“Withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for your perpetrator to die.”
These words are anathema to the faint of heart. Most of us have blindly accepted the precept that forgiveness is a debt owed. We yearn to hear those magic words, ‘I’m sorry,’ with the right mix of sincerity, ensure that the injuring party is well acquainted with the magnitude of grief inflicted.
Most are shocked to learn that the power of forgiveness was never in the hands of the perpetrator.
This is not to say that a wrong was not committed or that one was not hurt in the process. True forgiveness is often enmeshed with accepted colloquialisms, like “forgive and forget” or “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” While these ditties may conjure up schoolyard bravado, as we mature, we find them lacking in medicinal powers.
Instead, unforgiveness incarcerates the victim with absolutely no impact on the injuring party. It sentences the victim to a prison of “what was,” overriding any opportunity to move beyond the pain.
I recently met a man who’d been incarcerated more than half his life for a crime that he did not commit. Despite vehement protestations of innocence, the doors of justice nevertheless slammed shut, drowning out his pleas. His sentence was finally overturned once DNA evidence corroborated his claims. He’d admitted being angry for nearly half of his 31 years behind bars. It was not until he’d released anger that he could envision a future and a destiny beyond his present circumstances.
Many of us have erroneously incarcerated ourselves to a life choked with grudges, hostility against family members, co-workers, and frenemies, zapping our precious spiritual and mental energies, all the while believing that our perpetrators are suffering as a result. Instead, we are imprisoned without hope of parole by a lack of creativity, poor job performance – and a virtually unlovable disposition!
So, how do we move from history to destiny?
Civilizations make forward progress by adapting to their circumstances or they die off and become extinct. Championship caliber teams shake off devastating losses in order to embrace the next win while at the same time they choose to learn from failure.
Unforgiveness is a habit that can be broken only if one has the courage to forsake anger. Anger in its innate form is not a bad thing. The Bible says, “be angry and sin not.” Staying angry is a small idea in a big world.
To illustrate the difference between big and small ideas, I use the analogy of chickens and eagles. Chickens peck at the ground, eating whatever is in front of them. Conversely, eagles fly above the fray, selecting their sustenance from on high. To rise above our present circumstances like eagles, we must un-habituate the ways of the chicken. We must be willing to soar above temporal thought by embracing transcendent, breakthrough ideas.
We must ask ourselves, “What could we attain if we cast off the weight of yesterday and embrace the galling winds of a changed mind and an open heart?”
We can either elect to have the “Somebody Done Me Wrong Song,” as the soundtrack of our lives or we can also choose to view forgiveness as a gift, and open ourselves to the possibilities of a future that fast forwards us beyond past wrongs.
God did not design us to be victims. We have the power to choose not to be identified by the crosses we bear. Forgiveness never exonerates the one who hurt us nor does it trivialize the depth of our pain. Rather, forgiveness liberates us from the burden of living in the presence of past pain.
We must also disavow the idea that forgiveness and trust are simpatico. We are not required to interact among people that have betrayed us. Trust is earned, it is not a given. It must be accompanied by consistent turnaround behaviors over time.
Jesus promised offenses would come. As they come, we must also be willing to let them go. Forgiveness wipes the slate clean and allows us to risk loving again unencumbered by past injury.
God gives to each of us a measure of His grace that also allows us to receive forgiveness when we are the offensive ones. His grace however is blocked when we are unwilling to extend that same forgiveness we’ve received. Forgiveness is essential for growth and becoming all that God created us to be.
Evangelist Bishop T.D. Jakes of Dallas, Texas accepts the President’s Award during the 35th annual NAACP Image Awards in Los Angeles during a taping of the awards show March 6, 2004.
Below is the excerpt from Bishop Jakes’ new book, “Let it Go.”
Big ideas are only extracted from the heart of big people who think beyond the breach and embrace the potentials of the future. All of us are capable of big ideas and giant advancement, but we rarely experience the liberation of such large thinking. Unbeknownst to most of us, unforgiveness incarcerates us but never rehabilitates, and soon the warden of destruction becomes the coroner of death to our dreams, our hearts, and our hopes. When we do not embrace forgiveness as the key to our freedom, our little ideas will always poison our bigger opportunities for new thought, honest dialogue, and solution-oriented discussion.
The clarion call we get from God himself to forgive is a daunting challenge at best and will never be accomplished by those who will not forsake the comfort of anger for the challenge of moving ahead. As daunting as the talk may be, if we are to enjoy a brighter tomorrow, we must rid ourselves of the grave clothes of where we have been and stitch a newer garment of where we are growing. If you are a Christian reading this, you will likely remember that Jesus folded his death garments and appeared in the garden in bright apparel with no trace of where he had been lingering on him. Mary didn?t even recognize Jesus, even though she knew him well, because he had moved to a new place of power, purpose, and peace. She was expecting him to look like and think like where he had been as opposed to where he was now!
Your past life is too small to fit you as you grow into the fullness of all you were meant to be. It’s like wearing your sixth-grade band uniform to a symphony concert at Carnegie Hall! The garment is too small for where you are and where you are going, and to hold on to it is an expression of your constant need to see all things from the small perspective of a past experience.
Our nation and all nations who have enjoyed freedom did so only when they listened to a bigger idea than where they were at the time. If that is true for us as a civilization, it is also true of us as individuals. We are dwarfed down by the small pettiness of yesterday thinkers when what we really need can only come from those who think in an enlarged state of unleashed imagination!
Are you ready to change clothes? It is my hope as we embrace the challenges of higher-level thinking that we will inevitably, both as a society and more attainably as individuals, evolve beyond the dwarfed ideas that leave us captive to what was. It is my hope that those who think on an altitude beyond attitudes will find nourishment from this book to move far beyond pettiness into the powerful terrain of seven-foot-tall thinking. I believe that God hides the answers to the questions we all want answered in higher places so that only eagles can find them and be nourished by them.