended leads to feelings of anger. This powerful emotion can be used as a mask to protect us from being hurt further. Ironically, the distance it provides allows the hurts and fears to continue to mount. The angrier we are the more hopeless we may view our situation. Anger can even become a “normal” part of daily life. It’s been said that, “anger is often more hurtful than the injury that caused it.”
Since the day Cain killed Abel in a fit of rage, anger has been perceived as the darkest side of humanity. As one of the seven deadly sins, anger has the power to destroy hearts and souls. It sows the seeds of disease and illness; migraine headaches, ulcers, hypertension and the number one killer, coronary heart disease. Other signs of unresolved anger can be sarcasm, aggressive driving, swearing, excessive eating, sleeping, exercising, shopping, etc. Anger can come in many forms. It is not always loud. Anger can be repressed; giving someone the silent treatment, disobedience, abuse of drugs and alcohol, destruction of property and so forth.
Learning to reconcile our angry feelings in appropriate means allows us to stop blaming others for our misfortunes and begin taking responsibility for our actions. Our anger must be resolved if we are to continue making progress on our human journey. A journey that we were created to enjoy and appreciate as we make our way back home to our heavenly Father. Our human spirit was designed to love and to express patience, compassion and forgiveness. Ghandi once said, “You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.”
In this catechetical year that focuses on Teaching about God’s Gift of Forgiveness, how well are we doing at forgiving those who hurt us or who hurt someone we love? Do we hold resentments toward to the person who bullied our child, or who is disconnected from the family, or whose behaviors go against our values? God has given us both intellect to know and free will to choose. We can choose to act with anger or we can choose to act with gentleness. The heart that forgives is a gentle heart, a peaceful heart, a merciful heart.
Do we automatically feel like forgiving others or ourselves? We may even say that we don’t feel like it! But, forgiveness is not a feeling, it’s a choice. When Jesus said, “love your enemies,” he meant for us to express our love, the love he first gave to us, through actions. At the core of forgiveness is love and love is a verb. Forgiveness does not cause us to forget, but it does allow us to heal from the poison of hatred, anger and revenge. We may recall the hurt, but we no longer have to relive the hurt.
The grace of God is always, always available to show us the way through every frustration, confusion, and obstacle we encounter in life. You don’t have to take anyone else’s word for it. Let your own experience of faith be proof of what you need to know about the character of God. Can you recall a difficult time in your life, when with God’s grace, you arrived at a new understanding of where God meant for you to be; emotionally, physically, financially or spiritually? It is often when we are hurting the most that we are open to receive God’s message for us. It is in our weakness that we find our greatest strength – the ability to surrender to God’s will.
“Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ” (Ephesians 4:32). We all need forgiveness, time and time again, and we will receive it if we’re humble enough to seek it. Then our transformation into a new creation will continue. It takes a lifetime to be shaped into the person God wants us to be. It helps to remember that God’s not done with us yet, and he’s not done with others either. Be gentle with both – yourself and others.