As I pulled the car door open the stench hit me like a sucker punch. A quick scan of the front seat and back yielded no sign of decaying fast-food or a zombie apocalypse. I sped off, head half-way out the window. Go ahead, lol as you imagine my hair. My grandson’s Saturday morning soccer game was worth the sacrifice.
After the game I checked the trunk. There it was. The neatly packed plastic grocery bag of meats I had purchased on Wednesday. Just so you get a clear sense of the magnitude of this find, the bag contained hamburger, ground turkey, and two center cut pork chops all baking in a hot car for four days. Did I mention it was summer and I live in Florida? Yeah, it was that bad. Febreze for days trying to mask the odor, but it lingered long after the meat was thrown away. Weird thing was, I never even noticed the meat was missing.
What a metaphor for the junk in our trunk. I’m not talking about extra weight we’ve gained, I’m talking about extra weight we carry. Emotional stuff, hard stuff. We try masking the stench and we get pretty good at it — so good even own noses are fooled. We hoard plenty of our own junk, but we also hang on to junk from others who have either intentionally or unintentionally unloaded it on us. And we’ve let them do it.
People hurt us, wrong us, bully us, scheme against us, talk behind our backs. We suffer through painful relationships, both personal and business, and isn’t it ironic how they seem to move on while we remain stuck?
I found it interesting the first definition of pain in the Merriam-Webster dictionary online does not refer to physical pain, but rather “punishment — the pains and penalties of crime”. Believe me, I get this. The first response to pain often is to raise our defenses, reciprocate, retaliate, deflect it back.
Betrayal is a deep pain-inflicter.
When someone has broken our trust, betrayed us, it’s like a machete slicing through a tightrope while we’re still walking it.
After shock sets in, anger comes knocking.
Anger becomes our friend and we know this so-called friend well, don’t we? It builds up in us like a pressure cooker waiting to blow from the depths of our soul. We throw things. We stomp. We tense. We make ourselves sick with guilt because while it’s okay to be angry, it’s not okay to sin in it.
All of this pain and betrayal can lead to hate. It’s ugly, like those skinny cows who ate the fat ones in Joseph’s dream. Another interesting Merriam-Webster definition — hate is defined as extreme dislike. But isn’t hate the opposite of love? Why then is it not extreme dislove? Obviously, dislove is not a word but maybe it should be.
Are we really capable of true hate? We can’t be, right? Because that would make us one of them.
So maybe it’s not hate. We’re not haters. Phew. But let’s not fool ourselves. We may still be deep in the woods because what if there’s an even deeper, uglier, festering wound inside us that will not heal?
What if it’s something that embodies not only hate, but an overwhelming barrage of soul-shriveling toxicity?
What if it’s unforgiveness…
…unforgiveness is the harbinger of worse mental and physical health, and economic, social and spiritual problems. Unforgiveness is a combined embodied experience of resentment, bitterness, hostility, hatred, anger and fear. unforgiveness builds over time after ruminating about an unresolved or particularly heinous offence — (Toussaint, Worthington. 2017).
How’s that for a colossal piece of ugly?
Unforgiveness is as ugly as forgiveness is hard. Unforgiveness is disgrace multiplied by infinity while forgiveness is grace multiplied by eternity.
We find it hard to forgive because if we do, we fear losing control and accepting defeat. We fear we are saying what happened is okay and we accept it. Fear holds forgiveness hostage and keeps us chained.
But we need not fear. It’s okay to say it’s not okay and it’s okay to say it’s not acceptable to treat what happened like it’s just another it-is-what-it-is. Because quite frankly, it isn’t.
But justice will be served because God loves justice. He is the judge, not on our terms, but on His. He has a huge advantage over the usual, run-of-the-mill Supreme Court kind of judge. He can’t be fooled. He knows every detail. There’s no wool over his eyes. He knows the heart, the intent, and He even knows the outcome. So I’d say God is a much better choice for judge than we are. Let’s let Him do the judging so we can do the forgiving.
The world will tell us it’s weak to forgive. They don’t deserve it. We should hold on to our grudges, and turmoil, and “dislove”. We should hate them.
But that’s not truth. It’s a lie. If forgiveness was weak it wouldn’t be so hard. If forgiveness was weak, we wouldn’t have to be so strong to do it. It’s easier to hate than to forgive, to hold a grudge than to release it, to boil with anger than to let go. But all that unhealthy negativity keeps us sitting in ugly and that’s not pretty. Forgiveness sets us free from the evil grip that makes our blood boil one minute and freeze-over the next. The grip that makes us someone else entirely. Someone we don’t even like.
According to findings by Toussaint and Worthington (2017), forgiveness has not only emotional and spiritual benefits, but it has physical benefits as well. It has been shown to relieve stress, most likely because the act of forgiveness takes away the power behind the angry, anxious, and sad rumination — the running of the tapes over and over in our minds.
Did we get that? Forgiveness takes away the power anger has over us. Revokes it. Frees us from soul-ties that keeps us bound; because Failing to untie unforgiveness from our soul could be our undoing.
I cannot tell you how to forgive but I can tell you this: You can do it, but you can’t do it alone. I can’t do it alone, either. It’s more than we can bare. It bares our broken soul. We need God to pull us out of the mire and pull us up where the air is fresh, and clean, and safe to breathe. And we need each other. We are called to encourage each other, lift each other up. When we lift up one-another we’ll find it lifts us too. God’s plans work that way.
But we have to do our part.
We have to take inventory. Examine. Ask the Lord to reveal what we’ve kept hidden in our heart like moldy bread and rotten meat. We may think we’ve dealt with it, but until that’s for real, the stench will linger.
God forgave us first. Sent His Son, Jesus, to die in our place. What better display of love could we ask for, what better freedom from ugly could we hope for? Talk about power. There is power in that Name.
It’s time to forgive. Really forgive. Yank out the bitter roots, dig deep to find what hides, cut the ties to ugly, and throw up the toxic waste. It’s time to stop masking the pain with artificial freshener and start cleansing our soul with the sweet scent of true forgiveness.
Forgive and be free. Forgive and be new. Release the ugly, toxic, unforgiveness and submit all of it to God. He’ll properly dispose of it. You’re not letting anyone off the hook, you’re doing this for you and you’re doing this for God. Who knows, it might even change them, too.
And one more thing…
Loving our enemies is not a suggestion and for good reason. It makes us free and it makes us rich because this is how we love our God, by loving even the unlovable like He does.
It doesn’t make us holier-than-thou, it makes us whole.
Forgive and be forgiven (Luke 6:37b, NIV).
We have been set free because God thinks we’re worth it.
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36, NIV)
May you find love & peace through forgiveness,
Toussaint, L. L., & Worthington Jr, E. L. (2017). Forgiveness. Psychologist, 3028–33.
In case you’re wondering….
Loren L. Toussaint is a Professor of Psychology at Luther College,
Everett L. Worthington Jr. is Commonwealth Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. He has studied forgiveness for over 30 years in both couples therapy and in his own life after his mother was murdered in a home invasion. He sought this to forgive the murderer. He also sought this for his own self-forgiveness after his brother killed himself following PTSD associated with discovering the body of their mother. For more on reaching forgiveness, check out this link: http://www.evworthington-forgiveness.com/reach-forgiveness/
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