Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Forgiveness is a choice



My eyes popped open, and my heart was racing. The thought, "why?" piercing through my mind like a blade. I had been in this place before. I rolled over to look at my husband, trying to steady my breathing, match his. The thing about having anxiety is it hits you at inconvenient times, like when you're asleep. I bury my head under the covers trying to wrap myself in a cocoon. Eventually, I am able to rest again.

Like I said, I've been in this place before. I've had some things happen in my life. I've made mistakes, I have regrets, and I have been hurt. I have had friends dump me out of the blue, and people twist my words and actions. Instead of being angry at them though, I have often turned it back on myself. "What did I do that caused them to do that? What could I have done better? Am I what they say I am?"

Here's the thing: we are all human. We all make mistakes. However, sometimes things happen to us that were not our fault. I had something like that happen to me a few months ago. I racked my brain and read messages over and over. I sought counsel from friends, family, and church members. They laughed, laughed when I explained what happened. Not at my pain, but at the situation. It was so clear to them that I wasn't at fault, how could I not see it?

It was then that I stopped blaming myself. It was then I let the anger in. How could this happen? Why? I am not a perfect person, but I didn't deserve that. Everyone says so! Why isn't God doing anything about it? Where is the justice? I was a child shaking my fist at the sky and stomping my feet in the dirt.

While sorting through all of those thoughts and feelings, I was often told, "you have to forgive". There is so much guilt around forgiveness. It is something we "have to" do. Even if you aren't ready, even if you aren't vocalizing your hurt any more, even if you are still wrapping your mind around it. I've been told that by people's words and actions. Priests. Church groups. Friends. Family.

Enough.

I broke down to my friend, "I just don't understand. I don't think I will ever understand." "That's because you are trying to rationalize something that doesn't make any sense. If it doesn't make sense, it is about them. It isn't about you." Suddenly my breathing grew slower, my heart didn't beat as fast. It wasn't my fault. I can always learn, always improve, always grow...but this? This was not my doing.

I allowed myself to think about it when I needed to, and distracted myself when I didn't. I no longer felt the need to talk about it. I stopped analyzing how I could have done something differently. I prayed, and suddenly that person's name entered my mind. I've been here before, too. I've prayed for all of them. In that prayer, I forgive them. Truly, and with my heart.

However, that doesn't mean I stop hurting. That doesn't mean I am anxiety free. Sometimes that fear, concern, anger, or hurt enters my mind and my heart again. Which leads me to this: forgiveness is a choice. You choose over and over again to love that person despite what they did. You choose to hope the best for their future. You choose to live your life with love, kindness, and most of all joy. Despite what happened.

Why? Because God modeled that behavior for us. Time after time after time. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12).

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." (Matthew 18:21-22)
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. (Mark 11:25)
Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6:37)
And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:15-16)

In the simplest terms, I choose to forgive because I know God makes the choice every day to forgive me. I mess up. I do so accidentally, and sometimes I do so on purpose. He loves me anyway. I choose to forgive because it hurts to hold a grudge. Sometimes you have to let go of something simply because it is heavy. I choose to forgive because I don't want anything bad to happen to anyone. I want for them to repent, I want for them to know God's love, and I want them to change. I want for them to never hurt someone ever again. But because I hurt people too, I know they will. And I know God will forgive them, just as He forgives me, if I ask of it.

You don't "have to" forgive, but it feels good when you do. When you make the conscious effort to say you are stronger than your hurt. When you recognize you are more than the ever changing tides of your thoughts and feelings. When you choose to let go, and see the peaks and valleys lying before you. Waiting for you to pick up, and start again.

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