You would think I would have learned my lesson by now. The one about withholding forgiveness do to my skewed sense of justice. The justice that does not hold hands with mercy but instead demands that I get my due right now! The justice that, when I have occasionally gotten it, leaves me vindicated….and hollow inside. Not at all the way I thought I would feel. Because that justice isn’t of the Lord and from the Lord. It does not wait for the redeemer to come and paint a beautiful picture out of a fragmented mess. That justice is of the world……and this is not the first time it has seduced my heart.
You see, I am a grudge holder. Part of it comes from my excellent memory. I remember what people promised and did not, said and did not say. I remember. And more often than I care to admit, I hold it against them. And when the Lord calls me to repent, to go to my sister and brother in Christ and confess that my heart has been hard toward them….I tell Him no.
I grew up spending summers at my grandparents lake. There were thirteen cousins when I was young, with ten of us squished in to the span of 10 years. It was fun much of the time, but when there are that many cousins squished that close together, someone is bound to feel left out. And the dynamics were not in my favor. Looking back from an adult perspective I can tell you that much of the time it wasn’t anyones fault, and with my propensity for fit throwing I probably deserved some of those doors that were slammed in my face. But I needed someone to blame. So I picked my cousin Rachel, the one who was born just six months before me. The one who had no need or desire for the close relationship that I longed for. I hardened my ten year old heart toward her. And as I grew older I did not put away the ways of my childhood. I continued my grudge-holding.
When I was in college we both were believers and the Lord called me to confess to her, that I had been storing up slights (real and imagined) since I was ten and holding them against her without her knowledge. But I refused. “No,” I told him, “she snubbed me she should go first. If she has this relationship with you then she should know how much she hurt me. She should come to me. I deserve that.” Typing this now makes me cringe. What a foolish brat I was. Year after year when we were getting together at Christmas or in the summer I would hear the Lord call, and every year I ignored it. I had stopped adding new slights to the pile and figured that was good enough. Even when I knew it wasn’t.
Rachel died in a car accident the summer we were twenty-one. I never did have that conversation with her. I know I shorted myself out of the relationship that God intended for me to have, and it jacked up my relationship with my aunt for awhile. Until I confessed it all to her. She was gracious enough to forgive me. Good thing she isn’t a grudge holder.
A month ago I wrote a post about Christ-Giving, about how I wanted to give this advent season the way that Christ had given to me. At the time I was thinking about financial generosity. He has been so generous to our family this year. But that is not what the Lord had in mind, and apparently He takes the intentions I profess to the internet seriously. He gave me forgiveness, and He has been asking me to forgive others, more like He forgives me. You know, no strings attached. And oh is my heart a tangled mess of strings attached it seems.
I was called to let go of a grudge I had been nursing for a long time. Grudges are like stray cats; they only hang around as long as you feed them. And if I am really honest with myself I have been nursing that grudge because I know that the person I was mad at doesn’t really understand how badly I was hurt, and likely never will. I only wanted to confess my grudge if that person would then tell me how I had a right to it, and that I was of course forgiven because what they did was in fact as terrible as I had thought. I only wanted to confess if I would be told that my grudge holding had been justified all along. Which, thrown out in plain English like that, isn’t much of a confession at all.
But that wasn’t God’s plan. Before any interaction with this person my dear neighbor Esther, who speaks truth in a gentle way I hope to one day emulate, had looked at me and said: perhaps the Lord will allow you to restore your relationship. If that wasn’t enough, the Lord gave me the exact words to say on Saturday, moved me to tears in worship on Sunday, and then because God knows just how stubborn He made me, had my pastor list the fruit of the spirit, and stick forgiveness where faithfulness belongs. I know my pastor knows the verse, that slip of the tongue was just for me.
And then God showed me something else. That I had been extending grace and mercy in a certain situation only because I expected that person to repent, and repent soon. The string attached to the love I had been so proudly extending to my friend was that she would change on my timeline. And I was frustrated because my time limit had come and gone and yet….no outward change. I felt like this person didn’t deserve that grace and mercy anymore because they hadn’t changed. How gross is that?
Christ has given me forgiveness, no strings attached. Even if I never repented of anything He still would have come to earth as a baby and grown into the man who chose to die a horrendous death for the sins that I committed. And this Christmas season, I want the gifts that my savior has given me to spur me to give to others, even if that doesn’t mean what I thought it meant when I wrote it the first time. And the Lord has certainly granted me forgiveness. Even forgiveness for holding grudges; no strings attached.
I don’t want to be a grudge holder anymore. The Lord has scrubbed that crevice of my heart clean. It is raw and a little tender to the touch, but that piece of my heart is clean.