"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Psalm 51:10

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Called to Bless

No action may be as difficult as forgiving someone for pain inflicted. Whether the hurt comes from my own bad decisions or is the result of another’s poor decisions, forgiveness is challenging. The concept of “granting pardon for” or “ceasing to feel resentment against” or “cancelling the indebtedness of” rubs against my human nature. I’d rather the dirty, rotten scoundrel who twist the knife in my heart receive his or her just desserts—like a one way ticket to Siberia. Yet, God calls me to live counter to the culture and instead, return blessing for cursing, good for evil. Easy to spout; impossible to practice.
About 14 years ago, a woman broke my trust and caused devastating destruction in my life. Her actions caused the first domino to collapse in the subsequent trail of many. Though not entirely her fault, she inflicted wounds that pierced my heart like shards of glass. One day she simply showed up at my office wanting to talk. Stomach churning, I followed her out the door. We sat in her car while she explained—as if her words could in any fathomable way put a balm on the betrayal. Not a chance. Still, I knew the words I needed to speak, the words Jesus used when he faced his betrayers.
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
She didn’t ask for forgiveness that I recall, but I offered it. I gave it away because forgiveness is “for-giving.” The words ruminating in my head for weeks prior were, “But if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14) The Greek root word of “forgive” is “charis,” meaning “grace.” Because God graced me, I am commanded to extend that same grace to those who wrong me—even if they don’t ask to be forgiven.
Kelly Minter, author of The Fitting Room states, “Forgiveness is looking in the face of what our offenders have done, recognizing their wound for all that it is, and then choosing to forgive. Still. It has nothing to do with denying the wrong of those who hurt us but has everything to do with changing our hearts toward them:  No more offering up every ounce of our unoccupied thinking space for dreaming about their demise.” Bummer. I guess that one way ticket to Siberia is out of the question.
Forgiveness is not a feeling; it’s a choice. If I waited for warm, fuzzy feelings to accompany forgiveness, I’d still have a pile of grudges as high as the stack of clothes on my daughter’s bedroom floor. The action precedes the feeling. In all actuality, the feeling to forgive may never appear.
Forgiveness is a process. Just when I think I have forgiveness licked, some new event re-opens old wounds forcing me to re-examine my heart. And just for the record, the old adage, “Time heals all wounds” is grossly untrue. I’ve encountered plenty of people who have allowed bitterness to fester and grow like poison ivy. As they rehearse and regurgitate all the wrongs committed against them, they spew their toxin, infecting those around them with their poisonous words. Rather than recognizing the gigantic log in their eyes, they’ve pinpointed the microscopic speck in their offender’s eyes. The reality is God heals us, not time, but in time, He will heal us if we allow Him access to our hearts. For, the more our hearts soak in His lavish grace, the more we realize how desperately lost we are without it. Being stingy with grace causes a ripple effect as we realize unforgiveness costs our peace. “For if we haven’t received God’s forgiveness, we are weighed down by guilt and fear, and if we haven’t extended it, we are assaulted with anger and the agonizing need to get even.” (Kelly Minter)   
Forgiveness is not forgetting, but it is letting the offender off of my hook and letting God take care of it. “Forgiveness is about placing the wrongs against us, not back in the hands of our enemies, but in the hands of God…Forgiveness means laying down our sword of vengeance. Even praying God’s blessing upon the person who hurt us can be one of the most powerful balms to our souls.” (Kelly Minter)
Jesus said, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:28)
The word “bless” literally means “to speak well of.” So, let me get this straight. I am supposed to speak well of those who wish evil against me? But I don’t want God to bless them! Not today anyway. Occasionally, when I’m in a particularly magnanimous mood, I can pray this way. When I feel generous and a bit good-natured, I send blessings. However, as I read this passage, it hits me square between the eyes. Jesus doesn’t say, “When you feel charitable, bless those who mistreat you.”  Like the Nike slogan, He says, “Just Do It!”
If the first part of the verse isn’t challenging enough, I’m supposed to pray for those who insult me, treat me abusively, use me despitefully, revile me, accuse me falsely and threaten me. That’s a command way above my pay grade. In my human frailty, I can’t possibly achieve this. And honestly, I don’t even want to! Still, I know that as a follower of Jesus, I can’t pick and choose which of His words to obey. So, I pray for the want to—to want to. I realize my example is One who committed no sin, yet was betrayed, abused and broken. I offended Him and still He died for me. How can I opt out of blessing those who curse me, when I myself have cursed Him in my words and actions?
As I rely on His help to accomplish this great task, of returning blessing for cursing, praying for abusing, God promises that I will inherit a blessing.
“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9)
The act of blessing yields blessing, and who doesn’t desire that? The act of blessing not only changes me but opens up my heart to desire good for my enemy. At least, that’s what I’m hoping for because frankly, I’m not quite there yet.
Care to step into that realm of blessing for cursing together? If so, do this exercise with me:
“Father, I forgive _________________ for ________________. I pray that you bless ____________’s life. Help me to genuinely desire good things for _____________ and to “do what is right in the eyes of everybody.” (Romans 12:13) May I choose to extend grace even when that is not what I receive in return. Change my heart, O God and help me to see _______________ through your lens.”

2 comments:

  1. Laurie WiedenmeyerMarch 7, 2012 at 7:49 PM

    Annette, I truly appreciate your writing style - but even more so I appreciate the raw openness that you are willing to share! I remember walking through some of the aftermath of that situation with you and rejoice with you that you let God direct your steps, attitude, etc.! I love you, my friend, and miss you lots! BTW - congrats to you and Tony on your anniversary! sending you hugs...

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, sweet friend! I am so grateful for my precious friends who walked with me through some tough times. It's still a battle at times, and I so desperately want God to continue to work on those raw places! Love you, my friend...sending hugs back!

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