On a hot Sunday afternoon one Memorial Day weekend I phoned Mr. Brown’s daughter (that wasn’t his real name of course), to notify her of her father’s death. Mr. Brown, who resided at the retirement center where I worked, had been terminally ill, but his death did not seem imminent. The staff informed me that his daughter had been to see him earlier that morning, and that there had been some kind of argument between them. Indeed, after talking with his daughter, she confirmed that there had been an argument earlier that day.
It seems, his daughter was getting ready to go on a much needed vacation with her husband, and her father was upset and angry about her leaving, even if only for a few weeks. Mr. Brown felt, and demanded that she should cancel her trip and spend more time with him. As we talked, it became painfully clear to both of us that Mr. Brown did not die because he accidently overdosed on his medication. He died because he was angry with his daughter, and he would not forgive her, ever. His daughter could work through the pain of his death, for he was terminally ill with cancer, but the question was, would she survive the pain of her father’s unforgiveness? I had some doubts.
Over the years, I have found that one of the sins most hurtful and destructive to any human relationship is the sin of unforgiveness. The failure to forgive is destructive to marriages, families, churches, friendships, and according to the famous Mayo Clinic it is destructive to one’s health and well being. And, we’ve said nothing of the damage it does to the believer in Jesus, who professes to be a follower of Christ and how it mars our witness to those we would win for Jesus Christ.
I’ll never forget a class I taught to a group of inner- city church leaders in Rochester, NY. We happened to be talking about forgiveness when a woman, the Christian Education director of her church spoke out and said, “I’m having a real problem with all of this. There are people once close to me, who have hurt me deeply, and I don’t think I can find it in myself to forgive them.”
Many Christians tell me that they struggle in this whole area of forgiving others. Some say they try but “can’t forget.” Others say, “I know the Bible tells us to forgive, but if you knew what happened to me, you’d understand why I can’t let it go.” I have known professing Christians who could and would at the drop of a hat list every offense and every wrong ever done to them, and the persons responsible for doing those wrongs.
I submit to you, that perhaps if we’re serious about wanting God to renew and revive our hearts and our homes, yes, and our churches, we should begin by removing the plaque that may be plugging up the vessels of our spiritual hearts, and most especially the plaque of an unforgiving spirit. So, why not resolve with me at the cusp of another New Year, to deal with any unforgiveness we might be harboring against someone, against anyone, in our hearts?
Jesus taught that the failure to forgive impedes our prayers to the Father for the forgiveness of our own sins. Jesus said,…
“This then is how you should pray…
Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors….”
“For 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 6:9a, 12, 14-15. NIV
As a child my parents had a rule. No dessert until you’ve cleaned up your plate. My brother and I didn’t always like what was served on the dinner table, but to get dessert we’d stuff just about anything into our cheeks. But then we had a dilemma. If you don’t want to swallow what’s in your mouth, because you do not like it, you cannot eat the ice cream you long for.
When we refuse to forgive, when we choose to hold on to grudges, it is simply not possible for us to receive the forgiveness or anything else God would gladly give us if only we made the space for it in our lives. It is simply impossible to receive the forgiveness God freely offers us without relinquishing the hold we have on the hurts others have caused us.