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Do Yourself a Favor...ForgiveLearn How to Take Control of Your Life Through Forgiveness
By Meyer, Joyce
FaithWordsCopyright © 2012 Meyer, Joyce
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It Isn’t Fair!
Susanna is a forty-eight-year-old woman who grew up on a remote farm in a tiny Texas town. Her parents were extremely poor, with little income and half a dozen children.
Susanna was the youngest, and her sunny disposition, pretty features, and unusual intelligence served her well from early on. She finished high school and went on to be one of the best salespeople where she worked in a small company that manufactured clothing. Eventually, she started her own business, manufacturing women’s apparel. She loved her business; it gave her a sense of accomplishment and value, and she gave herself to it wholeheartedly. She met and married the man of her dreams, and they had two children. As the years progressed, so did her business, and by the time she was in her early forties, she and her husband were running a multimillion-dollar company together.
Susanna and her husband enjoyed all that wealth could provide: a magnificent home, cars, boats, and a summer cottage. Their vacations took them around the world. Their two daughters attended the best schools and enjoyed the most prominent social circles. They grew up and enjoyed successful careers and families of their own. Life could not have been any better, or so they thought. Although the couple attended church occasionally out of a sense of duty, their relationship with God was not personal, nor did they genuinely consider God’s will when making decisions. Even the family relationships were more surface ones rather than deep, honest, and intimate.
One day, suddenly and without warning, Susanna learned that her husband was having an affair and that it wasn’t the first time. She was shocked and deeply hurt. Not only was he unfaithful, but she also learned he had plunged the company into debt and a tremendous amount of the corporate money was unaccounted for. He had been taking money from the business she started and using it to entertain his girlfriends and live a secret life.
The marriage dissolved quickly, and Susanna was left with a business that was deep in debt and on the verge of collapse. Then the economy tanked and retail sales plunged downward, which resulted in Susanna’s company going under. Her anger and bitterness toward her ex-husband, whom she blamed for everything, was increasing daily.
Susanna turned to her children for understanding and comfort, but they resented her for the years she had worked so hard and failed to spend much time with them. They also felt that part of their father’s infidelity was due to their mother loving her business more than anything else in the world. They were busy with their own lives and ignored their mother’s needs and problems just as they felt she had ignored theirs when they needed her. Susanna needed support, but there was none.
She turned to her sister, but believe it or not she seemed to revel in Susanna’s distress. She felt that her years of success and “easy living” had made her selfish and inconsiderate. The rift that ensued between them was massive, and they still don’t speak to this day after eight years.
Her children, while polite, don’t call often or invite her to visit. Susanna has become increasingly bitter and blames everyone else for her unhappiness. Not once has she considered that some of the problems could have been her fault, and not once has she even considered forgiving and asking for forgiveness.
She is angry with her ex-husband. She is angry with herself for not having seen that her marriage and business were falling apart right before her eyes. She is angry that her children haven’t done more for her, and she is angry at God because her life has turned out to be so disappointing.
Who Wouldn’t Be Angry?
Most people in this situation would be angry, but they wouldn’t have to be if they understood the love of God and knew that He has already provided a way out of this kind of misery. The number of lives that are ruined through anger and unforgiveness is astonishing. Some of them don’t know any better, but many of them are Christians who do know better but are unwilling to make the right choice. They live according to their feelings, rather than moving beyond them to do the better thing. They lock themselves in a prison of negative emotions and limp along in life rather than living it fully and vibrantly.
Yes, most people would be angry, but there is a better way: they could do themselves a favor and forgive. They could shake off their disappointment and get reappointed in God. They could look to the future instead of the past. They could learn from their mistakes and endeavor to not make them again.
Although most of us don’t find ourselves in such dire circumstances as Susanna was in, there is certainly no end of things to be angry about… the neighbor’s dog, the government, taxes, not getting the pay increase that was expected, traffic, a husband who leaves his socks and underwear on the bathroom floor, or the kids showing no appreciation for all you do for them. Then there are the people who say unkind things to us and never apologize, parents who never showed affection, siblings who were favored, false accusations, and on and on the list goes in a never-ending cascade of opportunities to either be angry or forgive and move on.
Our natural reaction is upset, offense, bitterness, anger, and unforgiveness.
But who are we hurting by nursing these negative emotions? The person who committed the offense? Sometimes it does hurt people if we shut them out of our lives through anger, but quite often they don’t even know or care that we are angry! We walk around preoccupied with our upset, replaying the offense over and over again in our minds. How much time have you spent imagining what you want to tell the person who made you angry, all the while upsetting yourself more? When we allow ourselves to do this, we actually hurt ourselves much more than the offender.
Medical studies have shown that anger can cause everything from ulcers to a bad attitude. At the very least it is a waste of precious time. Every hour that we stay angry is an hour we have used and will never get back. In Susanna’s and her family’s case, they wasted years. Think of the times they missed in fellowship because of all the anger among them. Life is unpredictable; we don’t know how much time we have left with our loved ones. What a shame it is to deprive ourselves of good memories and relationships because of anger. I also wasted a lot of years being angry and bitter because of injustices done to me early in life. My attitude affected me in many negative ways, and it overflowed onto my family. Angry people always take their anger out on someone because what is in us does come out of us. We may think we have our anger hidden from everyone, but it finds a way to express itself eventually.
The things that happen to us are often not fair, but God will recompense us if we trust and obey Him. Wanting revenge is a normal desire, but it is not one we can indulge in. We want to be paid back for damage done, and God promises to do just that.
For we know Him Who said, Vengeance is Mine [retribution and the meting out of full justice rest with Me]; I will repay [I will exact the compensation], says the Lord. And again, The Lord will judge and determine and solve and settle the cause and the cases of His people.
This Scripture and others like it have encouraged me to let go of my anger and bitterness and trust God to repay me in His own way. I strongly encourage you to take the same leap of faith anytime you feel you have been treated unfairly.
The people we need to forgive usually don’t deserve it and sometimes don’t even want it. They may not know they offended us, or might not care, yet God asks us to forgive them. It would seem outrageously unfair except for the fact that God does the same things for us that He is asking us to do for others. He forgives us over and over again and continues loving us unconditionally.
It helps me to forgive if I take the time to remember all the mistakes I have made and needed not only God’s forgiveness, but people’s as well. My husband was very gracious and merciful toward me during many years while I was working through a healing process from the trauma of child abuse. My belief is that “hurting people hurt people.” I know that I hurt my family and was unable to build healthy relationships, but I certainly did not do it purposely. It was the result of my own pain and ignorance. I had been hurt, and all I thought about was myself. I was hurting, so I hurt others. I really needed understanding, confrontation at the right time, and loads of forgiveness, and God worked through Dave to give me that. I try to remember now that God often wants to work through me to do the same things for someone else.
Have you ever needed forgiveness—from people as well as from God? I am sure you have. Remember those times, and it will enable you to forgive when you need to.
Please Check Your Anger at the Door
Have you ever watched an old western movie where the cowboys were required to check their weapons at the door before entering a saloon? I have, and it is a good example to use when we think of anger. Anger is like a weapon we carry with us so we can lash out at people who appear to be on the verge of hurting us. Just like the cowboys would pull their pistols to defend themselves unless they checked them at the door, we pull our anger in defense on a regular basis. Let’s form a habit of consciously leaving our anger at the door before we enter anyplace. Let’s refuse to take it with us when we go out for the day. Consciously say, “I am going out today without anger. I am taking love, mercy, and forgiveness with me and will use them generously when needed.”
I have found that talking to myself is a big help. I can talk myself into things and out of things. I can talk myself into getting angry and into getting over being angry. Learn to reason with yourself. Say to yourself, “It is a waste of time to stay angry and it is displeasing to God, so I am going to purposely let it go.” I remind myself that I am doing myself a favor by choosing peace and refusing anger.
We may not feel like doing the right thing, but we can either live to please God or to please ourselves. If we choose pleasing God, then we will do many things that will be the opposite of what we might feel like doing. We all have feelings, but we are more than our feelings. We also have a free will and can choose what we know will be the best for us.
Anger Is Strong and Destructive
Anger is indignation, vengeance, and wrath. It begins as a feeling and progresses to expression in words and actions if it is not checked. It is one of the strongest passions and is very destructive. God’s Word teaches us to control anger because it never produces the righteousness that He desires (James 1:20).
We are instructed by God to be slow to anger. When we feel ourselves starting to boil over with anger, we need to put a lid on it. We can stir ourselves up and make our problems worse by thinking about and talking about them, which equates to feeding them… or… the minute our feelings start to rise up we can do something about them. Be aggressive against the emotion of anger and say, “I refuse to stay angry. I refuse to take offense. God has given me self-control, and I will use it.”
I was told a story about a pastor who invited a guest speaker to his church. The pastor was sitting in the front row of the church listening to the speaker, when without using wisdom the speaker began to say some negative things about the way the pastor handled some of his church business. He was making a general comment and I am sure not intending to offend anyone, but his words were critical and cutting. While the speaker was speaking, the pastor softly repeated in a whisper, “I will not be offended, I will not be offended.” He was an older minister who had more wisdom than his speaker. He recognized the zeal of his guest but also knew that the speaker lacked knowledge. The pastor refused to let his guest’s words offend him.
I know what this is like because I am on television sharing the Gospel message, and I hear other people in ministry who are not on television make negative statements about “televangelists,” which is what they un-lovingly call those of us who are called to the media ministry.
It is very easy to judge someone if we have not walked in their shoes, and when I hear people make unkind comments, I try to remember that they are talking about something they know nothing about. People say things like “Those televangelists are just trying to get people’s money.” “Those televangelists don’t do anything to build the church; they are just out for themselves and are not kingdom-of-God minded.” Of course, there are some people in every profession who have impure motives, but to lump everyone into that category is totally wrong and not in agreement with Scripture. When I hear things like this or am told that someone said these things, I decide not to be offended, because it won’t change anything and certainly won’t do me any good.
When I invite people to receive Jesus Christ on television, our ministry receives an overwhelming response. We send them a book that instructs them to get involved in a good local church, but that might be something that a critic does not know. I am committed to doing what I know God has called me to do and not to worry about my critics, because I won’t answer to them at the end of my life but to God alone.
It is easy to judge others, thinking we know “the whole story.” But very few of us do; that’s reserved for God. I am sure you have examples of your own, and the best thing to do is to pray for the person whose words brought offense, make a decision not to take the offense, and choose to believe the best of them. We should all pray that we don’t hurt others or give offense with our own words.
The Emotion of Anger
People living without God in their lives usually are not disturbed by feeling the emotion of anger—they may even think it is the way to solve problems or the avenue to getting what one wants. Christians are disturbed by anger, though, and even confused by it. As godly individuals, we often think that as Christians, we should not have anger. Then we often feel guilty when we do experience the emotion of anger. We wonder why we get angry when, in fact, that is the last thing we want to do.
I have been a serious student of God’s Word for thirty-five years, and I assure you that I have no desire to be angry. I have worked diligently with the Holy Spirit over the years learning how to get over anger and control it. I am a peace lover and desire unity in all my relationships. I despise strife! Yet, recently I suddenly became angrier than I can remember being in a long, long time.
Emotions can flare up quickly. We are not expected not to have them, but we are expected not to let them rule us. God’s Word never states that feeling anger is sin. But it does become sinful behavior when we don’t manage it properly or when we hang on to it. The apostle Paul instructs that we are not to let the sun set on our anger (Eph. 4:26–27). That indicates that people will experience the emotion of anger, but within a short period of time they should be able to let it go. For me this requires prayer and making a decision that goes beyond how I feel.
Not too long ago I was talking to my aunt on the telephone. Dave and I have provided for her financially for the past several years because she is widowed and her income is not enough to support her properly. I hold her power of attorney, so anytime she has medical needs the health care center where she lives calls me to take care of any medical emergency. I wanted my daughter to be added to the list of people who have authority to make decisions for my aunt so if I were out of town her medical needs would be taken care of. I sent my daughter to my aunt’s home with a paper for her to sign, and she became very defensive and refused to sign it. When my daughter relayed this information to me, I immediately without any forethought became so angry that I thought I would burst. I had expected my aunt to merely trust me and do what I asked, so I called her and told her exactly what I thought, reminding her of all I had done for her and that I did not appreciate her selfish behavior. We were both angry and said lots of things that we should not have said.
To be honest, I felt justified in my anger—and that was a mistake. Justifying it allowed me to hold on to it for three days while I waited for her to call me and apologize, and she never did. During those three days I told several people in my family and one friend all about the situation, elaborating on how selfish I thought she was. Of course, that was also a mistake since God’s Word teaches us not to do anything to harm another person’s reputation, nor to gossip or be a talebearer. Each time I told the story, my anger was given new fuel and it burned hotter than before. I can honestly say that I don’t recall having been that angry for that long in years.
What happened? First of all, I was very tired when this situation arose; I realize now that I acted hastily in the way I handled my request. Because I was tired, I didn’t take the time to fully explain myself to my aunt, and that opened the door for confusion. Not only was I tired, but I had been dealing with a lot of urgent needs for my aunt and my mom in the few weeks prior to that, and I was feeling pressured and looking for ways to make things easier for me.
On the morning of the fourth day after the incident, I realized that the anger I felt was hindering my intimacy with God and preventing me from being able to properly study God’s Word. I kept thinking about the situation and could not get it off my mind, which is usually the case with me until I confront and resolve difficult matters. I started feeling that God wanted me to call her and apologize, and I admit that I really did not want to comply.
The more I opened my heart to God, the more clearly I saw my aunt’s side of the situation. She is eighty-four years old and is quickly losing her independence, which is understandably very hard for her. From her point of view, she was probably surprised at the turn of events. Suddenly I had sent papers to her asking her to sign over her health decisions to my daughter if I was out of town, without explaining exactly what that meant. After waiting a few hours because I was dreading making the call, I finally did call and told her I was sorry I had gotten so angry. To my pleasant surprise, she told me she was sorry, too, and that she had acted badly because she was confused. Within two minutes the entire situation was resolved and my peace returned, as did hers.
After the incident I realized I could have and should have handled the situation with a lot more wisdom and concern for her feelings than I had. I genuinely repented before God, not only for staying angry three days, but also for gossiping about the situation to other people.
I wanted to share this story with you simply to show that anger can come quickly, and no matter how “Christian” we are, we are never beyond the temptation to get angry. I am sorry that I let it go for three days, but I am glad I didn’t let it become a root of bitterness in my life and continue poisoning my soul for even longer.
God is slow to anger, and we should be the same way. He restrains His wrath—that means self-control. God often turned His anger away and did not stir up wrath (Ps. 78:38). “Turned it away” means He controlled it. Remember, self-control is a Fruit of the Spirit. It is an aspect of God’s character that He has shared with us. We see many instances in the Bible when man provoked God to anger, and He restrained Himself. In the situation with my aunt, it took me four days to restrain myself, and I am not proud of it.
Our desire should always be to become more and more godly in our behavior. Here is an example for us to follow:
Our fathers in Egypt understood not nor appreciated Your miracles; they did not [earnestly] remember the multitude of Your mercies nor imprint Your loving kindness [on their hearts], but they were rebellious and provoked the Lord at the sea, even at the Red Sea.
Nevertheless He saved them for His name’s sake [to prove the righteousness of the divine character], that He might make His mighty power known.
Even though the children of Israel were rebellious and deserved punishment, God forgave them and showed loving kindness to be His own nature. In other words, God is love, and it is not something He turns on and off. He is always the same and never allows the behavior of others to change Him. I allowed my aunt’s behavior to quickly change me, but had I taken time to think before I reacted, the entire situation could have been different. I reacted on my emotions, rather than acting on God’s Word and following His example. For many years of my life I did the same thing in lots of situations. Anger was pretty much a daily occurrence for me until I was willing to let God change me.
In the next chapter I will discuss how Dave confronted my bad behavior but never mistreated me. That trait of stability and continued willingness to show love to me was one of the major reasons for my desire to change my bad behavior. Had Dave merely become angry and yelled, accused, and threatened me with loss of our relationship, I might not have ever changed. I was at a point in my life where I desperately needed to see love in action, and Dave showed it to me.
Sometimes words are not enough. Saying words of love is common in our society. My father who sexually abused me told me that he loved me. My mother who abandoned me told me that she loved me. Friends who lied to me had told me that they loved me, so words had lost meaning for me. Dave not only told me that he loved me, he showed me the kind of love that God wants to give to others through us. His own love!
Uncontrolled anger can quickly turn into rage. Rage is dangerous. In this state, people say and do all kinds of things that can alter the course of their lives. Have you ever heard the statement, “I was so angry that I couldn’t even see straight”? That is the way I felt the day I got so angry with my aunt. I realize now that the anger I felt was about more than the situation at hand. I think I had let some resentment build up in me that needed to be resolved, and the incident with her was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak.
When we experience other people’s anger coming toward us, quite often their anger involves a lot more than the current situation. We might be driving in traffic and have someone get into a rage because we failed to give a proper signal. Their anger is all out of proportion to the offense. We made a simple mistake and they are angry enough to hurt us, but although the anger is being directed at us, it is really not about us at all. It is a buildup of perhaps even years of unresolved issues in their life. Today we frequently hear of a gunman who has walked into a building and shot several people, killing some and injuring others. In a rage, this person started shooting people he did not even know. Why? His rage had built up into a state of uncontrolled violence.
How many people are in prison today because they killed someone in a rage? How many have ruined or seriously damaged relationships because they said terrible, hurtful things in a rage? Think of how many people would have better lives right now if they had been taught how to properly handle the emotion of anger.
The most astonishing act of rage occurred when the Jews were incited to crucify Jesus Who had come to save them and had not done anything wrong. This act of injustice is the most horrible in history, yet God forgave and birthed a plan for our total redemption and restoration. Amazing love!
The only way to avoid rage is to count to 100 when you get angry, or 1,000, or however high you need to count until you calm down. Do that before saying anything or taking any action. I always say, “Let emotions subside and then decide.”
Don’t Waste Your Emotional Energy on Anger
Getting angry takes a lot of energy. Have you ever noticed how tired you are after a bout of anger? I have, and at my age I finally realized I have no time to waste in my life. Anger is a waste and never does anyone any good unless it is righteous anger, and that is another subject for another chapter. I learned that once I got really angry it took a lot of time for me to calm down, and I finally realized it was better to use some energy controlling anger at the outset than it was to expend all my energy getting angry and trying to calm down. Here is a good piece of advice: If you don’t agree with someone, leave the person in God’s hands. Ask Him to reveal who is right and who is wrong, and be willing to face the truth if He says it is you.
For too many years I wasted energy arguing with Dave over trivial things that actually made no real difference at all, except that I wanted to be right. But, love gives up its right to be right (1 Cor. 13:5). Being right is not all it is cracked up to be! The energy we waste trying to prove we are right is truly misplaced energy most of the time. Even when I argued with Dave long enough to get him to say, “You’re right,” I still didn’t win, because I had disappointed God with my behavior and been a poor example to all those around me.
Peace gives us power, but anger makes us weak. Let’s choose and pursue peace with God, with ourselves, and with man.
1 Peter 3:10–11
For let him who wants to enjoy life and see good days [good—whether apparent or not] keep his tongue free from evil and his lips from guile [treachery, deceit].
Let him turn away from wickedness and shun it, and let him do right. Let him search for peace [harmony; undisturbedness from fears, agitating passions, and moral conflicts] and seek it eagerly. [Do not merely desire peaceful relations with God, with your fellowmen, and with yourself, but pursue, go after them!]
I hope you took the time to read the Scripture above. It caused me to finally see that I could not just pray for peace, but I had to seek it, pursue it, and go after it with all my heart. I had to be willing to make adjustments and adapt to others in order to have peace. I also had to be willing to humble myself as I did the day I called my aunt to apologize, if I truly wanted peace.
What is peace worth to you? If you don’t see it as extremely valuable, you will never do what you must do in order to have it. Controlling your anger and learning to forgive generously and quickly are parts of maintaining peace. But always being willing to sacrifice our own desire, especially the desire to be right, is also a daily part of enjoying the peace that God has provided in Jesus Christ. I have discovered that God is much better at vindicating me than I am at trying to vindicate myself. Let God be God in your life, and you will enjoy more peace, too.
The emotion of anger does not have to rule you. It will always be around looking for an opportunity to rear its ugly head, but through the leadership of the Holy Spirit, prayer, and self-control we don’t have to give in to it. God’s Word states that He will give us power to rule in the midst of our enemies, and as far as I am concerned, anger is an enemy in my life that I refuse to submit to. Do yourself a favor… let go of anger, press past it, and enjoy the peace of God.
The Roots of Anger
There are things that we get angry about, but then there are people who are angry about nothing in particular; they are just angry. Sometimes we don’t know where our anger comes from. I have had more than one person say to me, “I feel angry a lot and I don’t even know why… what is wrong with me?” There is a root to their anger somewhere, and prayer, a little digging, and a lot of facing truth usually bring it out in the open. I have found that God usually shows me what my problem really is if I ask Him. What He shows me is not always what I want to hear, especially if He reveals that I am the problem, but He desires that we face truth in our inner being and let it make us free.
Until I was a middle-aged woman, I had an anger problem. Anytime I didn’t get my own way, my temper quickly flared, because I had watched my father behave the same way. Angry people often come from angry families. It is a learned behavior, and until it is confronted, anger will more than likely remain. For example, statistics tell us that many men who batter their wives witnessed the same kind of behavior from their father toward their mother. Even though they may have hated seeing their mother mistreated, they often handle conflict the same way.
My father was frequently violent toward my mother, especially if he had been drinking. He was an angry man, and although we never completely got to the roots of why he was so angry, we did learn that his father was also an angry man who was difficult to please and used anger as a control method in his home. The Bible teaches us that sins and the behavior that accompanies them are inherited from generation to generation unless someone learns to love God and begins to apply His principles to their life (Deut. 5:8–10).
I have seen the cycle of anger and violence in my family broken in my lifetime, and God wants to do the same thing for any person who has a problem with anger. Take some time and think about the home you grew up in. What was the atmosphere? How did the adults deal with one another in conflict? Was the home filled with pretense or did people relate truthfully and openly? If you happen to be one of the blessed few who grew up in a godly atmosphere, you should thank God because that gave you a head start in life. However, those of us who did not have a good example can recover through the love of God and the truth of His Word.
How to Employ Godly Confrontation
Not only was my father violent, my mother never confronted him. She was timid, so she cowered under his abusive authority. Not only did she not protect herself, but she didn’t protect me, either. I learned to despise what I saw as weakness in her, and I determined early in life that I would never be weak or let anyone mistreat me. In an effort to protect myself, I became a controller. I thought if I kept everything and everyone under control then I would not get hurt, but of course my behavior did not work, because it was ungodly. My husband eventually used godly confrontation in our relationship, and although it took time, it helped me change.
Although we are called to peace and should seek and pursue peace, to be afraid to confront people who are mistreating us is not the way to handle conflict. We eventually learned in our home that openness and truth are the best policies at all times. Dave and I have four grown children, and we all spend a lot of time together. There are times when we get angry and things are said that cause conflict, but I am happy to say nobody stays angry for very long. We confront issues, and even if we disagree, we try to disagree agreeably. We know the dangers of strife and are committed to keeping it out of our family. I share this to show that although I grew up in an angry home and initially brought that anger into my own home, that sinful pattern has been broken by the mercy and grace of God, and through obedience to His Word.
Godly confrontation begins by confronting when God leads us to do so and waiting until God leads us to do so. Too much confrontation too soon can just make an angry person angrier. State the problem in a calm and loving way and try to do so in a plain and simple conversation. Confronting anger with anger never works, so it is important that you remain calm during the confrontation.
A soft answer turns away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.
A gentle tongue [with its healing power] is a tree of life, but willful contrariness in it breaks down the spirit.
By long forbearance and calmness of spirit a judge or ruler is persuaded, and soft speech breaks down the most bonelike resistance.
Excerpted from Do Yourself a Favor...Forgive by Meyer, Joyce Copyright © 2012 by Meyer, Joyce. Excerpted by permission.
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