I have a banker's box with a yellow sticky note affixed to the front that says, "Notes." On one side is a red sticker from the moving company, as the box has traveled with me. Though I have opened and sifted through the papers and pictures over the past eight years, sometimes adding more stuff in, I've carefully saved all its contents.
That is, until today.
As I closed my bedroom door, took off the lid, and picked up the first couple of letters from inside the box, memories flooded my heart that made me angry. They were reminders of past hurts from people and things that had let me down. My pastor's recent words came to mind, "Getting rid of anger is more valuable than getting paid back for past hurts." It was a hard truth for me to hear, as I felt both hurt and taken from and believed that those who harmed me, owed me.
"You owe it to me, BFF, to have been my friend forever."
"You owe it to me, siblings, to have been there for me."
"You owe it to me, boyfriend, to have kept from taking my heart."
"You owe it to me, ex-fiancé, to have fought for our relationship."
"You owe it to me, friend, to have not died and left me."
"You owe it to me, body, to have not gotten sick."
"You owe it to me, parents, to have protected me."
My heart said: You all owe me.
Though I knew what was written in Romans 12:17-18, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil…. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone," I struggled. I didn't want to punish those who hurt me; I just needed them to make it up to me for all the hurt they caused. Otherwise, I would not be ready to forgive them.
To be honest, underneath the anger was a whole lot of hurt. I grew burdened and teary-eyed. The load of my anger weighed heavy upon my shoulders.
I contemplated Paul's words:
"Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (Ephesians 4:31-32)
The evidence of the "owings" in my box was not going to restore what was stolen. Whole seasons of my life were robbed by anger, and I could never be paid back in full.
I knew, then, that the box that carried my anger must be thrown away and burned.
In my bedroom, I prayed prayers of forgiveness over those God brought to mind. Some offenses were harder to forgive than others. As I took the time to pray over each offense, the burden lifted. Fresh air filled my lungs and heart.
I felt as free as a bird.
If you've ever been angry and chosen to forgive, you know what this freedom feels like. If you've kept a running tab of everything people have done to hurt you, I encourage you to close the " you owe me" account. The more anger harbored in your heart towards another, the less capable you are of loving in the present.
My banker's box is now gone. Only the indent on my carpet remains. The empty space is a reminder that no one owes me anything.
Which is more valuable to you: to cancel the debts outstanding or carry around the weight of them the rest of your life? Only you can decide. What debts can you cancel, so you make more room for shoes in your closet?
"Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law." (Romans 13:8)
Ask God to bring to your mind the names of those people you need to forgive by praying this prayer out loud. (Let this prayer come from your heart as well as your mouth.)
Dear Jesus, I thank you for your great kindness and patience, which has led me to turn from my sins (Romans 2:4). I know I haven't always been completely loving toward those who have hurt me. I have had bad thoughts and feelings towards them. I ask you to bring to my mind all the people I need to forgive (Matthew 18:35). I ask you to bring to the surface all my painful memories so I can choose to forgive these people from my heart. I pray this in the name of Jesus who has forgiven me and who will heal me from my hurts. Amen.
START: Lord, I forgive (name of person) for (say what they did to hurt you, and be specific) because (or, even though) it made me feel (share the painful memories or feelings).
Once you have dealt with every offense that has come to your mind and you have honestly expressed how that person hurt you, then conclude by praying:
FINISH: Lord, I choose not to hold any of these things against (name) any longer. I thank you for setting me free from the bondage of my bitterness toward him/her. I choose now to ask you to bless (name). In Jesus' name. Amen. (Steps to Freedom (Youth Edition) by Neil Anderson, Dave Park and Rich Miller.)
*Note: Sometimes the offense pops up again. These are residual feelings. Deal with your feelings as they come up. It may take time to fully forgive, if the offense cut really deep. Keep working at forgiving. You can have true freedom.
Getting Anger Under Control: Overcoming Unresolved Resentment, Overwhelming Emotions, and the Lies Behind Anger by Neil T. Anderson and Rich Miller
Lisa Ramsland Bonenberger loves cute purses, devoted friends, and empty space in her closet. Lisa wrote about what to do when nothing goes according to plan, and making hope-filled choices when life turns upside down, in chapter six of A New Kind of Normal by Carol Kent. Look her up at www.lisaramsland.com. She is also on Facebook and Twitter @SunshineLMR.
© 2011 by Lisa Ramsland Bonenberger. All rights reserved.