Transformed: Emotional Health

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. – Ephesians 4:31-32

Not long ago I was working in our backyard clearing some brush, and as I was cleaning up I discovered that the legs of my pants were covered with little burrs. I tried brushing them off, but they stuck to me like chewing gum in a toddler’s hair. I had to pick them off one by one, and it seemed like the more I picked the more I found.

If I’m going to be transformed in my emotional health I have to acknowledge that the wounds of my past cling to my heart like those burrs clung to my pants. They are not easily brushed away. The healing of those wounds requires the difficult and intentional work of forgiveness. And it seems like the more wounds I tend to the more I find!

Over time I’ve discovered that many of us carry misconceptions about forgiveness. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Forgiving is not the same as forgetting. You and I don’t have the power to forget. But just because we remember doesn’t mean we haven’t forgiven.
  • Forgiving is not pretending that nothing happened. It doesn’t mean burying your head in the sand. It means doing the hard work that’s outlined in Matthew 18:15-20.
  • Forgiving does not mean you have to like the offender. It doesn’t mean you feel warm and fuzzy toward the person who hurt you. We pray that God will enable us to love the offender, but we don’t have to like them.
  • Forgiving is a matter of mercy, not justice. Our forgiveness of someone is not dependent upon their worthiness to be forgiven, just as God forgiveness of us is not dependent upon our worthiness. We’re called to forgive even when the other person isn’t worthy…or even sorry for what they’ve done.
  • Forgiving does not mean the instant restoration of trust. Trust must be earned, and when you’ve been burned badly the relationship almost always has to start over again in terms of earning trust.
  • Forgiving is a process. It’s almost never a once-and-for-all thing. There are people you may need to forgive every day in order to keep your heart free and clean. And finally…
  • Forgiving is mostly a gift we give ourselves. We are the ones who benefit most by practicing the grace of forgiveness because it sets us free from the soul cancer known as bitterness.

Who do you need to forgive? What wounds from your past need healing? While it can feel as if those wounds cling to us, the truth is we often cling to them. We delude ourselves into thinking that somehow nursing our hurt and anger “gets back” at the one who wounded us. The truth is, we’re only extending our own pain. Licking our wounds might taste good but when the feast is over the carcass on the table is our own. [1]  Maybe that’s why Scripture urges us over and over again to forgive as we have been forgiven.

Jeff Marian serves as lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN

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