Unforgiveness – the cup of poison you pour for another and then drink yourself.
Unforgiveness isn’t even a word. None of the online dictionaries contain it and my trusty Oxford Dictionary wouldn’t disgorge it as I leafed through its well-used pages at 6am this morning.
The bible has heaps to say about it, not least in the passage of Matthew 18: 21-35 where Jesus spoke about the unmerciful servant. We are to forgive others as well as ourselves. Easier said than done sometimes.
In medical journals, unforgiveness is listed as a physical disease and there are health ramifications for someone holding onto a bitter root within themselves including depression, bone ailments and heart problems. The bible speaks of it as spiritual poison.
If you asked a group of small children to describe someone suffering from unforgiveness, you’d have to first explain what the concept was in childish terms. My little sister proved a particularly creative and vengeful opponent growing up and could be relied upon to both shock and mortify when upset. My Tiny Tears baby doll is still in my parents’ attic with the Jiff stains on her forehead from scrubbing off the bout of acne created by a black pen and snapping heads off Barbie dolls was pretty much par for the course. Do I remember the awfulness of that?
Did she grow up ok?
When I cross the ditch to see her will it be the first thing on my mind?
No! Because I forgave her years ago and did equally sneaky and less detectable things to her.
But if we described that kind of sibling rivalry to a group of littlies, I suspect they’d get it because they’d be exacting those same kind of revenges at home under their parents’ radar and so the pictures you’d get would be of angry faced, Grinchy type people who oozed sourness like lemon juice. When you gave the examples there’d be little inhales of collective shock and then someone would put their hand up and say, “My brother did that to my dolly yesterday.”
Despite the shock reaction, the irony is, revenge and its sister, unforgiveness are everywhere and society is learning to block it out and accept it as normal.
One of my vices is unforgiveness. I’m a mistrustful person because I’ve been burned enough to realise not everyone has my best interests at heart. It’s made me wary and cautious and probably not a very good friend. I can count on one hand the number of people outside my family who I’d trust with my deepest, darkest secrets and they are largely female and mainly Christian. They walk a tightrope with me because messing up isn’t an option. It’s not a nice quality and one I’d like to get rid of.
I woke up this morning having dreamed about someone who used to be a friend and I’ve had this same dream before and recently. She’s in trouble and I can’t get to her. It’s like looking through a window at someone in real difficulty and not being able to help. We didn’t fall out, we just weren’t really that compatible as friends and eventually stopped communicating. Yet at a time of great confusion, she was someone I could have and did go to for advice. Her kindness easily outweighed all the times I felt offside with her – or more particularly the group we hung out with. We all have people like that in our lives; friends who we once hung with heaps and got involved in each other’s lives, only to have some perceived slight driving us to opposite ends of the friendship spectrum. It’s actually quite sad. I feel in my gut that something’s wrong but I’m not even in the outer circles, I’m way down in the valley looking up at the city walls. And it’s my own fault. I have unforgiveness in my heart towards that friendship and it’s probably due to the many things I could recall, but none of them worth writing down.
I wouldn’t know where to find her to begin trying to pick through the rubble and sometimes it’s perhaps better not to. I can and will pray for her, but I probably need to deal with myself as well. I don’t want to develop a sour face and a reputation as a grump who people want to take a deep breath before approaching. Unforgiveness can do that when we nurse it to us like a stray kitten. I don’t want bitterness to rot my bones and negative emotions to show in my face.
I dedicated the third in my series From Russia, With Love to Peggy Rapps, a friend in the UK. What I remember most about her was her smile. She refused to be bowed by unforgiveness and had a brightness about her in her seventies which I coveted then and still do. I want the same lightness of being she possessed and unforgiveness won’t achieve that. Jesus said it, even the doctors have proved it. Why would I not listen?
If you stop and focus on the constant noise around you, I mean really listen, every conversation is about what someone else did or said to offend the speaker or a friend of theirs. It’s like we’re not happy unless piggy backing on a terrible injustice and getting in there with our spade and wheelbarrow to make the hole bigger and ourselves as up to our necks in it as we can. We intentionally cover ourselves in it. Injustice, unforgiveness and revenge are everywhere and we all want a piece, as though our busy weekend with family, or the calm day we had at work, isn’t good enough for public viewing. We need a cause, an irritant which we can spread as virally as possible, wreaking havoc and proudly tracking back to us. Drama feeds our sense of belonging and we need to be in the thick of it.
We all used to laugh at poor Victor Meldrew as he lurched through the comedy episodes, making even simple tasks into a drama. All punctuated by the famous phrase, “I don’t believe it!”
And good old Alf Garnet with his perpetually grumpy outlook on life and permanent state of displeasure; who’d find that funny nowadays?
Nobody. We’re all too busy mimicking the sour pusses and looking for a miserable tag line to write on our foreheads.
Unforgiveness really is the cup of poison you pour for another and then drink yourself.
Try this instead.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
New King James Version (NKJV)
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy;
love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;
does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;
does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;
bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.