But I'm just a sponge.
I designed and taught a social skills lesson sometime back. I named the lesson: I want to be a paper towel. Not kidding. The lesson? It was on forgiveness. There is a deep spiritual meaning in that roll of paper towels and the lesson was for me.
Have you ever cleaned with a sponge? It really does work. A messy counter, a hard to clean stove or a refrigerator with spilled juice, just cleans right up using a sponge. Sponges are cheap, easy to come by and probably more environmentally friendly than anything else. Just wipe up the mess, rinse and go again.
But have you really looked at a sponge? The reason that it is absorbent is that it is porous. It is made up of tiny loose fibers with space in between them. These are holes. Crevices. Empty places that fill up with whatever is being wiped up. It soaks up the mess and hides it within the hidden nooks and crannies of the sponge. When rinsed and cleaned some of it still hides. In fact it's probably more buried within than before. And inside? It's damp....it's dark....and the perfect environment for breeding. So it grows.
Look at Ephesians.
Context: Paul wrote the book of Ephesians from his imprisonment in Rome. It can be described as the circular letter because it was written to circulate from church to church in order to encourage believers. It first went to Ephesus but then moved from that location into other places. In Chapter 4, Paul switched gears from the beginning of the book, and began giving practical advice to the church - advise on how to live with other believers in Christ.
Ephesians 4:31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
Get rid of. Be put away from you. Be removed from you.
What does Paul say should be removed?
Bitterness: anger and disappointment at being treated unfairly; resentment.
Wrath: wanting retributory punishment for an offense
Malice: the attitude that leads to revenge or intent or desire to do evil; revenge for an offense.
This is the crud that breeds within. The residual emotions that are left after a hurt has been inflicted upon you. The emotions that can be hiding even after forgiveness has been given. And sometimes a trigger may occur when you least expect it and the crud lying deep within can be brought back to the surface.
I have alot to forgive. Still.
I watched a show the other night and the last scene before the series ended hit a nerve. It was an issue that happened long ago and one that I thought I had forgiven. I thought the hurt had healed but watching the show triggered something that I didn't know was still hiding deep in the cavity of my heart. Anger. Watching the tv screen, I wanted to scream. I wanted to tell someone how unfair it was. I felt for the actress on the screen because it was my life that was being played out before me and it brought back such emotion - both anger and sadness.
I wanted retribution and revenge but the one who would be the recipient of the malice was already dead. He wasn't around for me to even blame. The things that were inflicted upon me were done and over with. There was no opportunity to give forgiveness again and there was no possibility of ever hearing an apology. The hurt was hiding inside of me. Still. With no where to go.
We all endure things that are unfair. Unjustifable. Selfish. Unfeeling. Evil. Wrong. No, it wasn't fair and yes, I am the one who had to endure the repercussions of the selfish behavior choices of another person. I forgave him years ago, but I now realize that somewhere in the depth of my heart hides the residual emotions that were left behind.
But, in Ephesians, God says that I have to get rid of it. Remove it. Put it away. The bitterness, the hate, the anger, malice and the revengeful thoughts. I have to start over with a clean slate. I thought I had....but sometimes a trigger shows that it hides deep within.
What is your hurt? Was it a loss? Loss of a marriage, a child, a parent, a spouse, a job, a dream or years stolen from you by addiction. Was it mistreatment by another person? Emotional abuse, bullying, physical abuse. Was it a criminal act toward you or a loved one? Were you unable to have children and feel robbed of that experience? Have you lost the security of your own health by sickness or disease? Were you lied to, treated like dirt, rejected by your spouse for someone else? Has your own child hurt you - the one you gave birth to and raised sacrificing everything for?
Life is tough. Life is unfair.
Much like you do on a countertop, you thought you had wiped it clean - you can't see the dirt anymore and it looks like you did a pretty good job of getting rid of it. You used a sponge and even the sponge looks clean - all rinsed out and spotless. But it's hiding. And when you least expect it -it will return with a vengeance after it breeds and multiples inside. You pick it up to use it again - the hurt will be triggered.
But God said to get rid of it. Remove it.
Wipe a counter clean with a paper towel and what do you do then? You throw it away and start fresh .... every single time. There are ALOT of paper towels on that roll. You use them over and over again. But you never worry that you are using something that contains the disgusting bacteria and bitterness that is hiding. It's a clean slate each time. You wipe it clean, throw it away and do it again.
How do you forgive a hurt so deep? How do you know if you have truly forgiven? You don't. I didn't. I just have to do it over and over again. When it comes up.....I forgive. He's dead but I still tell him that I have forgiven him. I tell myself that I have forgiven him. I tell God that I've forgiven him. Will it come up again? Probably yes. But I'll continue to repeat and God will use time to heal. Forgiveness isn't an easy thing to give and it doesn't happen overnight.
But how many times do I have to forgive? Well, Jesus gave us the answer in Matthew 18: 21 - 22:
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
If you look closely, that passage doesn't say that the brother or sister sinned against Peter over and over again.....it says that we are to forgive over and over again. It's just my thought but it could mean that it takes that many times to rid ourselves of the emotion attached to the hurt.
Well, I can tell you that I'm probably only on number 31.
But this time? I'm using a paper towel.
God give me strength.
My prayer today:
God, you of all living beings understand forgiveness. You have forgiven so much for so long, yet you continue doing it over and over again. You understand the hurt we face. All of us have been hurt in different ways - there is no one exempt from pain. Some of us have forgiveness that is hard to give. But we try. Give us the strength that we need to say I forgive and give us the strength to let it go. Some of us need to ask to be forgiven by another person that we have wronged but again give us the strength to do so and give us the strength to let it go.
We love, trust and adore You. Amen.