I know of an elderly person who is experiencing a great deal of difficulty. It's not just a matter of his being old and sick. The real problem is that this man is seemingly incapable of forgiveness. Every day, he curses and rails against people who insulted him. He is still angry with people who slighted him back during the Great Depression. Every day, he recites the litany of people he hates. He is bitter, resentful, and rarely smiles.
To be fair, this man did, indeed, have a harsh upbringing and a difficult life. However, I know of people who lived through equally tough times, but came out of it with a cheerful and forgiving disposition. The truth is that this man's lack of forgiveness has made his life even more difficult than it needs to be. He feels that he is "getting something over" on the people he bears a grudge against, but in reality, the only person he's hurting is himself. Most of the people he hates have long since passed away. They are dead. They cannot feel his wrath. But he definitely feels it, both in body and soul. Science has shown that long-standing resentment can make one ill, both physically and psychologically.
Spending time with this man taught me one important thing:
I don't want to be like him.
I love and respect him, but I have no desire whatsoever to carry around that level of hatred in my soul. So, having said that, I'm forced to look inside my own heart and see what bitterness may lie there.
Have people hurt me? Certainly. It is particularly difficult to forgive certain people who harmed me during my youth. Several extremely traumatic events happened to me when I was young, and I find those incidents quite difficult to forgive.
But difficult doesn't mean impossible.
If I intend to follow Christ's example in any meaningful way whatsoever, I must forgive these individuals. Nobody said it would be easy. I cannot forget the painful incidents, but am called upon by my Christian faith to forgive them.
One difficult thing about forgiveness is that we lose our stories. By this, I mean that we lose the ability to continue talking maliciously about people who have hurt us. The man I mentioned above has a lot of stories. He will tell you who hurt him, how they did it, and what year it happened. It is his primary subject of conversation. If he ever truly forgives these people, he will have to get some new stories.
One of my personal vindications against people who hurt me in my youth is that I told the story of these injuries and how they affected me. I was determined that their evil deeds would no longer remain a dirty little secret. I would tell everyone. I would expose them to the light of day. Look at me, the whistleblower! Well, I've blown that whistle until my lips are chapped, and decades later, it dawns on me that the only person I've hurt is myself.
Surviving personal attacks is one thing. Wearing one's victim status like a war medal is quite another. Yes, those things really happened, but I must get on with my life. That doesn't mean that I can forget how these situations made me feel. But if I have truly forgiven those people, then I cannot go around telling sordid stories about them, even if those stories happen to be absolutely true. Getting rid of one's stories can actually be the toughest part of forgiveness.
The elderly man I mentioned above clings to his stories like a life preserver. But it's a life preserver made of concrete. It will drag him down to untold depths if he cannot let go of it. Although I feel sorry for the weight that he bears, I can also see that he's the one who has kept it firmly in place all these years.
Nearly everyone has a spiritual weight they'd like to get rid of. Today would be a good day to start removing it. And absolute forgiveness, as taught by Jesus Christ, is the one sure way to take it off permanently.
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