The Grudge List: Your Path to Forgiveness

Today, I’m going to give you a very useful tool to aid you in forgiving everyone. First, though, let’s talk about what sin is. Sin is any thought you dwell on or any action that is against God’s will. God created the Universe and all that is in it; therefore, it is His rules we are under. It’s not a sin to be tempted, to have a thought flit through your head, but it is a sin to dwell on it and imagine yourself giving into that temptation.

We can wrong others, but even then, our sins are 99% against God. Imagine that you had a golden retriever puppy named Goldie (because you’re so original with names) and someone, even a good friend, comes over and kicks your puppy. Not on accident, just being a jerk. Even thought the dog is wronged and nothing was done directly against you, you still take offense because you care about Goldie. She’s yours, and so the offense done against her is taken personally as one against you.

How much more so do you think God takes it when we wrong His sons and daughters or even non-Christians, since He loves us all?

Also, when we wrong each other, we’re breaking God’s will because He tells us to love each other. This makes our wrongs against each other sins against the Creator of the Universe. Just as stepping on a roach is a lesser crime than spitting on another person, so is anything we do to each other compared to the crime of disobeying Him.

I mention this because we all need to be forgiven of our sins. There are no perfect people on this earth, so we all need forgiveness and grace. And, as I wrote yesterday, God will only forgive us if we forgive others.

But not all of the things that we take offense at are sins, are they? There’s the woman who gets in the express checkout lane with 19 items instead of 15, the coworker with the annoying laugh, or the guy with no social skills whatsoever. These things may get on our nerves, but they’re not sins. We need to let go of these grudges, too.

So, how do we let them go?

The best way I have found is by using what I call the ‘Grudge List.’ To make one, start by writing down the names of everyone you can remember. I recommend going by periods in your life (grade school, high school, early 20’s, etc.), then by location (church, school, work, neighborhood, family) so you don’t miss anybody. If you remember a person, but not their name, write down enough of a description so you can remember them when you go through this list.

Next, go through each name on this list and think about the person for a moment. If you have any negative feelings about them, write their name on another list. This is the beginning of your Grudge List.

On your Grudge List, for each name that made the cut, write down all of the offenses you can remember and how they made you feel. Resist the urge to sum up; be specific so you can let go of all the wrongs done to you. It will take time, but it’s better to do a thorough cleansing than a light rinse. Don’t be overly nice here, either. They won’t read this unless you show it to them, so say what’s really on your mind. You can lose the benefit of this exercise by not being completely honest.

Next, write down your own sins against the person. I highly recommend this because it will let you see that you were wrong, too. Don’t put in any statements like, “I wouldn’t have done this if you hadn’t started it,” or, “It may not be as bad as what you did to me, but…” This is the time for you to just admit to yourself that you were wrong, regardless of who started it. You’ll be able to see the argument better from the other person’s point of view, too. Doing this will help ward off the pride that is sure to fight you.

Finally, write a statement of forgiveness for each person. Keep out language such as, “You may have cheated on me, but I have someone way better now, so I can finally forgive you.” Your forgiveness can’t be based on what’s happened in your life since the event; in fact, that’s part of the point. You have to forgive based on what Jesus did for you 2,000 years ago. Forgive because you’ve been forgiven of so much more.

Doing this once probably won’t get rid of all the negative feelings you have against everyone, so you may have to keep going through it. Each time you do, though, it should get a little easier. Some of the minor grudges you may be able to cross off immediately, some may take months (and might still pop up years after you thought you’d forgiven them). Just have patience and keep reminding yourself of what Jesus has done for you…if you forgive as He’s forgiven you.

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5 Reasons to Forgive

I’ve been working again on forgiving people. I find that when I’m stressed about my life, I look for people to blame for my current situation. Sometimes, it’s God, though that’s not very common anymore. It can be others for certain things, but it’s usually myself. I’ve made many poor decisions over the course of my life. I neglected to invest in Apple, Amazon, and Google when they were relatively cheap. I did invest too much in a stock I thought I understood, but which plummeted. I was often difficult to be around during college and my first two jobs. I hurt so many people along the way, and none so deeply as myself.

There are a few things I’ve realized, however:

1. I can’t change the past by dwelling on it. I can learn lessons, I can apologize, and I can make amends, but I can’t go back and make better investment decisions. I can’t take missed opportunities or shut my mouth at certain times. What’s in the past is done; it’s only the future that I can change. By dwelling on the past, I waste my future as well.

2. I will make worse decisions if I can’t let go of my bad ones. There are lessons to be learned from my past, such as not letting my employer work me 60 or more hours a week, but if I focus on my bad decisions, I’ll believe I’ll only make bad ones in the future. That will lead me to procrastinate, causing me to miss more opportunities, or give up and pick the easiest option under the assumption that no matter what I pick, I’ll be wrong. I can make the best decisions when my thought process isn’t getting its information solely from my past.

3. I can’t believe what God says about me if I can’t forgive myself. The Bible says I’m a child of God, that I’m forgiven if I believe in Him. I reject my identity as His son if I don’t believe I’m forgiven for my sins. This means I can’t have confidence, which in turn causes me to seek a sense of self-worth elsewhere, which will inevitably end in failure, perpetuating the cycle. Only by forgiving myself can I end this cycle.

4. I reject God when I refuse to forgive myself. This one sounds harsh because there are a number of Christians who still harbor grudges against themselves, but if Jesus died to forgive me, what right have I to say that His death wasn’t enough? In the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-15, Jesus tells His disciples that if they don’t forgive others, they won’t be forgiven. It’s not just a quid pro quo statement, it’s a matter of faith. If I don’t believe that His death was enough for not only me, but for everyone else who believed as well, then it’s not enough for anyone. It’s the ultimate all-or-nothing deal. I can accept that His forgiveness covers all the sins of everyone who comes to Him, or I can reject it for myself.

5. My mistakes don’t matter that much. This life is but a blink compared to eternity. The things that we think matter so much don’t. A big house is nice, but at best, it’s a comfort for a few years compared to a mansion in Heaven for untold billions of years. I’d love to have my dream job, but it’s still just the tiniest fragment of time compared to what I’ll have when I die. Even my relationship with Leah, though I love her passionately, would not mean much if her value was just in the good times we share together or in help through the bad times. It’s her value in helping me draw closer to God and serving Him better that really makes our relationship worthwhile. In all things, the cares of this world and even the needs of this world pale in comparison to the slightest treasure in Heaven. I have to stop judging my life by my successes or failures on earth and instead judge it by the two things that matter most to God: how much I love Him and how much I love others.

A Daily Sacrifice

In Old Testament times, there were daily sacrifices to cover the people’s sins. It seemed there were hundreds of things you could do wrong that would require bringing a bull, sheep, or doves to the priests. 

Aside from doing the will of God because they loved and worshiped Him, this had a very important consequence for the Jews: it made sinning awfully expensive. 

Sin was even more expensive for God: He sacrificed His Son for our sins. God didn’t have to have a way to cover sins. He could have decided that one sin was enough to doom someone with no way out. Then He decided that we could atone for our sins, but it would cost us. When they were wandering in the desert for 40 years, they were shepherds. They ate manna and meat from their flocks, but even that was done very, very sparingly because they didn’t want to eat themselves out of their future. The cost of their sins, though high, was extremely generous because God didn’t have to give them a way out. Plus, it was fair in the sense that they were paying for what they’d done.

This isn’t where God stopped, though. He sent Jesus to be a one-time sacrifice for all our sins. No more bulls and sheep and goats. No more paying for our own mistakes. He paid once and for all time. 

In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. In short (since I brought this up a few posts ago), a guy owes his king more money than he could ever pay back, but the king forgives him. This guy then finds someone who owes him a comparative pittance and throws him in prison when this poor guy can’t pay. The king is furious and throws the servant in jail until he pays every last penny. 

Forgiveness requires sacrifice. If you’re paying someone exactly what is owed, then there’s no forgiveness necessary. A criminal can do his time and be released, but the government isn’t forgiving him. He paid his due and now he’s free to go. The king in this parable would have nothing to forgive if he’d been paid all the money due to him. When he forgave, he gave up the rights he had to that money and took a tremendous loss.

God took an even greater loss for our sins. The sacrifices of the Old Testament weren’t worth our souls’ redemption from Hell, but God viewed them as sufficient for our sakes. There was also a lesson in there, that sin is a debt that must be paid. God took a lesser payment in the Old Testament and then made full payment Himself in the New. 

When someone wrongs you, you may have to take a loss. Whether it’s not paying back a debt, making you look bad in front of your boss so you don’t get a promotion, or physically harming you, there may not be a way they can make amends. When you forgive, you should do so knowing that your forgiveness means their debt to you is paid in full. No holding it against them, no treating them differently, no seeking or hoping for their harm. Paid in full, just as your debt has been because of His sacrifice.

The Nature of Sin, Part 4

In the final part of this series, I want to examine one last aspect of sin: its effects on us. When we think of the results of our sin, what usually comes to mind? The need for Jesus’ sacrifice? Yes, we need it, but there are more effects than just eternal damnation. The results from the people we’ve hurt or the powers that be? I confess that I often consider these first when I realize I was wrong. While I have never been much of a rule-breaker and even less of a law-breaker, I’ve wronged many people over the years and I’ve even apologized more as damage control than because I really felt convicted about what I’d done.

Sin has another effect, though: separation from God. The punishment that we earned with our first sin was Hell, which is not only the everlasting fire, but separation from God as well, which I believe is an even greater torture. Jesus didn’t cry out in pain, not when He was beaten, had the crown of thorns pushed down on His head, when He was flogged, or even when they nailed Him to the cross. He cried out when He felt God turn away from Him (Matthew 27:46). God the Father could not look on His Son because Jesus had the weight of all our sins on Him at that moment and God is so holy that even Jesus was separated from His presence by that sin.

When we sin now, something similar, albeit less drastic, happens. We turn away from God and experience a degree of separation.

Imagine that we’re in a room and talking. You can see my face and my gestures and look into my eyes and I can do likewise. Then you turn your back to me. I’m still in the room with you, and we can still talk, but something has changed. The lines of communication are not what they were before you turned away.

When we sin, we do something similar with God. We turn away from Him (note that it is we who are turning, not Him) and so rob ourselves of the fullness of His presence. We don’t get His wisdom, His peace, His sense of love, or to enjoy perfect faith in Him to look out for our best interests. We’re still saved, but we’re not taking full advantage of what God is offering us.

When someone wrongs you, they’re doing the same thing. They’re separating themselves from the fullness of God they were meant to enjoy. That penalty is far higher than anything that could happen to them on earth. The only reason we don’t see it as a big deal is because we’re already not as close to God as He wants us to be. That separation, though, is very real and of immense importance. They’re taking more away from themselves than you or the law could ever take from them. So when they harm you, you may be justified in being angry (Ephesians 4:26 says to be angry, but not sin), but remember that what they’re doing to themselves is far worse than what they’re doing to you. If anything, they need understanding and compassion more than bitterness or lashing back. There is no punishment worse than separation from our Creator, our Father, and our God.

The Nature of Sin, Part 3

The true reason we must forgive others is that our salvation is based on faith. Jesus died for you and all you have to do to take advantage of that is believe that His sacrifice was enough to pay for your sins. There’s a catch, though: He died for everyone else, too.

In other words, if His sacrifice is for everyone, then you have to choose whether to believe it’s powerful enough to forgive everyone or to forgive no one. There’s no middle ground third option here. Because the root of every sin is choosing yourself over God, the actual mode in which you choose to sin, be it cussing someone out or killing someone, is irrelevant as far as the judgment from God you earn for yourself. One sin, one choice of you instead of Him, is a choice of death everlasting instead of life. And we have all made that choice, most of us many, many times.

This makes your faith in God to forgive others and yourself the same. If you choose not to forgive others, you put yourself in the Judgment Throne of God (which is not exactly your rightful place) and essentially say that Jesus’ blood is insufficient to pay for their sins. If you believe that, then you concurrently believe it’s not enough for your sins, either. Differentiating between your sins and theirs doesn’t work because it’s not your judgment of the importance of the sins that counts; it’s God’s right to judge.

God wants us to have faith in Him and in His Son. We don’t have that faith if we have grudges. And if we don’t have that faith, how can we expect to be forgiven? Let go of your grudges and resentment against others and yourself. Once you truly believe that all sins are equal in God’s eyes and that you have the chance to be forgiven for many times more than what you’re forgiving, forgiving others will come naturally, especially as your faith in these things grows.

The Nature of Sin, Part 2

So why does it matter that your sins are almost entirely against God, regardless of what you’ve done to yourself or someone else?

There are two reasons:

1. When we sin against someone else or ourselves, we need to remember to repent to God as well. Too often, it seems we apologize to the person we wronged or, worse, “let it all blow over.” While it’s good and necessary to apologize when you’re wrong, if only 1% of your sin is against the other person, you’re missing an apology to God. It is His law that you transgressed, much more so than any infringement on someone else’s rights and you’ve harmed someone He cares about enough to die for. If you’ve sinned, go to that person, apologize, and try to make restitution, but don’t forget to ask God for forgiveness as well.

2. If God is willing to forgive everything other people have done to us and everything we have done, we have no reason to hold on to our grudges against others. There’s the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18. He owed 10,000 talents to his king (I saw online that someone calculated this to be roughly $2.25 billion, assuming an $8/hr wage), way more than any normal person could ever hope to pay off. His king forgave the debt, but then this servant grabbed his debtor by the throat and threw him in prison when the debtor couldn’t pay the 100 denarii (roughly $2,000) he owed. This unforgiving servant had just been forgiven of a debt over a million times as large, yet held this pittance against the poor debtor. When the king found out, he was furious and threw the unforgiving servant in jail until every last penny was repaid (assumedly for the rest of his life). 

If sins against you are really 99% against God and He’s willing to forgive the person who wronged you, who are you to refuse to forgive the other 1%? It is God’s judgment on their sin that matters, so your refusal to forgive won’t really harm them. And it’s arrogant to put yourself above God, saying that your judgment on them is not satisfied when He claims it is.

Also, if you’ve been forgiven of such a heavy debt that there’s no way you could every pay it back, what right have you to hold the tiniest little debts that other people owe you against them? There can never be anything done to you that’s worse than what you do to God every time you sin, so there’s never any reason to withhold forgiveness.

Both of these are reasons we should forgive, but there’s a reason we must forgive that goes beyond even these…

A Blank Page

I heard a quip once from a male comic: I thought I was perfect; then I got married. 

I feel that way sometimes. Marriage between two imperfect people will never make either of them perfect. It’s possible they’ll smooth off each other’s rough edges, but even that takes a usually painful grinding process. And there will always be flaws in ourselves, little bits of our lives that we’re often selfish in, and marriage will bring these out for you and your spouse to see.

The amazing thing about my wife is she’s the most forgiving person I know. Every day, I seem to start with a blank page. Past wrongs are forgiven and left in the past. I admire this trait very much about her, especially since I struggled for so long with so many grudges.

God is even better at it than she is, though. God doesn’t play favorites, forgiving some people more easily than others. He doesn’t forgive most sins while holding the really bad ones against you for a while. He doesn’t find a way to blame Himself so He can forgive you more easily. He doesn’t make you earn your place or His trust again. In fact, He knows just how unworthy of His trust you are.

And He welcomes you back with open arms every time. There may or may not be punishment for what you’ve done, for Hebrews 12:6 says He chastises us when we’re wrong, but there will never be rejection. Just two scarred hands reaching out to hug you and welcome you home.