Dousing or fanning the flames of bitterness

Maybe it’s the soothing piano Christmas music playing in the background as I write this, or maybe it’s just last night’s pizza getting the best of me. Either way, I think some of the mysteries of forgiveness are coming clearer to me.

I don’t write drafts to my blog posts or anything. I don’t rehearse what I’m going to say. I’m not even sure I know how to put into words what I’m sensing in my heart. But we’ll see what happens together.

If you read any or all of my posts from last week, you’ll know that this year has been one in which I’ve received a real education on dealing with the most difficult of people. I haven’t learned this by having to deal directly with one or more difficult people, but by simply observing. I won’t go over all the details, but if you go back and read some of my more recent posts, you might be able to get a tiny glimpse of how it all works together.

I ended Friday’s post by admitting that while learning the difference between revenge and justice, I didn’t understand where forgiveness fits in. I struggle with what the definition of forgiveness is. In grade school we were taught that we were to “forgive and forget”. I’ve grown to realize that forgetting is not really part of the equation. If we were to forget, we might easily get duped into repeating the steps which put us in a position to get burned in the first place. You know the saying. Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me.

When you’re dealing with someone who seems to spend hours of their day devising ways to mess up your life, forgiveness is a real challenge. Do we keep absolving them for all their misdeeds?

I’m learning that it is not always in our ability to pardon someone. Forgiveness in the active sense, meaning every single day, is the act of not dwelling on the things they’ve done. Sure, we may have to run around and put out all the fires we come across that they set in our lives. But if we spend our time not only putting out today’s fires, but getting all worked up over the fires they set last week, the week before that, last month, and that one time that every time we think about it, we get chest pains, we are harboring resentment.

This is where forgiveness comes in.

Keep in mind, forgiveness does not mean forgetting. You won’t find anywhere in the bible that it says to forgive and forget. We are not called to be suckers. This is especially true when the offending party has not asked for forgiveness or changed their behavior. In this context, we need to be mindful of the wrongdoings, but not let them stockpile in our heart so we become bitter and resentful. It’s been said that holding a grudge is like drinking poison hoping the other person will die. The other person is just merrily going through life, while we’re spewing our emotions like Mount Vesuvius.

It’s one thing to keep a record of the things someone else has done to you. It’s another to relive the agony of those things over and over again. When this happens, they win, you lose. When you get all twisted up over something they did in the past, they get more bang for their buck.

The reason people delight in doing evil to you is because it ruins your day. Why they’re like that, I’ll never know. But they are. When you can get to the point that their deeds can’t penetrate you, that will completely turn them inside out. More importantly, you rid yourself of the poison.

I know, I know…easier said than done. True. But it can be done. Start now. When you find yourself stewing on something from the past, choose to let go of your feelings. Don’t forget the wrong, but don’t harbor the feelings. When you’re putting out the fire they set for you today, put it out. Deal with it. But don’t give them the victory by letting it consume you.

I pity the person who has nothing more important in their life than to scheme to ruin the lives of others. Maybe you’ve heard the saying that the best revenge is living well (George Herbert). Not to re-open the revenge thing, but I do agree that by brushing off the soot of those fires, and continuing to live a fulfilling life will do two things. It will give you a sense of purpose beyond “firefighting”, and it will minimize the influence of the “arsonist”.

Live your life free of resentment and bitterness. Put out those fires. Do what you need to do. But don’t let the fire consume you!

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