It has felt like my prayers are “bouncing off the ceiling,” as they say. My journal, normally filled with long, sprawling, written prayers and copied Bible verses, has only been sparsely notated – dutiful entries, sometimes only one line, containing the date and a reference to the scripture passage I read. I’ve felt lonely during my times with the Lord. The times that are normally my water…have felt kind of empty and dry.
What’s going on? The scriptures hold a key.
“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”Mark 11:25 NIV
“‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”Matthew 6:12-15 NIV
I’ve lost a friend, and it feels a bit like a bad break-up. Day after day, my bitterness and anger linger. They fester, and grow. I dwell on all the negatives; the hurtful things she has said and done. Meanwhile, the good memories from before – from when I thought she was like a sister – fade and almost disappear. Eventually I convince myself that surely, I was wrong about her. Surely, our latest interactions prove who she really is. Who she really was, all along.
I know that God requires me to forgive her. I’ve asked Him to help me do this, but haven’t made much progress. There’s a song by the Dixie Chicks that could have been written about me in times like these:
I’m not ready to make nice“Not Ready to Make Nice” by the Dixie Chicks
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell, and I don’t have time
To go ’round and ’round and ’round
It’s too late to make it right
I probably wouldn’t if I could
‘Cause I’m mad as hell
Can’t bring myself to do what it is
You think I should
Truth be told, though, I don’t want to stay here. I can’t. So I asked the Lord one evening: What is holding me back? Why can I not forgive?
A perplexing thought immediately came to mind: It’s easier to hang on to the anger.
Easier? Easier than what?
Than remembering the good times.
Because you must face your grief. You must mourn what you have lost.
The tears flowed, and they flow again even as I write this. Yes, facing the hurt and loss and mourning that things may never be the same between us again, is harder than rehashing the things I am angry about. Sometimes we think that anger is strong. But in actuality, it requires more strength to turn from anger than it does to remain in it.
“Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.”Psalm 37:8 NIV
“‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”Ephesians 4:26-27 NIV
And yet, that is what I must do. I must remember her for the laughter. The times we prayed for each other. Brought each other food. Watched and loved each other’s kids. All of that was real. Those memories can soften my heart, temper my harsh feelings, and allow me to view her in a balanced way.
In all relationships, you will eventually see both the good and the bad of a person. To be accepted in the fullness of yourself – in all of the good, and all of the bad – is an act of grace. If you have experienced this yourself, you know how great it feels. If you truly know Christ, you have experienced this grace. And He expects you to extend it to others.
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”James 3:9-10 NIV
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”Ephesians 4:31-32 NIV
At church recently, my pastor reminded us from the pulpit that our forgiveness of others is one way we show the world what Jesus is like. Is Jesus full of anger, resentment, and offense? Does He never let go of our sins? That hasn’t been my experience of Him. And as His follower, I desire to show others that He is someone they would want to get to know.
“The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”Psalm 103:8-12 NIV
Maybe things have permanently changed between my friend and I, and we need to go our separate ways. Maybe things will never be the same. Then again, maybe they will be someday. She’s still my sister in Christ, so perhaps when we get to Heaven, God will sit us both down (the two unruly daughters that we are), and talk us through our rivalry. Whatever the case, for the time being, I can love her from afar, and remain open to the possibility of reconciliation. It’s what I hope she will do for me.
What do you do when you experience divisions within the family of Christ? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below!