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Holding on to your anger hurts you, not the person you’re angry at. Anger destroys community. It hurts the people around you, including those you love.
As a child (okay, as an adult too in my worst moments) I relished my anger. I would nurture it in secret, fueling my rage with false indictments. If someone crossed me at school I would look for evidence through the coming weeks that the wrongdoer’s very nature was evil. Everyone was on trial and no one received mercy from me.
It was exhausting. Also problematic: I loved people. I have always reveled in others’ company, laughter, and stories. My anger was a barrier.
Soon, I came to the conclusion that dividing the world between the unforgiveable and those who had not yet made me angry wasn’t worth the energy. As my faith grew, I started letting go of my anger and more readily accepting people’s faults and mistakes. I became more aware of the hurt I caused. With time, the words “sorry” and “I forgive you” came to me. Anger was less a part of my daily life.
Yet this was not the end of my struggle with forgiveness. Although I was more willing to forgive and let go of my anger, I still found a few people’s actions unforgiveable. My list of unforgiveable people and things seemed fairly rational:
Here’s the rub: Jesus told his disciples to forgive. When pressed how many times they should forgive he was clear: 7x70 (Matthew 18:22). I don’t think Jesus was really saying that if you forgave 490 times you could quit. Rather he was suggesting two things 1) forgiveness is a process that sometimes takes many attempts 2) forgiveness has no limit. Later in Matthew 18, through parable, Jesus speaks of unconditional forgiveness to anyone who seeks such mercy.
Unconditional forgiveness. A process of reconciliation that can take multiple attempts and sometimes a lifetime. I’m exhausted just writing these words. I can’t get on any soapbox in this blog. I’m still working hard on the forgiveness that must take place to heal my old wounds. I still think my freshman English teacher was a jerk and I secretly hope in his next life he’s dyslexic! I’m still having a hard time with that one. What is I were a war refugee?! Or a survivors of abuse?! Forgiveness for the big stuff is hard, hard work.
At the end of the day, it comes down to this for me: Jesus was right. Holding on to your anger hurts you, not the person you’re angry at. Anger destroys community. It hurts the people around you, including those you love. Relishing anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die (I’ve heard this saying many times, but have no idea it’s origin). It’s unhealthy. It’s bad. It doesn’t work.
So, forgive. But know that forgiveness is a process. It should be unconditional, as impossible as that sounds. But then, holding on to anger is more exhausting that forgiveness. I would rather be foolish and forgive than angry and righteous.
Sometimes forgiveness is easy, other times it’s next to impossible. When my imperfect soul can’t seem to forgive, I still want to stand on the side of forgiveness. I want to tell my soul, long before my soul can do it, that I should forgive. And sometimes, that is all my soul needs to hear; forgiveness sprouts like a young sapling and eventually takes deep root. Other times, I have to tell my soul again and again and plant many seeds. Yet as I wait for the tree of life to grow, I pray that even as I struggle to forgive, I am myself forgiven.
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.