It is fitting that on Mother's Day, our pastor would preach a sermon that I swear half of sounded like it came directly from my mom's mouth. I kept flashing back to memories of her throughout the years while I was growing up, teaching me the principles coming from our pastor's mouth over and over again. I say over and over again because I was (and still am on occasion!) an outrageously stubborn child when it comes to listening, obeying and softening my heart to God's principles.
This morning's message was focused on forgiveness. I have never been moved to tears during church...until this morning. It was so amazing too because I almost didn't go this morning. I wasn't feeling well, my stomach was a wreck and I had to drop my husband off at work, then attend alone...which isn't nearly as much fun. I was this close (picture my pointer finger and thumb pinching a tiny space here) to just blowing off church this morning and staying in bed. I am so incredibly thankful I didn't. I needed to hear this message.
Forgiveness and I have an odd relationship. In many ways I am quick to forgive, accept and move on. Still, there are several people that immediately jump to the forefront of my mind who I have stubbornly refused to forgive over the years for various reasons. Before I get into that, I want to mention a few points from Pastor Brian's sermon, the second message in our church's new series "Redeeming Love".
He began by dispelling popular misconceptions of forgiveness running rampant in our culture and even in the church these days:
1. A person should not be forgiven until he/she asks for it...FALSE! As believers we are to forgive...period. Forgiveness is not conditional, we are commanded to forgive.
2. Forgiving includes minimizing the offense and the pain caused...FALSE! Just because you forgive someone who has hurt or wronged you does not mean you give them a "free pass" to abuse you. It does not restore a relationship immediately and diminish the fact that you have been wounded. (which brings us to the next point)
3. Forgiveness includes restoring trust and reuniting a relationship...FALSE! Forgiveness is not a cure-all bandaid to slap on a relationship and "make it all better". What heals a relationship and rebuilds trust is the process of the person who hurt you to recognize and take ownership of causing that pain and destroying that trust, restitution and the tenuous task of rebuilding trust in a relationship. It will take time to get to that point.
4. You haven't really forgiven until you've forgotten the offense...FALSE! I love what our pastor said about this one...it was something to the effect of, "I don't know who came up with this saying, but they were an idiot!" This is an idiotic and impossible concept. You will never forget, that isn't a principle tied to forgiveness at all.
5. When I see someone else hurt, it is my duty to forgive the offender....FALSE! This one really hit home with me. There are two people on that mental list I have of those I haven't been able to forgive who directly hurt someone I love more than anyone else in the world...but they didn't hurt me. They hurt him. He has moved past it, but I haven't...and that's wrong. It is not my responsibility to forgive them. It's not my right to wrestle with the burden of forgiveness...in fact it is a sin to take up the offense of another person.
A big ouch on that last one, right?
The rest of Pastor Brian's message focused on why we must forgive and how we are to forgive. We must forgive those who have wronged us because God has forgiven us, because unforgiveness will affect us personally (I can attest to that!), and because we will need forgiveness ourselves.
One of the things my mom continuously tried to pound into my brain (figuratively!) is that by holding onto my anger and resentment, by refusing to forgive, all I do is hurt myself. I don't hurt that person - they don't notice at all...all I do is let that resentment fester into bitterness. She also constantly taught me that I was the only one who could control my emotions and feelings. That others couldn't "make" me feel anything, that I always had a choice, even when it didn't feel like it. Our pastor hit on that point this morning too (he and my mom would get along well I think!) when he said, "every time you hate something or someone you surrender control. You are basically saying that you give them the power to control your emotions."
As I mentioned before, the hardest thing for me to let go of, the people who I have the hardest time forgiving are those who have seriously hurt the ones I love...I'm freakishly protective of my family and friends (at least that's what I've been told) and when they are hurt, I have to struggle to balance my God-given gift of empathy with the anger building inside me directed toward the one who caused that hurt. Unfortunately long after my friends and family have been able to forgive those who hurt them and move on, I still find myself wresting with that bizarre third-party resentment.
That brings us back to the ever-important concept of HOW do we forgive? How do I let go of this anger and resentment?
1. By relinquishing my right to "get even". Paul says it best in Romans 12:19 - Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. It is not my responsibility or right to judge others, leave that responsibility to God.
2. By responding to evil with good. We are commanded to love our enemies, do good to those who hurt us and even to pray for those who hurt us. My mom also told this to me more times than I can count...my response was always, "but I don't feel like it!" Guess what...God doesn't say to live by our feelings. To be honest, feelings suck most of the time! We are to live by FAITH which means we are to live by obeying God's Word, which commands us to (guess what?) forgive...and pray for those who hurt us. Right again Mom...
3. By repeating these steps as long as necessary. Forgiveness is not a point, it is a process. It could take years of constant prayer, asking God to help me forgive and let go. For an impatient person (ahem...me...ahem) this concept makes my stomach sink. You mean forgiveness won't just happen because I say I forgive someone? Crap. Like so many lessons and life events, it is a process.
At the end of Pastor Brian's sermon he challenged us to think of who is still hurting us today. To ask ourselves who it is that we are struggling to forgive. Just like that, 4 people popped into the forefront on my brain...3 of which have hurt people I love. The fourth person has passed away and I struggle with how to forgive someone who wounded me so badly for so many years when they have since died?
It's going to be anything but easy, but today I am going to start taking those first steps toward letting go...to forgiving that one person and letting go of those other 3 who I have no right to try to forgive in the first place.
I pray that God will not only help me to let go and forgive, but that He will help me balance my empathetic nature with the Biblical concept of not taking on "third-party" resentment and anger...to love and cry with my friends and family when others hurt them, but not to take that grief and pain onto my own shoulders.
If you want to check out today's message (and I highly recommend you do!), go to www.orbc.net/sermons.
To wrap up, let me say a final thank you to my awesome Mom, who I wish lived closer. Thanks for putting up with my stubbornness as a kid and not literally strangling me when I was even worse as a teenager. I love you so much and wouldn't be the fully-functioning adult I am today without you...here's to you Mom (and my older sister Kate who's also featured in this photo)!