So many people I know have commented how glad they are to see 2008 in their rear-view mirror, and how they’re looking forward to so much change in 2009. For many of them, there were some serious crises they had to endure, some painful experiences they’ve undergone, and they want to put it all behind them and forget that 2008 ever happened. And it got me thinking. Maybe the best way to start out this new year is by REALLY letting go of the troubles of last year. And it may be as simple as the word “forgive”.
Some people really know how to hold on to a grudge. It’s almost a badge of honor for them, or like an old scar they’re proud to show off. Conversations regularly include some reminder of the wrong that was done to them — sometimes 1, 2, 5, or even 10 years ago, and often by people long gone out of their lives or even dead. Yet the trace of bitterness remains.
To some extent, I think we’ve all had to deal with this in our own lives. No one goes through life unscathed. But moving into a happier new year means having to be able to just “Let it go”.
Usually this is easier said than done. But for me, it’s become a deliberate exercise, something I continually have to work on. The word “forgive” has so many goody-goody, holy attributes associated with it that I can’t seem to live up to. I end up trying to rationalize the other person’s position so that I have a reason to forgive them, to help ease my own anger. “Well, the reason they did this was because … so I guess I can understand that, and I can forgive them.” But that really defeats the spirit of forgiveness. And what if I can’t justify their position?
I have to remind myself of the core meaning of the word “forgive”: to release, let go. In that simple sense, devoid of artificial “spiritual” baggage, it becomes a simple matter of choice, not feeling. I “choose” to release the offense and the offender. Not because they deserve it, not because their side is defensible, and not even because I feel like it. I choose to let it go because Jesus wants me to let it go, and because it’ll only hurt ME if I hold on to it. I let it go so I can move on.
This probably sounds really basic, but for me it was a great revelation. It’s a choice. You just let it go as an act of your will, not because you feel holy. And when the feelings of anger or hurt come back (you may never actually forget the injury), you just remind yourself, “I’ve already released that,” and move on. Sometimes it takes several remindings, but eventually I am able to put something behind me and not let it effect my relationship with the person who hurt me.
It’s an on-going effort, to be sure. But forgiveness is at the core of our faith. If we can’t do this, I wonder how we’ll ever grow. If we want to move into this great new year of change and blessing, we need to learn to move beyond the painful past. We need to learn to just “let it go.”