I have an uncle that hasn’t spoken to my family in over twenty years. There was a family disagreement years and years ago and he cut himself off from us. I saw him about five years ago at a family member’s funeral and he completely ignored us.
Then last year when my grandfather died, my uncle’s father, he was too stubborn and angry and proud and unforgiving to come to the funeral. He never said goodbye to his father. He wept into the phone when he was told the news, but never came around, never called his mom, never paid his respects. I can’t imagine an opinion I would hold on to so tightly that I couldn’t let go to attend my father’s funeral.
I come from a long line of unforgivers. We don’t back down easily or sometimes, it seems, ever. We are right and you are wrong.
Unforgiveness will destroy you. I can tell you this from experience. I can show you what unforgiveness does to relationships and marriages and friendships. Unforgiveness ravages. It leaves holes and scars. It ruins.
More importantly, it makes it impossible for God to forgive us if we can’t forgive others. Following the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew chapter 6, verse 14 says
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly father will also forgive you.
And if you don’t, then he can’t. It’s just how God works.
I had a good friend of over fourteen years stop talking to me one day because she didn’t like what I said to her. I considered her one of my best friends, we were accountability partners for years, and we’d been youth leaders at church together. We were a good match and fun friends (am I allowed to say that about myself and another person?). I had been wrestling with a relationship that she was having, I felt it was bad for her and that it was damaging her walk. I told her about it and she was so angry at me that she stopped talking to me. Like completely stonewalled me, completely cut me out of her life. That was almost five years ago. We’re still not friends because of her anger and unforgiveness.
I’m not going to pretend that her unforgiveness didn’t really hurt. I’m also not going to pretend that it doesn’t bother me sometimes still. But I also don’t wish for her friendship back. The way she talked about me to our mutual friends when it first happened was shocking. I stayed quiet and didn’t defend myself because I didn’t want our friends to pick sides in something that had nothing to do with them, while she went on a rampage to destroy. It told me a lot about her character. It made me miss what we had, but not wish for her friendship back.
Unforgiveness did that. It destroyed our friendship.
Unforgiveness destroyed my uncle’s life. It made it impossible for him to bury his dad. It made it impossible for him to grieve with his mom.
Unforgiveness is the work of the devil. If we get so wrapped up in making sure we’re right or making sure people know they have mistreated or insulted us by cutting people out of our lives or refusing to talk about the issue, the devil wins. Now we can’t come before our father and ask for forgiveness. If we can’t forgive, he can’t extend that grace to us.
What a destructive, sneaky tool of the enemy.
I don’t want to be held captive under that destroyer. I don’t want my life to be less because I can’t forgive someone. Even if it’s for completely selfish reasons, you’ve got to forgive. I’ve got to forgive. There is no good that can come from holding on so tightly to every wrong that has been inflicted on us. It’s almost like we think we can play God, that we get to dictate the course of everything now because of one transgression, one error.
Unforgiveness eats away at you. I know this because I’ve held on to unforgiveness like a righteous fool. I’ve seen the damage it does. I’ve also seen how much it gets in the way of God’s plan for our lives. It messes things up good. I’ve been the unforgiver and the one who won’t be forgiven. They’re both exhausting and painful.
I don’t know if my uncle wishes now that he had behaved differently. He doesn’t have kids of his own so maybe he doesn’t quite understand the depths of love his mother and his family feel for him. Maybe he can’t imagine that they would welcome him back with open arms, that all he’d have to do is say the word. I don’t know if my friend wishes our relationship had turned out differently. I’d like to say she does. I’d like to think we were better than that end.
But I don’t truly know. Unforgiveness leaves an unsettled feeling in our lives and keeps us from God. I’ve got enough unnecessary things distracting me from God to worry about not forgiving someone too. Let’s do better than unforgiveness.