Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Power of Words --- "Grudges"

For several months now I have been “dealing with forgiveness issues” – those are my words – with regard to a certain person in my life, a friend by whom I have felt deeply hurt and betrayed. I have been having a lot of trouble forgiving him/her. I imagine that these are familiar emotions to anyone reading this. In fact, if not, I would venture to say that either 1) you are perfect or 2) you are not in touch with your own emotions or 3) you need to get out more and interact with other human beings. But I digress…

Last week we were in England at our annual Globalscope Celebration. This is always a good time for me to reflect on how the coming year needs to be different than the year we’ve just finished, for our ministry but also for me personally. And I was really thinking a lot about my “forgiveness issues”. I desperately wanted to make some progress, and I was slowly but surely taking baby steps in the right direction. But I was yearning for more, to just be done with it. I had long ago arrived at a point where I realized that I truly love my friend who had hurt me, and I truly want the best for him/her, but I was still dealing with the sharp stabs of anger, defensiveness, and bitterness each time I thought of, heard news of, or interacted with this person. I confided in one of my friends at the Celebration and he compared it to how he felt after an ugly breakup with a girlfriend who had betrayed him – he no longer wanted to be with her, in fact he knew that that was a terrible idea, and he mostly wished her the best … yet he still just felt anger and bitterness toward her for a long time after the breakup. It just takes time sometimes, he said, and lots of prayer – and this is true. But I was tired of waiting, tired of my slow progress in the hard work of forgiveness. I wanted to be free of it, but I just wasn’t yet.

Then it was all changed by a word.

We were doing a team-building / dreaming for the future of our ministries exercise (led by the dreamer of dreamers, campus minister extraordinaire Rick Harper –; Pray and send money!). At one point we closed our eyes and thought of all of the needs out there. All of the things that God wants to change in our ministry context. Images of college students walking around the UDLA campus and surrounding streets filled my head. I saw young people who were lonely, without purpose, addicted, lost. After a few moments of this, our whole team just started writing words and drawing pictures of what we had seen on a big piece of paper. Later we would use this in another part of the exercise in which we would envision God changing hearts through us and our community.

Well, as we wrote what I had seen, I also took notice of what my teammates were writing. At one point my teammate Becky wrote the word “GRUDGES”. And in that moment, I took a huge step forward in the process of forgiveness. You see, Becky wrote that word because she (like all of us) had some forgiving to do in her life, but I also knew that she was thinking of me. Becky is a close friend of mine who knew a little about my own struggles to forgive someone in my life. And something changed when I saw that word right there in purple ink, all caps, bold and beautiful and convicting.


It struck me, that word. By using a different word to describe the exact same thing I’d been struggling with for months, my friend helped me turn a corner. You see, “grudges” is quite different from “forgiveness issues”. It may sound quite acceptable, even noble, to say that I am struggling to forgive someone. It sounds like something big and difficult to deal with, and it allows me to fall back on the passing of time as the healer of wounds. But to say I am holding a grudge, well that just sounds petty. It sounds utterly sinful. And it sounds like something that is within my power to change – here and now. I don’t have to wait for time to take care of a grudge. In fact to do so seems like laziness, avoidance, holding onto sin because, deep down, I kind of like it. But a grudge? That’s something I can do something about. I can just let go of it. Now.

So in that moment, I realized that I was in fact holding a grudge, and I needed to just stop. Just let it go. Just choose to love and forgive and move forward. And I did. I can honestly say that I took huge steps forward in the forgiveness process last week, and that I have greater joy and peace in my life today because of it. I have been better able to love my friend and to focus on other more productive things in my life – like the upcoming semester and my teammates and my prayer life and my pregnant wife and on and on goes the list (others-first, Jesus mentality) – rather than on myself and my pain (self-centered, victim mentality). I’m not saying that I’m 100% “over” the pain of past events that hurt me deeply, but I am saying that I’m a little closer to the ultimate goal (being more like Jesus every day) than I was last week, thanks to the great power of one little word to change my whole perspective on forgiveness.

Love keeps no record of wrongs.

Father, forgive us AS WE forgive those who hurt us, betray us, sin against us.

A little advice: Don’t hold grudges. It’s bad for the soul.

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