Why do we struggle so to forgive? to ask for forgiveness? to address the problems in our relationships?
Most often it is because we don't want to face the pain.
You move into a new home to find a big white box in the kitchen next to the fridge. You've never seen one before so you don't recognize it. It has a flat surface you use to stack stuff, cut vegetables and set your coffee mug. For three years. Then one day a friend comes to visit. While there he asks if he could make a snack. He pulls out a pan, sets it on the front right black circle of this white box, turns a knob on the back of the white box, pours the ingredients into the pan and makes the best snack of all time. Popcorn. You're amazed, dumbfounded and excited. Not because of the popcorn, but because he was able to make it on the counter you've been using. As you inspect this contraption, you put your hand on the black circle and scorch your hand. Pain, oh the pain! You say not very nice things about this box, the very same one you raved about a moment ago.
QUESTION: For the next three weeks, when you walk through the kitchen and see the stove, what comes to mind? Do you think about the three years you put your hands all over the burners without consequence or the ONE TIME you burned yourself? It's the ONE time, right? You rub your hand, scowl at the memory, creep along the opposite wall. In fact, it may take quite some time before you are even willing to THINK ABOUT using the thing again. Sound extreme? Yet that is what we do in relationships where hurt and unforgiveness resides.
TRUTH: Relationships are what life is all about. But one of the few guarantees about relationships is that we will have problems, confrontations, disagreements and struggles every day. Blame Adam and Eve. Forgiveness is the number one issue in relationships. Of all the phrases in the Lord's Prayer, Jesus chose forgiveness as THE phrase to add additional commentary. Why? Because He knows that hurt, anger, bitterness, grudges and distance are all forms of unforgiveness. Develop a lifestyle of forgiving everyone and many of the relationship issues are quickly resolved.
No one, except people who should be carried off in a special white jacket and locked up in a windowless room, really likes the idea of confrontation because we have in our minds the times when we've been burned. And we HAVE been burned. Like walking through the kitchen with the demon stove, when we think about confrontation and forgiveness we remember the big blow-ups when it did not go well and caused searing pain. Truth is that we actually have relational confrontation daily and have to forgive often but most of the issues are minor or quickly resolved or automatically overlooked because we have learned how to take care of them. Like your friend navigating the stove to your awe. We don't even think of them as confrontations or issues of forgiveness. They are like three years of having the stove in our kitchen without getting burned.
The moral of this story: take on relationship confrontation and forgiveness head on. Quickly, lovingly, with the desire for resolution and reconciliation. Don't back away out of fear or you'll miss the joy of relationships. Relationships cannot be good and strong without it. In fact, they cannot be good and strong without going through it. You'll still get burned once in a while, but it will be worth it.
""Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift." Matthew 5:23-24 (NIV)
(To listen to Herb via the internet go to http://www.newsongpittsburgh.org/sermons.htm )