Choose Forgiveness or Swallow the Bitter Poison

There are two choices; forgive or grow bitter. There is no such word as “unforgiveness,” there is only forgiveness given or bitterness fostered. Remember anybody along the way that someone else said, “they are just a bitter old man?” Likely, if true, it’s because they chose not to forgive somewhere along the way.

Catch that? “Chose” not to forgive. Nothing about their feelings. Forgiveness isn’t an emotion; it’s a choice. It doesn’t mean that it didn’t hurt; in fact, hurt is almost always present if/when forgiveness is called for. Forgiveness comes as a choice in the face of hurt. Or bitterness.

Bitterness is validated by justice. When considering what someone did which was hurtful or offensive, it is typically not difficult to formulate a solid strategy and monologue supporting their conviction. We all become trial attorneys. Based on our supporting evidence, we find you guilty and in fact, it’s often true. So the self-argued and self-decided guilty verdict results in a sentence of nothing for the other person and bitterness for us. Poison.

They offered Jesus the poison, the bitter gall, on the Cross. He could have taken it and it would have eased His pain but He didn’t swallow it. He wasn’t on the cross to get even; He was on the Cross to give grace. He wasn’t there to perpetuate justice; He was there to satisfy it. He chose instead, “Forgive them, Father . . . ”

Making the case and holding onto the offense is satisfying for a moment. It satisfies our soul’s desire for justice at the cost of our spirit’s need for grace. It fosters toxins that give us the illusion of vindication but actually starts the erosion of our character from the agitating effects of bitterness.

It’s not an emotion; you can’t wait until it feels better because it’s needed in triage at the diagnosis or hurt. In fact, that same choice to forgive may have to be made over and over through lingering hurt from a single offense. It may have to be multiplied 7 times 70 or so.

The best part is that you don’t really have to manufacture it; there is a Source that will give it to you. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” gives us the “how to.” Remember and appropriate the grace that you have received and continue to need. Then, give it away to others.

I’ve Been Angry (and I’m Probably Not the Only One)

I realized recently that I have been angry for quite some time. Not typically explosive, but at least simmering. A constant management of emotion that was dissatisfied, disgusted, disillusioned or other descriptors for pissed off. The realization was a gift as I am now able to own it so that I can exchange it.

My dad died about 14 months ago and there has been ongoing hurt. Hurt defiantly fuels anger. Missing my dad and hurting over his death has been a contributing factor to my slow boil.

There are other hurts and disappointments on a day-to-day basis. Julie and I love each other but we aren’t perfect. Marriage can bring various ups and downs. We have kids that can cause us worry (fear) and hurt as we attempt to raise them perfectly without the capacity for perfection.

I’ve seen, after many years in for-profit endeavors, that non-profit or faith-based efforts bring a different level of emotion than secular attempts at making a living. Not too many people had opinions about my performance or decisions as an attorney or business owner; quite a few have something to say about my choices in the faith-based leadership attempts. Opinions can sting and sometimes outright hurt. It’s likely that fueled some of the anger.

The effort to “do the right thing” got away from me a bit. I started trying to fix everything all the time. In the middle of it all, I didn’t want to hurt anyone so I started to provide soft landings for people; worrying about their emotions to the detriment of mine. Carrying too much. Fear and frustration can fuel anger and my efforts to be able to answer, fix, manage and maintain everything caught up with me.

Here is the challenge: how do I (or any of us) operate in our gifts, skills and abilities in and for the Kingdom of God while maintaining a posture of dependence? I want to be capable, reliable and other descriptors of qualities that are positive attributes of God’s design. At the same time, I want to stay completely reliant on Him and His grace to allow for His outcomes without forcing the issue(s) in my own efforts.

I don’t know how to do that. I know how to work hard and I know how to give up. Working without striving requires His grace and I’m asking. I’m asking for the peace that comes in His multiplication to replace the anger that comes in my intensity. I don’t know what’s next but I know that He is faithful and He is good. I also know that I haven’t been angry since I realized I was.

Walking Through the Pain Hand in Hand

Just after Thanksgiving, I was driving down the road by myself and a memory captured me. I remembered back 18 months when my dad had heart surgery. In my memory, we were standing in pre-op and I was considering counsel someone had given me. “Don’t leave anything unsaid,” they told me.

As I considered their advice that day before the operation, I couldn’t come up with anything. There was nothing unsaid, as far as I could tell. We had experienced some significant times and some routine times where the messages of love, respect, affirmation and appreciation were communicated.

That surgery went well, yet my dad coded afterwards. They revived him quickly, but it was a scare. I couldn’t understand why this memory was coming up to the point that it brought tears. Is there something I should have said that I didn’t?

It was within 24 hours from feeling and considering that memory that I got a message from my dad saying that he had to have heart surgery again. Now the memory had my attention as it came right on top of the news. Going into this one, is there something that needs to be said?

As the second surgery approached, I was incredibly uneasy about it. Was it just worry or was God stirring me prophetically?

Two nights before the operation, we had dinner with my dad and details he shared regarding the operation only left me more anxious. I was somewhat disengaged as I battled through the discomfort of disagreement.

The next morning, the day before the second surgery, I sent my dad a text, telling him basically; “I don’t have peace regarding the surgery. Please consider every possibility and it’s not too late to change the plan during the pre-op consult with the surgeon (to be held later that day).”

The grace of God was with me as I sent that message. My dad had the surgery and he died from it. What I believe was God’s prompting to not leave anything unsaid was for me, not him. He was going to have the surgery and his rationale was sound for why he was going to have the surgery. The outcome was tragic, but the torment of “what if” was disarmed from the exchange my dad and I had.

There were other “prophetic markers” leading up to the procedure that weren’t completely clear without the benefit of a retrospective view. Various touch points of God’s insight and presence even as we walked closer to the pain. The pain still came, but it wasn’t as surprising as it would have been otherwise, and I wasn’t alone.

God will walk with us and talk with us and let us in on what’s going on, but He won’t guarantee the outcomes. He’s not a genie, but He is a friend. He’ll be there when trouble comes, and trouble will come. Knowing God isn’t a lottery ticket; it’s the comfort of a Father’s hand to hold. There is comfort in His presence.

 

Community of Comfort

I was gathered with family recently and in the normal course of an abnormal time, one of the family members became sad and began to cry. The rest of us shifted our attention to the grief of the one and, before long, several were weeping. Nobody escalated the scene, but they assimilated with it. The gathering became a gathering of grief, at least for a while.

The family member that initiated the crying kind of apologized, but one of the others said they were thankful. They were thankful that they didn’t have to grieve alone. The grief was over the death of my father and everyone is feeling it, but differently. This particular time, everyone ended up feeling it simultaneously. It was there all along, but one person expressing it gave permission to the rest.

The health of the group grief was obvious. Nobody tried to fix what couldn’t be fixed. Nobody diverted with humor or “encouragement” that shortcuts the healthy processing of emotions. There was simply comfort in the community that agreed that the emotion of sadness and expression of grief was valid.

Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

Matthew 5:4 says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

God is a God of comfort. In 2 Corinthians 1:3, it says that God is “God of all comfort.” Some form of the word “comfort” is used nine times in that passage. God is interested in comfort for those who are mourning, not fixing them.

All too often, we are uncomfortable in the expression of healthy emotion and we try to hijack it. Humor, re-direction, and other techniques might be employed to divert. For those that are religiously minded, we may want to preach, teach, testify or prophesy to avoid the uncomfortable.

Preaching and teaching engage with logic and logic doesn’t speak to emotion. Emotion speaks to emotion.

Testifying (“When that happened to me . . .”) makes it about us. It’s not about us in that moment; don’t rob the moment.

Prophesy of what God is going to do or how things are going to get better jumps ahead in the process of grief. It puts things out-of-order.

Just comfort by meeting the other in their emotion. Mourn with those who mourn. They are going to be comforted by the Comforter, so it’s best to just agree with Him and not try to fix them.

The Pain of Sutherland Springs is Real

I have to admit that when I when I initially hear news like the news out of South Texas yesterday regarding the shooting at a church, I am numb. The scene, reality and ramifications are abstract when I begin to consider them. The hurt is hard to imagine from the distance of the circumstances.

To make it more challenging, the frequency of these stories has numbed the pain of the reality. Las Vegas was just a few weeks ago and now this. There seems to be one right after the other and it’s hard to get your head around, much less your heart.

Yesterday as I was considering the situation in South Texas, I heard that the pastor of that little church was in Oklahoma with his wife yesterday but heading home. I also read that the pastor and his wife confirmed that their 14-year old daughter was among the dead. That did it for me; the abstract was tangible and my heart broke.

I am a pastor and I have a 14-year old daughter. I wept as I considered their pain and felt the reality of this tragedy. I prayed differently as I processed the human processing of grief. Their lives will never be the same and hers was robbed.

Part of my initial distance was the distraction of gun rights advocates and anti-gun advocates posturing on social media; hijacking the need to connect to the human reality. Political reasons, blame, rallies and reactions make things a Power Point presentation for the purpose of supporting a position. The task at hand is compassion and comfort, not convincing.

In this world, there is going to be trouble. No matter what. We are in a dark world and our only hope is the Light within. That Light within does not have a political agenda, He has a people agenda. He hurts for people and we are invited to agree with Him at times where tragedy seems abstract and politics seem relevant.

The Grace of Race

Public outcry, eloquent articles, denouncement, arrests and prosecutions or other reactive measures following Charlottesville won’t change the nation. The attempts will bring justice and/or clarify positions, but they won’t heal the condition that has resulted in these types of problems. The rhetoric and outbursts come from deeper roots.

President Obama, quoting Nelson Mandela, tweeted recently, “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love . . . . For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Hate and anger have been fostered on the extremes of the race equation in America and there are incremental shades of hurt sewn all through the fabric of our nation. Without assessment of cause and origin, it’s fair to say that somebody has to go first to step towards healing.

People learn to hate because they hurt and fear. Anger is a secondary emotion. The healing of the hurt and the alleviation of fear will remove the anger, hate and rage. I’m not saying it’s easy. In fact, it’s incremental.

There is no program, policy or procedure that will fix it. There is only love. Love can only be transferred on heart at a time.

Transferring love one heart at a time requires grace. To give love, the person it is being given to must first be received. They must be received despite the fact that they are a person. A flawed, offensive, and even wrong person. The way to change their offensiveness is to receive them and love them. Ugh; right in the middle of their stuff that we want to react negatively to and maybe even punish.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone needs to react to others like this. Only Christ followers. Only those that have been received by Him with His grace. Then, from the grace received from Jesus, we can distribute it to others. We don’t have to manufacture it.

This approach, however, is contrary to justice. There are arguments to be made which are based in justice that will tear down the call to give grace in order to impart love. That’s a choice; justice over grace. That’s a show stopper.

One heart at a time, grace upon grace, we are invited to love others. Jesus is in the reconciliation business and if you have been reconciled to Him, then you are qualified to join Him in that purpose (2 Corinthians 5). That’s what He’s doing, one heart at a time. We are invited to join Him.