“Unclench your fists.” He was standing beside me, but speaking to the entire congregation. I felt the weight of his words laying heavy on my chest. Did he know the dreams that haunt me at night? The ones where I’m plagued with a heart and fists that refuse to let go, to unclench.
In the daylight I am free. I am fine. Fine, is a word that most of us use to often. A word psychologists tell us to delete from our vocabulary. Fine, deflects, hides and hinders the healing process.
The church gets quiet. “It’s time to let go, unclench your fists from around them.” I feel a hard lump forming in my throat. I am hyper aware of my breathing, surroundings and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. As well as the neon sign that must have been hanging over my head, “She can’t forgive!” Right here folks, arrows pointing at my head. I try to scoot down in my seat a little, but I’m momentarily paralyzed.
On the car home, my son leans in and says,”what did you think of the sermon?” I giggle, “well it really spoke to me.” He turns to me with a puzzled look. “Because he was. Speaking to you. Like literally speaking to you. He stepped off the stage, walked over to you, looked at you and said, “unclench your fists and let them go.” Oh right and there was that.
In Greek, the word forgive has many translations. The one we are most familiar with is “to release or let go.” When we chose to hold onto an offense we are giving the devil an invitation to reek havoc in our lives, mentally, spiritually and even physically.
• Ephesians 4:26-27 Be wrathful but do not sin, do not let the sun set while you are still angry. Do not give the devil an opportunity.
• Mathew 5:9 Happy are the peacemakers; since they will be called sons of God.
• Psalm 38:5 My wounds fester and stink because of my foolish sins.
• Psalm 38:3 Because of your anger, my body is sick; my health is broken because of my sins.
• Psalm 38:8 I am exhausted and completely crushed. My groans come from an exhausted heart.
Our bodies nervous system is an amazing highway receiving and processing information; to include our emotions. So what happens when our thoughts and our hurts are not processed the way they should? Surprisingly it disrupts the process and can leave a physical manifestation on our body. Unforgiveness, not only causes emotional harm but can show its wrath through neck pain, our respiratory systems, the throat and other areas of the body.
I’m not new to forgiveness. I’ve desperately needed it, received it and offered it. I’ve also unfortunately felt its physical manifestations. I spent the majority of my younger life trying to forgive someone for past hurts. My unresolved hurt turned into anger and that anger became part of my identity. As a young woman, letting go of that part of me left me with an intense fear of losing who I believed I was. Through lots of prayer and letting the Holy Spirit lead me I was eventually able to forgive, let go and become a new person in Christ. I lost that part of myself that I tried so hard to hold on to and gained so much more.
But here is the kicker folks. That person that I needed to “let go” that I needed to “unclench”, they aren’t part of my life anymore. It is so much easier to forgive someone when you are able to walk away or to forgive someone who is sorry. What keeps me up at night, what wakes me gasping for air are not the ones that I have walked away from, but the ones I can’t.
What about the offender that isn’t remorseful? The one that is a daily part of your life. The one you can’t walk away from. The one that continues to hurt you over and over with no regrets. How do you forgive them? That was a question I asked a family therapist a year ago. Her response, “well, you can’t, until they change.” This response I’m sure is backed by many years of training and education. But there is no hope in that answer. Hope is found in what God says.
When asked how many times we should forgive those who sin against us, he is very clear.
• Mathew 18:22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, until seven times, but seventy times seven.
Maybe you are living with an alcoholic, someone who is mentally ill, a spirited child. Maybe you are the sole caretaker for an aging abusive parent or trying to repair a marriage broken by infidelity. Whatever the case forgiving is hard when the offenses are daily. I’ve tried understanding. Thinking that if I could just understand why, or fully accept that hurt people hurt people that would be forgiveness. The reality is understanding may open the door to forgiveness but at the end of the day understanding is just that, understanding. It’s not what reaches down deep in your soul and heals those broken pieces. Understanding doesn’t cover a multitude of sins or help you sleep at night.
Only forgiveness can do that. And only our Mighty Father can help us through this process of deliverance, when we are face to face with our own sin and His merciful forgiveness towards our transgressions. For me this type of forgiveness and deliverance is a journey.
A journey of waking up every morning asking for a loving heart and eyes to see what He sees. “Lord let me see them the way you see them today.”
Asking myself why it hurts so bad. What is broken in my own life that allows these offenses to take take up residency in my heart. Asking God to shine a light into places in my own life that are still empty and places I haven’t allowed His pure love to fill and heal, and to strengthen me. Places that I am intentionally holding on to anger that has become a part of who I am and surrendering it to a mighty God.
It’s a process. It’s a daily choice to forgive. To unclench my fists, moment by moment, day by day. Seventy times seven.
Time alone can’t fix this. Distance only makes it easy to fool ourselves. We can fake forgiveness all day long only for it to creep into our dreams manifesting itself in physical pain and mental turmoil. If there is remorse, repentance, and forgiveness, then reconciliation can take place. Then there are those times when reconciliation is not best but forgiveness still needs to take place, even if you have to walk away.
For those of us that don’t have that option to walk away. Where there isn’t remorse and the offenses keep coming like the sun rises, we make a choice daily to forgive. We practice seventy times seven. With each day that passes comes with it more healing, wisdom and strength. We know He is doing something new in us.
We unclench our fists in the moment, again and again, then daily, then weekly. And one day we wake up and realize the nightmares have stopped and our hands remain open, unclenched and we are healed physically, mentally and spiritually. We are free and so are they.