Suddenly, his voice broke. After hours of conversation, a pastor friend felt safe enough to share a very painful experience. Someone in the church he serves had made some vicious and personal attacks on him.
They intentionally slandered his character, spread false rumors about him, and attacked his integrity. The whole thing blind-sided him and many people left the church based on this false information.
Fortunately, after a couple years, the church stabilized and came out of it. But recently, while conducting a funeral for someone in the congregation, his primary attackers (a couple who had long since left the church) came through the front doors.
My friend said, “When I saw them, my first reaction was I wanted to rip their heads off.” (In Christian love, of course.) He literally had to go to another part of the building and calm himself before he could lead the service. To him, they felt like monsters.
Keep in mind, this is one of the Godliest, most gentle, most loving men I know. Did the rage he felt mean that he had lost his faith? No, it simply meant he had been deeply hurt.
What Comes Natural
When someone deeply, personally and unfairly hurts us, our natural reaction is to hold a grudge and want revenge.
Is it wrong to feel anger, even intense anger? No. God made us that way. We are far more emotional than we are rational.
Our challenge from Scripture is this:
In your anger do not sin.Ephesians 4:26 (NIV)
The key is to keep our anger from leading us to selfish or hurtful behavior. If we don’t, we sink to the level of our offenders and set in motion an unending stream of retaliation and bitterness that ties us to them forever.
Here are four ways to untie from our monsters.
1. Uncover the Offense
What actually happened? It often helps to write this out. Clarify what was lost or denied. Like an archeological dig, we need to unearth what might have been buried for a long time.
What is the scope of this offense? How wide and long is it? How deep does it go? Where is the bottom? What did it cost us?
2. Unleash my Grief
For many of us, anger is deeply connected to our loss. The monster in our lives took something from us, something important.
It might be a friend, a spouse or the ability to trust. Perhaps it was money, confidence or a big dream. It could have been our self-esteem, a sense of belonging or a sense of safety.
Grieving allows us to feel the loss, to stop ignoring, minimizing or denying its impact. We don’t get over deep losses. We absorb them. They become part of our story. Active grieving gives us time to hurt and time to heal.
3 Understand my Offender
At first glance, this may seem impossible. Please know that understanding our offender does not mean excusing him or her or minimizing the pain that this person caused. It certainly does not mean tolerating that kind of hurtful behavior.
Understanding our offender simply means realizing that he or she is not a monster. That person is merely a weak and wounded human being who acted out of his or her hurt to cause our hurt. Understanding who our offender is can humanize that person and drain some anger from our life.
4. Untie my Offender
Many of us are angry because we are all tied up in knots. Frankly, I don’t know of anything that can do more damage in a human soul than a spirit of unforgiveness.
A sure sign of this spirit is a hardness in a person’s heart.
Consider these questions. “Is there a knot inside my heart right now? Am I tying some past wrong to someone and making sure the knot stays tight? Do I want to make them pay for the awful thing they did to me?”
If so, who is it? Don’t brush this off too quickly. What face pops up on the screen of your mind? It could be someone from a long time ago. Studies show that many people are still angry at their ex-spouse 10 years or more after the divorce. Is there a lingering grudge still being held inside? Scripture says,
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.Colossians 3:13 (NIV)
How did Jesus do that? Completely, unconditionally, from the heart, never to be dredged back up again.
I like the way Gary Smalley describes it. “The original definition of forgiveness means that you untie or release someone. As long as you remain bitter and unforgiving, you’re tied to that person with emotional knots.”
Forgiveness is how we untie someone. Sometimes that happens in a single act of release. More often, it is like peeling an onion. There are layers of untying we must do.
Either way, to experience that sweet release, we must get started. What email or letter do you need to write? Is there a text or call do you need to make? What person do you need to sit down with and say,
“I’ve realized that I have been holding something against you, and I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Even though those things you did really hurt me, I’m giving up my rights to make you pay for it. I’m not going to hold that against you anymore. I forgive you. I am untying you from that hurt and untying myself from you.”
Imagine for a moment how utterly freeing that would feel. Now, give it a whirl.
Forgiving For Real
“This is great, Roger, but does this mean I have to let that person back into my life?” you may wonder. I’ll talk about that next week.
(To catch part 1 of this series, go here: https://rogerross.online/jail-break-getting-free-from-unforgiveness/)
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A native of Cambridge, Illinois, Roger has served as a pastor in Texas, the British Channel Island of Guernsey, and Illinois. While in Illinois, he led teams that planted two new churches and served for 10 years as senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Springfield. It was his privilege to serve as the Director of Congregational Excellence in the Missouri Conference before coming into his current role as an executive coach and specialist with Spiritual Leadership, Inc. (SLI). His passions include SCUBA diving in warm blue water, playing board games with family and friends, and teaching evangelism and church planting as an adjunct professor at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology. He also has a weakness for golf. Roger is the author of three books, “Meet The Goodpeople: Wesley’s 7 Ways to Share Faith,” “Come Back: Returning to the Life You Were Made For,” and “Come Back Participant Guide,” all through Abingdon Press. Roger is married to Leanne Klein Ross, and they have two adult children, Zach and Jane (who’s married to Sam).Owner of Yellow Bird