Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The Heart of Forgiveness: "You Owe Me Nothing"

"Transitioning from the wreckage of abuse to the freedom of forgiveness will require honesty, courage, and an incredibly sponge-like capacity to CHOOSE to live in the light of God's healing love.  Do we REALLY want to be free? Do we REALLY want to be happy?  Then the journey towards our freedom and joy must begin at the Cross". 
(A continuation from my last post.)

The wreckage of abuse comes in many shapes and sizes.  How it manifests in our lives will depend on the severity, the source, and the secrecy of the abuse. Without exception, anger and hostility towards our abuser, and often towards God, is a symptom that we are still processing our pain, still trying to make sense of what has happened in our past.

The context of this blog is not a place for full disclosure of my personal story but let me just be honest enough to admit that anger has been a problem for me.   It wasn't until about 6 years ago that the truth of God's Word finally broke through and gave sweet release to anger's punishing grip.  Instead of love and truth, anger had become the defining filter that would determine my actions and propel me forward in one destructive direction after another.  

It was while reading 2 pages in Nancy Leigh DeMoss's book: Lies Women Believe and the Truth that Sets Them Free that I was finally brought face to face with my anger.  For the first time in my life, I recognized that my anger was directly related to my own emotional pain and frustration about people, about life, about my own insecurities and fears.  Getting angry was my way of declaring to the world and myself that "I have the right to get upset about this.  That person has hurt me and that person is going to pay".  In a twisted kind of way, I had given myself permission to behave like a 3 year old, to have a full blown temper tantrum,  and to just get the anger "out of my system" while lashing at others with my words.   My anger was MY entitlement and no-one was going to take that "right" away from me. 

Even as I write these words, within the context of numerous posts about abuse, I need to acknowledge that I too have been an abusive individual.  There were times in my past that I have used abusive words and actions to bring emotional harm to those closest to me.  As odd as this may sound, abusive personalities most often hurt those they "love" the most. 

The hardest thing about confession is that there is absolutely nothing we can do to erase the charges and offences against us. We are guilty as charged!  We can't pay our way out, cry our way out, over-achieve our way out, or even preach our way out. Our only hope, our only prayer rises from the ashes of a broken and repentant heart: "Dear Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner."

And in the humble acknowledgement of such a prayer, the precious blood of Jesus wiped away the stains on my blackened heart and washed me whiter than snow.  Jesus paid the price that I could never pay. His love canceled my debt completely and He set me free to love him, to serve him, and to follow him all of my days.

So the stage is swept clean and life is good....until a new character speaks out and I don't like the script.  Here we go again!!  I'm being ignored, misunderstood, and misrepresented. However, this time I can feel the brakes beneath my feet as my renewed "filter" searches for deeper truth than what my eye can see.  In light of the debt that Jesus canceled on my account, how will I move forward without lashing out in my old, familiar, and angry ways?

It's now that the parable of the unmerciful servant from Matthew 18 begins to tighten it's application over my heart and the anger that was quickly rising begins to subside.  This parable is all about how our sin is like currency.  The words of the Lord's prayer, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors", conveys this same sense of a debt that is "owed" and a debt that needs to be "forgiven".  We have all either said these words ourselves or heard others say them: "I'm going to make them pay" or "It's pay-back time" when we want to get even with someone who has hurt us.

So as my anger rises, I am instantly confronted with this choice:  Will I demand full payment from my offender for what has been done to me?  Or will I release them into God's hands so that He alone, as a faithful and righteous Judge, will deal with them as He thinks is best?  
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[a]was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[b] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

Living in a world full of sin, brokenness, and abuse, we can be assured that our journey on this earth will be full of experiences with people who will disappoint us, people who won't meet our often faulty expectations of them, and even people who are actually intent on doing harm to us in one way or another.  There will be so many times that we will feel angered, we'll want revenge, and we'll desire to "pay others back" for what they've done.  Yet God's word makes it clear that we're not to go down that dangerous path of pay-back mentality.  We are encouraged to feel our anger, recognize it for what it is, sometimes let it motivate us towards making healthy changes, yet at the same time we are to dig deep into the Spirit's reserve of self control.  The warning against holding onto anger indefinitely is equally clear:  "in your anger do not sin, and do not let the sun go down on your anger".

There are 2 absolute essentials I desperately need working in my life if I'm going to survive this journey without bitterness and anger taking root in my heart:

The first essential for living in freedom is a solid, biblical understanding of healthy, relational Boundaries.  Townsend and Cloud have written some excellent resources on this subject for all ages and all types of relationships, including Boundaries in Marriage (highly recommended reading). Establishing healthy boundaries in my own life has helped me identify where my responsibilities begin and where they end and it has given me permission to say "no" without feeling guilty.

The second essential is actually more important than the first but it ties into my concluding thoughts, so I'm putting it last. The most influential truth that has kept my unhealthy anger from becoming a root of bitterness has been learning to prayerfully surrender the perceived "offences" of others over to the Lord while declaring to the offender, silently in my own heart, "You owe me nothing". These 4 simple words are spoken with the understanding that by these words I also mean, "You owe me no apology, no changed behaviour, and no kept promises".  By these words I also acknowledge to my own heart that my hope and expectation is in the Lord alone!!  I know that people will continue to disappoint and let me down, as surely as I will disappoint and let them down.  Yet I am to release the "debt" of others IN THE SAME WAY AS my own "debt" has mercifully been released.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled ALL that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’

Teachings on forgiveness, such as this one, should never be misunderstood as saying that every offence should ONLY be responded to with forgiveness. Forgiveness is all about keeping ourselves free from wanting to become the judge and jury over the one who has offended us.  Let me make it very clear that there are times when courts and justice systems MUST become involved and sins must be dealt with harshly and publicly so that the perpetrators will be stopped and hopefully brought to a state of repentance themselves. In the meantime, healthy boundaries need to be enforced to protect our own hearts as well as the vulnerable and the weak.  

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