I am really, really good at holding a grudge. As a matter of fact, I'm probably one of the best. But don't be fooled--I don't say this to brag. I say this as a confession.
Several years ago, I became friends with someone who went to my church. Their positive influence was crucial to me, seeing as I had just become a Christian and still had a lot of learning to do. I frequently hung out with them and their family and considered all of them to be very near and dear to my heart. I was so thankful to have finally made a friend who was genuine, considering I'd never had anyone like that in my life growing up.
But then there was the "incident."
This friend and their family had a big party with a group of people from church we hung out with--and I wasn't invited. Looking back on it, it's really not a big deal. I thank God that He's changed my heart to the point where I can let the small stuff slide, but at the time I was still wrestling with a lot of insecurities, and because of it, I took the offence extremely personally.
Several more weeks went by and this person stopped hanging out with me altogether. To add insult to injury, I began to hear from various people--including that person's family, that they were saying hurtful things about me behind my back. These were petty things, but still hurtful. I was crushed. I couldn't understand if I had done something wrong. Because of it, I began to grow bitter towards them.
After several weeks of hostility over the ridiculous situation, they decided to call and ask me what my problem was. "My problem?!" I thought to myself. "You are the one being a jerk to me and you think I have the problem?!"
Needless to say, the conversation didn't end well. We both said things we instantly regretted, and we knew when we hung up the phone that we wouldn't be speaking to each other anymore. I locked myself in my room after the conversation and cried for hours. I was so angry at them for the things they'd said to me, all the hurtful actions and backstabbing. I knew I was going to have to face things like that in life, but boy, I never knew they would hurt so much.
Slowly, I began to harbor a lot of hatred towards this person. You'd think at this point I would have learned enough in my relationship with God to hand it over and let Him have it. But I wanted so badly to play the victim, that I did anything in my powerful to my feed my self-pity. It came to the point where I refused to even say their name in a sentence because I thought it was funny to pretend they didn't exist. I know, real mature, right? I was judgmental, I was cold, and worst of all, I was unforgiving.
My harsh resentment towards this person went for a long time. Each time I saw them walking down the hallway on Sunday morning, I walked the other way. Every time one of their family members tried to say hi, I'd give them the cold shoulder.
It happened as I was sitting at church one Sunday that I saw this person walk by a few feet away. Me, trying to be "the better Christian," flipped open my Bible and shoved my head inside, hoping they wouldn't see me (Heaven forbid I tried to bear a conversation if they wanted to talk to me). What happened next will go down as one of those God moments I will absolutely never forget.
For whatever reason, I looked down at the passage I'd flipped to in my Bible. It was Ephesians 4. I'd been trying to memorize Ephesians 4 for several weeks, so I thought it was a big "coincidence" that it's where I "randomly" turned to. I started reading the verses seeing as I had nothing better do it, hoping it might help my memorizing a little bit. As I read along, I stopped at verses 31 and 32 and literally gasped.
"Do not be bitter or angry or mad. Never shout angrily or say things to hurt others. Never do anything evil. Be kind and loving to each other, and forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ." --Ephesians 4:31-32 (NCV)
I'd been reading these very same scriptures for the past several days, but it wasn't until I was faced with the option to live them out that they became real to me.
I realized something that morning: hating this person was exhausting. Not only was it draining emotionally, but deep down, I knew what I was doing was wrong. The whole time, God kept sending signs my way that I needed to forgive this person, but I was so stubborn, I didn't want to acknowledge them.
As I re-read the line, "and forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ," my heart was torn in half. I began to think of all the junk God had forgiven me of in my past and began to feel so selfish for thinking I had the right to harbor any trespass against anybody.
God began to heal my heart that day. He began to walk me through one of the most selfless and painful journeys a person could walk though--the process of forgiving. Granted, I didn't immediately feel like I'd forgiven them, and it was still painful to walk past the burned bridge, but I kept reminding myself was that forgiveness isn't a feeling, it's a choice--a choice to let something go, even if it seems as if it deserves to be held on to.
Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. Years after everything had happened between us, I and this person finally reconciled. They apologized for all hurtful things they had done, and I apologized for the way I had treated them in return. Today, we're great friends again and I'm closer to their family than ever before. A beautiful thing took place when I allowed myself to forgive them. I only wish I'd done it sooner.
Of course, not all stories end happily like this. There might be people in your past who have wronged you so terribly that the thought to reconciling, let alone forgiving them, puts your stomach in knots. We need to understand though, unforgivness puts us on the losing end. Hatred make a nice mask for awhile, but eventually, you're gonna have to take it off, and the ugliness you've been burying beneath is still going to be there.
There is another lyric in Tenth Avenue North's new song Losing that says, "We think pain is owed apologies and then it'll stop, but truth be told, it doesn't matter if they're sorry or not." This line wrecks me EVERY single time I hear it. It makes me wonder, had this person never apologized, would I still be walking in forgiveness? Sometimes we're stubborn to wait for an apology that might not ever come, yet God says an apology isn't what matters.
When Christ died for us, He didn't stand there and wait for us to say we were sorry before going through with it. He died anyway. The beauty of His grace is that He gave it to us even when we didn't deserve it. Are we willing to do the same for others? Forgive their wrongs even when they won't admit it? Or will we settle for the burden of hatred that comes on the losing end?
Someone might have made the choice to hurt you, but you are the one who makes the choice to stay hurt. They may never realize the pain they put you through, but you do, and you have the choice to walk in freedom by letting it go, the same way God has given His freedom to us by letting our mistakes go.
Posted June 05, 2012 | Sarah Fine loves all sorts of Christian music. She is currently involved with an independent studies program as an instructor, teaching on music. Born and raised in Southern California, Sarah enjoys writing, blogging, reading, going to concerts and trying to make the people around her laugh.