Along this journey of chronic illness and family sorrows, I've had plenty of chances to feel angry. People whom I thought would be there for me have deeply disappointed me. People I trusted have broken trust. Relationships I relied on have failed. And I've been left confused, broken, bruised.
A bruise is a great way to describe the pain of loss because it just aches mildly all the time, until someone touches it with a comment or a reminder, causing the old pain to flare up again.
It's been a challenge for me especially to forgive my father. This past week, even deeper sin and deceit were uncovered, pouring fresh pain into our lives again. His actions not only hurt me, but I have repeatedly had to see him hurt my mom, someone I love so much. It's a re-opening of old wounds that can never seem to heal.
Pastor Charles Stanley did a series on handling anger earlier in the summer, and his shows were repeated on TV recently. I watched them again, trying to soak in the secret of forgiveness - that elusive yet all-important action that is the foundation of following Christ (along with faith and love).
There were a lot of important points he made in the teaching series, but the one that stuck with me the most was that forgiveness is for my own benefit, not for the person who hurt me.
Because really, when I think about whom my anger affects the most, that person is me. I'm the one who meditates on the wrong done. I'm the one who desires justice and things to be made right. I'm the one who feels the pain and lets it ruin my joy and happiness. Anger can even affect my attitude toward people who have nothing to do with the offense. Basically, unchecked anger and unforgiveness can make me bitter. Slowly, surreptitiously, creeping like deadly plaque building up in coronary arteries, anger builds up in my soul, restricting my ability to love. God can't flow through me if my heart is clogged up with hatred. Instead, I'm imprisoned by my desire to make the other person pay.
It can happen to anyone. I read a Bible verse yesterday that reminded me even Moses fell for the trap of anger -
They angered him at the waters of Meribah,
and it went ill with Moses on their account,
for they made his spirit bitter,
and he spoke rashly with his lips.
That bitterness of spirit cost Moses the privilege of entering the Promised Land. He's the one who suffered because he let anger get the best of him. Because his heart was clogged with unforgiveness, God couldn't use him in that important moment.
Bitterness in my spirit will cost me dearly too.
This verse reminds me how easy it is to fall - how easy it is to let the sin of others influence me and cause me to lose my peace. I can miss God's best for my life if I don't reach out to Jesus and ask him to teach me how to forgive as he forgave - being nailed to the cross and yet forgiving his murderers as they were crucifying him. That is amazing love.
I'm not capable of forgiving on my own - especially deep and chronic wounds caused by repeated offense. I need the help of Christ daily to walk in forgiveness. But when I ask Jesus, he is faithful and will help me with the emotions of anger and pain that seem to rear up again and again.
Just like blocked arteries can be carefully reopened and stented by a skilled physician, God is the Great Physician for my spirit, and he can reopen my diseased, unforgiving heart in order for his love and life to flow.