There was a season in my life when I knew that God was making me strong. I didn’t like it. It was hard. I wanted to be somewhere else enjoying vacations, dining out, shopping. You know, the “good life”. Not trudging through dirty puddles and dodging traffic as I made my way from my parking space to my 15th floor cubicle for another day of work!
The problem with becoming stronger is that it takes time.
Like beautiful muscles or a towering, shady oak tree, inner strength is a process that involves pressure, endurance and proper nourishment. No quick fix or magic wand. (I have to admit that frustrates me!)
Sometimes growth actually requires lightening the load. In Acts 27, when the ship carrying the apostle/prisoner Paul was in danger of sinking due to violent north-easter winds, the crew began to throw off cargo, tackle, anchors and food in order to get Paul and the other 275 people safely to shore. That wasn’t in their plan. Not on their itinerary.
One of the things that can run me off course is my attachment to affirmation.
At times I desire to receive direction from other people. My tendency to compare myself with others, my desire to follow them, and my fear of rejection can leave me reeling. So, sometimes I have to jettison some loud voices that cause me angst, confusion, grief and stress.
That’s not easy because it sometimes leaves me alone. I don’t like alone. It’s not fun. But, the removal of activities and things that I might be doing to prove my worth begins to reveal the real life that God has for me. I’m forced to recognize work that needs to be done in my attitude, face my errors, and wrestle with how others have hurt me and how I’ve hurt people. Receiving and giving forgiveness is required.
Why is it that forgiveness is so powerful? So necessary?
Forgiveness heals. It builds a bridge to a place that has been lost, destroyed or abandoned.
Some say that forgiveness is letting go of the past. But how do we do that? Some wounds are deep and infected. Shame is crippling. Fear of additional pain is an enemy. Letting go of bitterness can feel like defeat.
Oprah Winfrey defines it this way,
“Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different, it’s accepting the past for what it was, and using this moment and this time to help yourself move forward.”
I think there’s some truth to Oprah’s definition. We can’t change the past. There are things in this life that we don’t have control over, and we certainly don’t like. “How could God have let that happen?” There are some things that I simply cannot accept.
In Jesus, God offers us a radical way to freedom.
He provides the way to move forward. When Jesus taught us to pray, He included,
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew 6:12
Recently in some worship songs, the words “wrath of God” have startled me because that terminology sounds so harsh and contrary to God’s love. But, I can’t fully appreciate forgiveness without also understanding wrath against unrighteousness. The sin that keeps us from God makes Him angry. Dr. Robert H. Mounce explains God’s wrath as,
“… his attitude of permanent opposition to all that is contrary to his holy and just nature… His wrath is proof of his unyielding commitment to holiness. Were he incapable of wrath, his love would be little more than sentimentality.”
Without wrath, compassion for others is mere sentimentality. God actually redeems the past. By Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, we can live in freedom. I can forgive others and truly love them. I am able to live unshackled by guilt and fear, and love others enough to care about their freedom.
Forgiveness doesn’t come easily. It’s revolutionary.
Relationships are difficult. But the more I live in forgiveness, the more I understand freedom. Like the old spiritual says…
Oh, freedom, oh freedom
Oh freedom over me
And before I’d be a slave
I’d be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free
By accepting forgiveness, and forgiving those who have hurt me, I’m free to live and love.
– Cindy McLeod
Cindy enjoys listening to people and connecting them to God’s work, living and shining one day at a time through Jesus. Married to her husband for 37 years, she is also Mom to three grown sons and two daughters-in-law, and Nana to two creative, joyful grandchildren. She lives in the great city of Little Rock, Arkansas, has worked to advance Christian education for 15 years, and helps her husband run his manufacturing business. Cindy is currently pursuing a MA in Leadership and Evangelism at Wheaton College.