I enjoy being a kids’ pastor. I love teaching them and being able to help them grasp truths from God. Often, what I’m teaching them comes as a reminder to me. Along with that reminder can also come conviction on something I’ve not followed through on. That’s the scoop this week.
Just because it’s a lesson for kids doesn’t indicate it isn’t for adults. More times than not, I’ve needed it. Jesus did say to be humble like children.
So this Sunday, we end a series where we’ve discussed what it means to live in harmony with each other. As we all know, that can be…a struggle at times. And the topic of living harmoniously ends with a real kicker! Forgiveness…or rather…lack thereof.
The Canned Goods
The lesson, like others, will include an object lesson. This week, it’s using canned goods of various sizes – from the smallest in weight (tomato paste) to the largest can I could find at Walmart. It’ll go something like this…
Each small canned good represents something small we’ve held onto. We want to keep track of these things because they hurt us, and at some point, we want to exact our own justice. Maybe we just think justice is holding all the little hurts. These things could be as simple as a comment we understood incorrectly. Perhaps it was a slight dig. It could have been a hurtful criticism. These canned goods don’t represent a big hurt, but still hurt. So Sunday morning, I’ll add these cans to a backpack and ask a volunteer to wear the backpack. And as they do, I’ll ask how heavy does that feel. Which they will probably answer, not too heavy.
Over time, hanging onto these hurts, whether we are aware of our hold on them or not, begins to weigh heavier. Just like carrying around a bunch of small things for a short while is easy, it gets tiring over time. Our situations get worse when a hurt comes that’s bigger. We’re already holding onto other things, and now we’ve been given something else we can hold against someone else. Maybe even the same person. This time, it was an offense that wasn’t a small thing at all. It was something that really hurt. That’ll be a larger canned good. I’ll throw a couple of those cans in the backpack. Obviously, this will make the backpack heavier.
You can see where this is going and where it hits you and me squarely.
And so life continues. We’re still carrying around these hurts.
Why? Well, that’s a question that only you and I can answer. I can say that I felt the other person owed me. And I wanted justice. It wasn’t right. And so I held onto things to keep it over their head, constantly reminding myself not to trust them; I could get hurt again.
Back to the illustration…
So we haven’t forgiven and are still saddled with this backpack of unforgiven stuff on our backs, represented by the backpack my young and brave volunteer is wearing. Only it doesn’t stop there. We find that in life, people can be hurtful. And a big time hurt happens, represented by the largest canned good placed in the backpack.
Now, at this point in the lesson, I’ll have an adult ready to help as the backpack will be heavy, and my young volunteer won’t be able to continue. And I’ll ask, can you carry this around for the rest of your life.
And the answer will, of course, be no.
And yet, we still try. We hold onto all this stuff when it’s not good for us to do so. It’s so easy to keep track of all the wrongs that people have done to us and still see ourselves as full of grace and righteousness when, in reality, we’re just as guilty. Yet we think that’s the best thing to do.
In the end, however, holding on keeps us from having the life God has for us when we put our trust and faith in Jesus.
Now, here’s where I’ll deviate for just us adults. You see, all those things we hold onto, don’t just stay one size. They grow. They take root in our hearts. And they grow. We grow them when we dwell on them and fantasize about conversations that would render us the hero and the other person admitting they were wrong. We water them and fertilize them each time we have the opportunity to let them go, yet we hang on. And that grows something in our hearts that becomes a block between us and God.
The writer of Hebrews puts it this way.
“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Hebrews 12:14–15
That bitter root flows from unforgiven hurts.
Now, forgiving the other person is for them…partly. I suggest an addition or, rather, a better understanding. Forgiveness is so much more for you than the other person. Unforgiveness makes you unhappy. Short. Unloving. It makes you untrusting and hard to get along with. Cynical. Instead of being a conduit for giving grace, your need for grace is diminished. Your awe of God is tarnished. You become judgmental, picking out all the faults in everyone else while ignorant to the ones in your own life.
In short, it makes a really gross clog between you and God. Insights don’t flow. Worship feels dry and rote, almost mechanical. This also applies to your devotional life and times in prayer. In fact, prayer feels void, vacant of the Holy Spirit’s presence. It’s almost like a fruit tree growing but bearing no fruit whatsoever. What’s the point?
It’s why Paul wrote…
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13
You have to release the other person from whatever you think they owe. And I get it…hurts can be deep. Forgiveness is tough work. And in some cases, takes forgiving over and over.
But God’s grace enables this. Jesus wouldn’t have commanded us to forgive if it were not the case (see Mark 11 and Matthew 6 & 18). But it is something we were never meant to do on our own. The writer of Hebrews gives us…
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:14–16
Let us approach God, our Heavenly Father, with boldness, confidence, and assurance that when we do so, we will receive mercy and grace to help us when needed. It’s an open invitation. God’s waiting to give us the grace we need to offer others that same grace and mercy.
And we discover that when we do, we’re released from the chains that unforgiveness keeps us in. We’re freed to love and dispense grace to others. Relationships become warm – especially between us and the Holy Spirit.
Back to the lesson
As I stated in the beginning, this was both a reminder and conviction for me. I was still holding onto some baggage, some things weighing me down. Unforgiveness. And I had to forgive. Let go. Release. What came as a result?
Peace and restoration.
The same can be true for you. Perhaps there’s something you’ve held onto for so long you’re not aware of it…something you haven’t forgiven. Or what about forgiving yourself? I’m well acquainted with this one. What God forgives, I sometimes don’t forget and hang over my own head. Sometimes, you need to forgive yourself.
Regardless, get alone with the Holy Spirit today and quiet yourself. Invite Him to be with you in that moment. You can do this in a safe place for you, free from distractions. And ask, “Is there something I’m holding onto?” And then wait. Wait for Him to reply. And be ready. If there is something, get the grace you need from the One that freely gives it so you can freely give it to others.
And then the peace that passes understanding, as Paul states, will guard your heart and mind. And that’s a great place to be!
Just like our young volunteer got some relief from holding all those canned goods, so you’ll get relief, only it’ll be a little more meaningful. You’ll feel lighter because you’re not carrying around all the junk weighing you down. It’ll take a little time. Don’t get impatient. It was a process to get to where you are. It’ll be a process to get you where you want to be. It’s worth every bit of it!
You are loved!