I was talking with God recently about a person who had offended me. The offense was not deeply wounding—my toes had been stepped on and there was some money involved, but really, it wasn’t a big deal. I kept telling myself that: This is not a big deal.
But then if it wasn’t a big deal, how come I couldn’t stop thinking about it?
Eventually, when the offense kept nagging at me, I reluctantly decided to pray about it. “Reluctantly,” I say, because I was embarrassed that such a small thing could consume me so. I wished I didn’t have to admit to God how stuck I was.
But I pulled out my journal and began telling Him exactly what so-and-so had done and how angry it made me feel. My prayer was full of justifications for why it made sense for me to feel as I did. Reading over it now, I can tell you it was neither pretty nor “spiritual.” But it was honest, and I know that God desires truth in the inner places (Ps. 51:6).
After I’d poured it all out, I gave Him a chance to reply. What He said was gentle but firm: Forgive her.
Well, that’s hardly a surprise. Of course God would tell me to forgive her. The problem was, I really didn’t want to. I wasn’t proud of that, and I sure wasn’t trying to rebel against God! But despite the fact that my head agreed with God—of course I needed to forgive!—my heart was like a two-year-old about to have a tantrum.
What’s going on, Abba? Please help me! I can’t do this without your help!
His reply was immediate: What does spite look like?
An image of a woman with a permanent scowl on her face came to mind. I recognized her as someone who all her life had inwardly nursed petty offenses while saying outwardly “It’s no big deal.” If the woman had ever been attractive, she wasn’t now because her countenance was full of resentment and spite.
Oh, Father! I don’t want to look like that! I don’t want to be like that!
I immediately realized that to choose unforgiveness was also to choose resentment and spite. They are inseparable. And they have ugly consequences.
Then Father helped me to see the peace and wholeness that could be mine if I would forgive my offender and give Jesus the hurt. My anger started to dissipate. And soon my heart joined my head in wanting to forgive her. So I did.
And they all lived happily ever after. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you that, would you? So here’s the rest of the story: thoughts of the offense still return from time to time. But never as powerfully as they did before I forgave. When the thoughts come now, I remind myself that I have forgiven and I choose peace instead of spite. I ask God for help, and before long, I am peaceful again.
Moral of the story? I can’t narrow it down to just one, so here are three:
- Forgiveness is a spiritual power struggle which cannot be won apart from the help God offers through prayer;
- To choose not to forgive is to invite ugly emotions to take up residence in your heart and eventually your countenance;
- Pouring out your heart to God—even (especially?) when what’s inside isn’t pretty—is always the best thing you can do. God promises to give mercy and grace in your time of need (Heb. 4:16).