This past week, in conversations with friends, I’ve heard both sides:
“I can’t wait to get home, I’m so excited to see everyone!”
“It is so difficult to be around my parents, I never felt like they were there for me when I was a kid.”
“I just want to snuggle in with my siblings and play games, laugh, eat and talk!”
“I’ve lived in my sister’s shadow all my life and it is so hard when she’s here.”
“I can hardly wait to see my children!”
“Why are my children so angry?”
“My mother-in-law died over thirty years ago, and her words still hurt me.”
“Nobody is coming home.”
“Everyone will be here!”
We all want to be the family that eagerly awaits each other’s arrival, that shares hugs and laughter, that has joyous memories of childhood Christmases spent together, and that shares love freely. However, many can’t find the love no matter how hard we search. What makes the difference?
There are so many reasons for heartache at Christmas, and some hurts come with deep scars that require more discussion than a blog can cover. But some broken relationships are the result of little more than unforgiveness.
Our pastor once said that marriages end, not because two people fall out of love, but because two people fall out of forgiveness. I think that is the case in family relationships also. When one family member ceases to forgive, relationships break.
As Christians we are all adopted into the Family of God and our relationship with our Father exists because God forgave our sins, enabling us to come into his presence (Ephesians 1:5-9). This eternal forgiveness is given when we choose to believe in Jesus as our Lord and our Savior, and it is called justification (Romans 4:18-25).
Justification is a gift from God to you and me — sinners saved by grace.
However, we sin daily, so we must daily ask for forgiveness. You see, our daily sins don’t remove our salvation, or our justification, but they do become a barrier to intimacy with our Father. So, we must pray as Jesus taught us, “today, please forgive my trespasses (my sins) as I forgive others” (Matthew 6:9-13). We must daily ask for forgiveness; and daily God forgives. He never withholds forgiveness.
Just as our sin becomes a barrier that prevents us from having an intimate and open relationship with God, so to our sins are a barrier that interrupts relationships with our family members. We must seek forgiveness for the hurtful things we have done as soon as we become aware of them.
Unfortunately, in families, we are often not aware that we have hurt our family members. I know I am guilty of that failure. I tend to live in my own little universe and I say things unintentionally, or act disrespectfully, or fail to do what I should and someone’s feelings get hurt.
I am quick to ask for forgiveness and my sweet family is quick to forgive; I think that is why we enjoy being together. But, as I mentioned above, I know many people who say they cannot forgive their family members because the wounds are too deep and the pain is all-encompassing.
Seriously? You’d rather hold on to pain than let the freedom of forgiveness flood your soul?
What is forgiveness? Forgiveness is letting go of the rope. What? Imagine when you were hurt that you grabbed hold of a bell rope. Every time you think of that hurt you pull the rope and the bell rings. Sometimes you pull over and over in a frenzy (like at Christmas when the person you are angry toward shows up and all you can think about is your pain).
When you choose to forgive, you let go of the rope. You just let go. Oh, the bell will continue to ring on its own, (reminding you of your hurt) but without your pulling the rope, the rings get further and further apart and eventually stop.
When you forgive, you don’t grab hold of the rope anymore. You don’t bring up the past. You don’t tuck it away for ammunition. It is done.
If you are a Christian, you have experienced forgiveness. God has forgiven you for every single sin — past, present, and future. He has removed your sin from you as far as the east is from the west. Your sin will never be held against you. Every sin was on Jesus when he was on the cross in your place.
Not only have you experienced forgiveness, you are called to extend forgiveness. Have you? There is no option to say, “I can’t forgive.”
Withholding forgiveness is disobedience (Colossians 3:13), and it not only prevents us from having a relationship with the person from whom we withhold forgiveness, it prevents us from having an intimate relationship with God.
It is impossible to forgive if we wait until we feel like it because we will never feel like it. Unforgiveness locks us up in a cycle of hurt and bitterness and anger. The only thing that will break the cycle is choosing to forgive. Forgiveness is a mental choice, not an emotion. We choose to forgive. We choose to let go.
Are you harboring unforgiveness? Will you give yourself the gift of forgiveness this Christmas? Will you extend forgiveness and ask for it. Will you pray, “forgive my trespasses as I forgive those who trespass against me,” so that you have a renewed relationship with your Father this Christmas?
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