Ever since I first had conflict (which somedays feels like the day I came out of the womb), forgiveness has been an easy concept for me to understand, but an extremely difficult action for me to enact. I knew how it worked: a boy pulled a girls braid during recess on the swings, the girl started crying, and the boy was forced to apologize. The girl would be filled with bitterness until the physical pain in her scalp stopped. Once the stinging subsided, she would forgive her kindergarten classmate and all was forgotten. Seems easy enough, right?
Short-term pain, long-term gain.
Thankfully, I was never that little girl. Unfortunately, I was her, with bigger, tougher, more hurtful incidents than hair-pulling.
It would be an understatement to say that I’m jealous of her…
Jealous that her pain was just getting her hair pulled. Jealous that it was simply a kindergarten boy who wondered what would happen if he pulled it. Jealous that the pain went away in a matter of seconds. Jealous that she was young enough to know that one small interference wasn’t going to ruin her day.
I wish I had the natural forgiveness and grace of this young girl.
Instead, I’m quite the opposite. For me, to forgive someone is like asking me to erase the scar on my forehead. It doesn’t matter how much soap I use, the time I spend scrubbing, or what tools I use on the white sliver of skin, it will still be there. It’s permanent. It is stuck. And most importantly: it is visible. Clear as day.
Sometimes when I get hurt emotionally, forgiving that person is just as hard as removing my forehead scar: I can’t do it. No matter how hard I try to move past the pain they inflicted, it still happened. It is still there. They still did it to me. And I am suffering because of it.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Wow. This girl is bitter. She needs to grow some thick skin and realize there’s bigger problems than her emotions.” Or, “Thank God. I thought I was the only one who felt this way.”
I won’t deny that I have been bitter in the past. Terribly bitter. So bitter that I would sit and relish every ounce of pain and hurt and turn it into anger. Anger at God for not helping me, and anger at the person who just had to go and make my day worse by hurting me.
Oh, my friend. It was awful. The pain was throbbing. Not even tears could display the amount of bitterness and anger and sadness I felt within my heart.
It was easy to be bitter. It was easy to feel angry and sad. It was easy to blame the other person. After all, it was their fault that I was feeling as worthless as a broken picture frame.
I kept asking God, “if You love me as much as You claim to, how can you stand by and watch me get hurt? How can you watch me?”
I remembered a solemn verse I heard in church once: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16).
I felt like laughing. Like sheep among wolves. Isn’t that the truth? I sure did feel like a sheep among ruthless wolves. But it wasn’t comforting to know that God was admitting to sending me out like a sheep to an entire wolfpack…
Therefore, be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.
I can practically see the disciples staring at Jesus with their mouths open wide in shock.
I can envision Thomas turning to Simon Peter whispering through his teeth, “He can’t be serious right now. First he told us he’s sending us out on a suicide mission, and now he’s telling us to be smart and innocent. Aren’t we already smart and innocent?”
Song of Songs 2:2 answers that question: “Like a lily among thorns is my darling among young women.”
So this confirms we are innocent as doves. And if you’re reading this and seeking answers, you’re smart too.
But how does this permanently remove my forehead scar? How does it permanently remove yours? How does it help us to forgive the wolves when they bite us deep to the bone?
When I need to forgive, I usually pray to God to help me. I can’t forgive my source of pain on my own. My bitterness has already had too much time to solidify its roots.
So I pray and recite 1 Peter 3:9-11:
“Do not repay evil with evil or an insult with an insult. Instead repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For ‘Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.'”
That’s a lot to take in. The first sentence seems pretty basic. It’s easy because it is a command: something we are told to do, not something we are asked to do. The second sentence is a little harder to do. It seems harder to do.
That’s where the little girl comes in. She felt the pain. She was bitter. But she got over it, it went away. I felt the pain. I was bitter. But the ER nurse stitched me back up, and the pain went away. You felt the pain. You were bitter. And maybe like me, that bitterness is harder to overcome than a pull or forehead wound.
The only difference between the little girl, you, and especially me, is that instead of running at the boy full force and pulling his hair by the roots, she blessed him. She returned pain with blessing. How? By forgiving him and moving on. The pain was probably still there numbing her scalp, but it went away the moment she forgave him and decided it wasn’t going to wreck her day. Or his. This decision, this blessing, this forgiveness, is what made the pain go away.
In order to heal and rid ourselves of bitterness, we MUST do good. We MUST seek peace and pursue it. The only way to pursue peace in times of bitterness is through forgiveness. Peace and bitterness cannot coexist. But forgiveness can erase us of bitterness, and fill us with peace.
This is how I “forgive and forget”, as the saying goes. And when I say forget, I say I am completely full of peace and empty of bitterness.
All the peace,