April 1st is the day that all practical jokesters look forward to - they get a whole day where they are supposed to play jokes on people and only a really poor sport gets mad about it. I remember, when I taught high school English, I typed up an "assignment paper" that detailed how my students would be doing a 15 page research paper. The looks on their faces were priceless. I managed to teach part of my lesson before I casually mentioned it was all an April Fool's joke. Everyone laughed in relief, and if anyone was actually upset about it, I never heard about (probably because they were afraid I'd actually MAKE them do the 15 page paper!).
Fooling someone like that is fun, but it's not quite so funny when you fool yourself. I am a pretty straightforward person, and I tend to be self-aware. So, while I might not like it or I might ignore it, generally I'm aware of what's going on in my head and heart.
But I fooled myself.
Friday, I was reading a portion of the Bible study, "What's It Like Being Married to Me?" I haven't gotten as far in it because I started a series on spiritual gifts in my Sunday School class and that has taken up a lot of my study time. I was done with my lesson though, so I decided to start reading the next chapter in the book by Linda Dillow.
These sentences slapped me in the face, "Picture your adversary, Satan, squealing with delight because you chose to hold a grudge. He is dancing with glee that he has outsmarted you with his evil schemes. By harboring resentment toward your mate, you open wide a door for satan. And what will he do? Take advantage of you, manipulate you, trick you and weasel his wicked lies into your heart."
Now, my grudge wasn't at my husband. It's not really important who my grudge was at at this point. The problem was that I had initially chosen to forgive, but sometimes, forgiveness is something you have to keep choosing to do.
Sometimes, the grievance against you has a lot of repercussions. The consequences aren't just a one time thing, but they keep cropping up - sometimes in very unexpected ways.
So every time one of these consequences came up, I had to choose to forgive. Initially, I did that. Forgiveness doesn't mean what the person did wasn't wrong - it means that you turn over the judgment for that grievance to God who is the perfect blend of mercy and justice. It means that you let that thing - whatever it might be - go. You give up your right to seek revenge.
God commands us to forgive for our own good because if we don't, bitterness takes root. And bitterness will eat you from the inside out. If you've ever met someone who is elderly and bitter, it is truly a scary thing.
Even though I had forgiven and thought I was still doing so, somewhere along the way, I stopped making that choice. Somewhere along the way, a tiny root of bitterness took hold in my heart.
This week, God pointed it out to me.
I tried to argue that I HAD forgiven - didn't He remember the day we worked this all out? God reminded me that I had ceased to make the choice to forgive every time one of those pesky consequences came up and had, instead, started to hoard them - taking my grudge out like Gollum with his "precious."
That is a seriously ugly picture isn't it? But that's what we do with grudges - we see them as precious things that we hold close to our hearts. But, like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, "precious" doesn't help us at all. It changes us, until we end up living in the dark with our bitterness consuming us, not even remotely resembling who God made us to be.
I don't want to be that person. Generally speaking, I am a pretty forgiving person, so I deceived myself. However, bitterness is not something I want in my life. Bitterness only hurts me, not the people I'm bitter against. Usually, they go on their merry way, none the wiser. It's satan's lie that makes us think that holding on to bitterness gives us some kind of power over the person we bear it against. Instead, the opposite is true - anger that turns into bitterness holds us in a prison.
Instead of unforgiveness, we are called to love our enemies, pray for them and bless them. In our humanness, that's a tough thing to do, isn't it? But God never asks us to do anything He doesn't give us the strength to accomplish.
"Above all, love each other deeply because love covers a multitude of sins." I Peter 4:8
You can't love someone and remain unforgiving toward them. It's not really possible. So, I'm making the choice to forgive and to love. Are you holding on to unforgiveness or have you let bitterness take root in your heart? I promise you that the freedom of letting it go beats the pain of hanging on to whatever it is.
~ Blessings, Bronte