One thing I have learned in my sixty plus orbits around the sun is that people are going to behave poorly. The reasons are often complex and far reaching but the bottom line is that every one of us gets hurt on some level by the selfishness, insensitivity and/or cluelessness of others. Not only do we get hurt… but most of us dish out our share of hurtful behavior. I suppose it is part of being human.
Albert Einstein is quoted as saying that
“the difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has limits.”
To be human is to be flawed… to do dumb things… to be selfish… to be a sinner. That is why forgiveness is so important. Forgiveness is the antidote for the hatred, resentment and angst caused by hurtful behavior. The more destructive the behavior, the greater the need to forgive and I know that often it is very difficult to really forgive and let go of the anger. When I feel resentment or anger toward some person or some situation, that negative emotion occupies my mind and robs me of the ability to think rationally. It really is a kind of a bondage in my mind and the crazy thing is that this person that I am upset with most likely has no idea that I am angry. Forgiveness sets us free from this bondage.
I recently had a neighbor that was a challenge to live near. This neighbor would do things to intentionally antagonize; like pointing speakers toward my house and blasting music all day or power washing twenty pounds of dirt onto and in front of my property. Sometimes it worked. I got angry and raised my voice more than once at his behavior and the words that came out of my mouth were mocking and spiteful. I am not proud of that angry response. At first my prayers about these incidents were generally directed toward changing (or disappearing) this person but then I realized that my unforgiveness was the real issue. Resentment for my neighbor robbed me of the ability to have compassion and there can be no compassion without humility. First I had to humble myself and instead of ignoring or mocking my neighbor, I had to ask him to forgive me. Curiously, my neighbor did not quite know how to respond to this except to fire back another profane volley of hostility but my heart was softened and I realized that this man had likely experienced suffering in his life that I would never understand. I found, with my neighbor, that forgiveness is (unfortunately) not a one-time event. I had to forgive my neighbor almost every day when I noticed those resentful feelings start to creep in.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
This neighbor never really softened toward me and is probably still walking around with a measure of resentment in his heart but I am only bothered by this because I know this person is limited and diminished by his unforgiveness. I am grateful that following Jesus’ example of forgiveness has allowed me to break free from this bondage. While it is important to forgive each other it is equally important to forgive ourselves. The life of Jesus represents that forgiveness each and every day. Forgiveness for ourselves and each other is a freedom we were designed to experience.
About the Author
Joseph was born in Pendleton, Oregon. He attended the University of Oregon from which he graduated in 1979. He then served as a medic in the US Air Force.
Joseph has been married “to the same woman for 38 years” and they have four awesome children. He has enjoyed careers in forestry, education and software. Currently Joseph is retired, substitute teaching when possible and enjoying traveling with his wife.