Are You Mired in Your Past by Unwillingness to Forgive?

Blogging Through the Book Part 5

We have arrived at week 5 of our project to blog through Mike Glenn’s The Gospel of Yes. It has been a great experience so far to explore personally some of the ideas in this book. The book is both inspiring and challenging. It inspires us to believe Christ’s promises, and it challenges us to personal disciplines and faith that may demand more from us that we are comfortable to give. Be sure you visit Dana Pittman’s blog where you can find links to other blogs exploring this book.

No discipline asks more of anyone than forgiveness. A new reader skimming the chapter headings of this book may wonder how forgiveness can possible be a “yes.” We have all prayed the Lord’s Prayer. We have dutifully recited the words, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We can say the words, but it is dauntingly difficult to forgive. Yet it is a subject that occupies a central place in the thinking of Christians. We chew over the problem, and we want to justify our anguish and our anger and our feeling of betrayal. What do I do with all those emotions if I forgive? Who will ever sympathize with me again if I forgive? What if the person who hurt me so deeply does not deserve to be forgiven? Don’t I have a right to be hurt? Angry? Shouldn’t the person who hurt me make up for it before I forgive? Shouldn’t this person at least recognize how wrong he was and ask for forgiveness first? I can’t just let go of this incident and pretend it never happened. I’m scarred. I’m crippled. The consequences of this person’s wrongdoing can never be removed from my life. Why should I forgive?

Many people remember the novel Great Expectations from high school. In that story, a woman became trapped in a single moment of her life and never could escape. She was so deeply wounded and so completely incapable of forgiving that she was trapped in her history. It was a tragic story.

The deepest wound of my own history was my relationship with my mother. We had a thousand different ways to hurt each other. We kept doing it right up to the day she died. I can’t count all the times I reveled in justifying my attitude toward my mother by explaining to complete strangers how she belittled me and mistreated me. Mike Glenn talks about the way the past bleeds into the present when we are unable to forgive, and I can tell you that it does exactly that. Things that happened when I was seven years old, or eleven, or sixteen, or twenty-five, were still rankling when I was forty-six and fifty-two. My past bled into my present and poisoned every interaction with my mother. Even during the happiest times we ever spent together, I suffered terrible trepidation that in the midst of the fun, she would throw a verbal brick at me, because it had happened before. I could not forgive the past, and I could not forgive what I thought might be the future. During a phone call shortly before she died, she blindsided me with a jab about things I could not possibly change even if I had wanted to. Once again I felt justified in not forgiving her, because, I asked myself, what would be the point? We would inevitably be at each other’s throats again, and I would have something new to forgive. When she died, I asked myself why my relationship with my mother could never be healed. I fretted over the blackness in my life where my misery and anger fed the loneliness of a motherless child. I felt motherless, because I felt I never could trust my mother.

Mike Glenn says that “[God] can heal the past right now so it will no longer bleed into the present.” He is right, but “right now” can only happen when you make up your mind to let him work. For me, it happened on Ash Wednesday, about nine months after my mother’s death. The pastor preached a sermon whose central message found a home in my deeply wounded heart. He said that each of us must throw onto God’s altar all the things that are barriers to God’s work in our hearts. We must allow God to consume the barriers with his holy fire. I realized that my unwillingness to forgive my mother, even though she was dead, was a barrier to a rich relationship with God. I made it my Lenten project to learn how to forgive my mother. By the end of that season, I was ready to attend the service of Healing and Reconciliation that preceded Holy Week, and I thought I had forgiven my mother fully. I soon learned that Satan is very tricky and can resurrect pain and anger we think we have buried, so we can never really be finished with things we think we have forgiven. Nevertheless, learning to forgive makes it possible to stand in Christ and reject Satan’s temptation to wallow in that dark, miserable past. As Mike Glenn says, “In the power of God’s ‘yes’ to us in Jesus, we are not victims of our past.”

The broken relationship with my mother is a very real memory still, but it no longer stands between me and my ability to love and serve God. Forgiveness heals the way I remember those ugly truths. Learning to forgive my mother opened the floodgates of forgiveness, enabling me to forgive others for a lot of wounds, major and minor. Learning to forgive my mother enabled me to forgive myself for a few self-inflicted wounds as well.

Maturing in faith requires growth in many areas, but I am beginning to think that forgiveness might be the most needful. When I teach Bible classes, no matter what the subject of the class is, someone in the class always wants to talk about forgiveness, and everyone else is always glad the subject came up. Life wounds us in many ways. Life is not fair. People are not fair. There is a great deal to forgive. If we can learn to forgive and if we can continue to forgive and forgive and forgive, we can let God burn up a lot of barriers that impede our happy and fulfilling relationship with him. As Mike Glenn says, “Forgiveness is how we … get a firm hold on the ‘yes’ of God offered to us in Jesus Christ.”

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Blogging Through the Book is a group of bloggers who literally blog while reading the book. It’s different than merely reading a book and posting a review. We have a chance to read and share our thoughts in community. Click HERE to learn more or visit www.danapittman.com.”

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2 thoughts on “Are You Mired in Your Past by Unwillingness to Forgive?”

  1. Unforgiveness is like holding a leaky battery to our chest…battery acid all down our front. It will eat us alive. No where is it written that we must forgive and forget. God can do that. He has enough wisdom that if He forgets something He will still be wise. But us? We need to remember. We need to remember and learn. Having learned perhaps we will be wiser and avoid the traps the enemy sets for us. We should never forget. We should learn but not make the wound a test of relationship. So we forgive and God takes care of the legal aspects. The hurt resurfaces and we forgive again…and so on until the wound heals from the inside out. We can know the forgiveness has done its work when we find ourselves able to bless the person who hurt us happily rather than to bless through gritted teeth. And how I got here is a long story!

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  2. Parent child conflicts are so often causal in unforgiving issues. So I too had issues with my mother and at times our outbursts were very acrimonious and mostly she won the verbal battle. I don’t want to sound self-righteous, but I think the Lord blessed me with a short memory. Therefore I have found it relatively easy to forgive, let go or whatever of the hurts I received from others. As a result, even though I remembered the harsh things my mother meted out, those memories were quickly dispelled by the loving things she did and to a great extent my duty to her to help her even at great cost to myself. In her later years she mellowed and the Lord filled my heart with an abundance of love for her, so that now I mourn and grieve for her with such longing with no memory of the painful episodes.
    But more pointed is the way I dealt with the shooting death of my daughter. Although no one has been brought to justice, the family are fairly confident that we know who the guilty person is. Unfortunately man made wheels of justice leave a lot to be desired. When I heard of my daughter’s tragic end I was hurt angry and helpless. But within minutes of hearing, when I called out to the Lord, I made the decision there and then to forgive the murderer. And as time passed and I realised that he was not going to be brought to justice, I relieved any vestige of unforgiveness by placing the matter firmly in the hands of God and saying, You Lord are the righteous Judge and I leave the judgement and punishment to you. That was freeing and has allowed me to carry on and even pray for the salvation of the person. The only thing that gets me though is the fact that if this person comes to know the Lord and repents, he will end up in heaven with me and my daughter. Now what a thing that would be.
    I think this thought is one that should motivate us to forgive quickly and completely because that person could just be your immediate neighbour in the land made new.

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