“Tis the season to be jolly, fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-laaaa.” However, each year of holidays, each snow-globe and Christmas tree, each string of lights spangling the neighborhood can bring anything but jollity to a wounded heart. There is so much power in UN-forgiveness! It smothers the jolly out of a mall Santa’s belly laugh easier than pricking a balloon with a needle. Every “Merry Christmas,” every brightly wrapped present, every Hallmark Christmas movie becomes a slap in the face that strengthens its stranglehold on its stooges. Even Pentatonix’ Carol of the Bells sounds off-key when the ears have been tuned by unforgiveness. (Stay with me and we’ll get to the gift.)
Unforgiveness can endure temperatures as extreme as a solar flares to an icebox on Pluto. It can live without oxygen or nitrogen; no amount of cajoling or caroling can calm it; even Biblical commands come up against it powerless in the free will of the person holding it. Unforgiveness is the most stubborn stain in the human heart. AND add to all that, it can even masquerade as forgiveness in those of us who know the Bible well enough to hide behind platitudes of Max Lucado quotes or even memorized Scripture verses. UN-forgiveness.
The most difficult thing about unforgiveness is its grip on the heart once it grabs you. Lysa TerKeurst understands this as well as anyone I have read. She notes in her introduction to Forgiving What You Can’t Forget that “you can’t fake yourself into being okay with what happened.” She recognizes that when we have someone who needs our forgiveness, we do NOT need someone who does not realize how deep the hurt goes nor do we need someone to “boss [us] around as if forgiveness should be easier.” Unforgiveness replays what happened over and over; it takes what happened and tricks us into thinking it was either better or worse than it was; it makes us imagine the way things could have been instead of acknowledging what is.
Yet, she knows the power of forgiveness is greater than that of unforgiveness. ” ‘I forgive’ . . . In the split second of that utterance, evil is arrested, heaven touches earth, and the richest evidence of the truth of the gospel reverberates not just that day but for generations to come.” She has figured out there will still be “triggers” that bring us back to the pain or offense, and that this may be a long process. Forgiveness rarely happens in a moment, though it must begin that way. We learn in TerKeurst’s book that “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” (Martin Luther King)
“I know God’s instructions by heart – forgive and you will be forgiven . . . Forgiveness did not seem to work for me. So please don’t ask me to forgive like Jesus forgives. I’m not Jesus.” Still she concludes “those who cooperate most fully with forgiveness really are those who dance most freely in the beauty of redemption.”
The focus of her book is to help us take away from the people that have offended us their power to keep on hurting us, and her wise advice takes the reader step by step through a process more familiar to her than she would wish. She list some marks of unforgiveness as:
1. I fear the offense will be repeated.
2. Hanging onto a grudge gives me a sense of control over something that felt unfair.
3. The pain altered my life and no one ever validated it.
4. Forgiveness feels like it trivializes what happened.
5. I still feel very hostile toward the one who hurt me.
6. I am not ready to forgive.
7. I still feel hurt.
8. No one has apologized or even acknowledged the wrong.
9. I cannot even talk to, much less stay in a relationship, with the one who hurt me.
10. Forgiveness will give them false hope that I want to reestablish the relationship.
11. It’s easier to ignore this person than to try to figure out boundaries so they won’t be able to continue hurting me.
12. What they did was unchangeable so forgiveness will not change anything.
13. The person who hurt me is no longer here and I cannot forgive someone to whom I cannot talk.
14. No good will come from forgiving since it’s been so long ago.
Yet Father commands us to forgive, echoed in Jesus words, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” But how? Why? When? Are there no exceptions? Doesn’t this command itself cruelly add to the injury? These questions are adroitly addressed in the text.
But forgive and forget? As Ms. TerKeurst points out, that is not in the Bible. Yes, God chooses not to remember our sins, but it is not as if He who knows everything about us can actually “forget.” He simply chooses not to focus on those things when He looks at us. And so Forgiving What You Can’t Forget basically takes the reader through God’s processes of learning how to look past the sin and see someone He loves.
“We can’t change what we have experienced but we can choose how the experience changes us.” And therein lies the power of forgiveness so that Lucado’s quote becomes livable as we are set free from the bondage of unforgiveness: “Forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free and realizing you were the prisoner!” You see, one of the biggest problems with forgiveness is that the person who needs to be forgiven does NOT deserve it! Like C.S.Lewis said, “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a great idea, until they have something to forgive.”
So what is The Only Gift That Matters? I am sure you have figured it out by now: it is Forgiveness. That is what Jesus came to the world to give to us. It is what He gives us grace upon grace so that we can give it to others. It is what assures us of our redemption, that we have eternal life in the Son of God who loved us so much that He was willing to leave the azure halls of heaven, come to a dirty little backwater town in an occupied country, join an oppressed people and die a cruel unjust death rather than let us wallow in the enslavement of UN-forgiveness.
Spend your money on trinkets and baubles, pretty dresses and fancy meals, gimmicks and gags of Christmas gifts (please, no socks or neckties! 😉 ). But receive from Jesus The Only Gift That Matters and pass it along to someone else who does not deserve it any more than you or I did.