Other "Thinking Drafts" and writing by Keith Drury -- http://www.indwes.edu/tuesday .

 From: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People by Keith Drury
(c) 1989 Wesley Press

Chapter 3


...Forgiving old hurts

"For if you forgive men when they sin
against you, your heavenly Father will
also forgive you. But if you do not
forgive men their sins, your Father will
not forgive your sins."

-- Matthew 6:12,14-15 (NIV)

Miss Culp was a stout woman about four and a half feet high. Miss Culp was my third grade teacher. She led a one-woman crusade to reform education in the city where I grew up. She believed the young teachers were too soft on children. Discipline, harshness, and severity were her methods.

I was a special problem for Miss Culp. Not because I misbehaved so much, but for other reasons. The first was that I passed into third grade from Miss Hinchman's second grade room. These two women represented the opposite extremes of educational philosophy. Miss Hinchman's second grade was a womb of positive affirmation. To Miss Hinchman, everything was beautiful, fantastic, lovely, and creative. She believed, "If you expect the best from children, they'll live up to your expectations."

On the other hand, Miss Culp subscribed to the theory, "If you give 'em an inch, they'll take a mile." She believed it was her personal calling to straighten out the rascals Miss Hinchman's softness had produced before we turned out to be juvenile delinquents.

But I had a second problem with Miss Culp. It had to do with my Dad. On the first day of class each of us were forced to stand erect, pronounce our name, and tell what our father did for a living. Fearfully I gave my name and announced that my dad was a preacher. "Hurrumph!" she said. "Preachers' kids are the worst of all. I'll be watching out for you." So Miss Culp expected the worst from me. I'm afraid she got it.

But there was a third problem: spelling. Miss Culp gave oral spelling tests. Each student was sent to the front of the room, to stand at attention with "arms straight at your side, fingers pointing to the floor." Miss Culp would retire to the back of the classroom, settling down on a large table she kept back there. She would call off the spelling words for each victim, ordering them to spell each aloud.

I remember my first such experience. "All right young man, spell 'elephant,'" she announced as if she were making an accusation. "E-l-e-p-h...h... " "Hurry, lad, finish quickly, you either know it or you don't," she said, with no sympathy for my slowness. "E-l-e-p-h...e-n-t," I quickly finished. "Wrong" her voiced boomed out across the room, with a hint of victory. "No, no, no, that's wrong, try again."

My heart beat like a pile driver. My throat was thick and dry. Blood rushed to my face and my flesh turned pink, then red with embarrassment. "E-l-a-p-h-e-n-t," I sputtered out through nervous lips, hoping I might hit it right this time, anything to escape this painful embarrassment and escape to my seat. "Nooooo!" she said scornfully, "you're spelling it worse every time...what's the matter with you?"

What was the matter with me, I wondered. Maybe I really was dumb, at least in spelling. I dreaded spelling day every week, I think it was Thursdays. Several times I tried feigning an upset stomach to get out of going to school. It seldom worked. Week after week I was subjected to public reproach and Miss Culp's chiding denouncements for my stupidity in spelling.

I don't remember if I ever spelled "elephant" correctly. I do know that I missed most of the words served up to me from her pitcher's mound in the back of the room. I had been so humiliated in my stupidity that I simply decided "I can't spell." I can still visualize my first red mark on my report card -- big red indelible ink -- a failure in spelling. This failing grade confirmed my dullness.

At first, I assumed I was the problem. But later, as I realized what she had done to me, I resented her treatment of me. Poor spelling was an ever-present monkey on my back. All through elementary school, high school, and college it was a constant humiliation. I remember one research paper on the millennium I turned in during seminary. I had spelled "millennium" wrong more than sixty times, and I hadn't even been consistent!

I blamed Miss Culp for ruining my attitude about spelling. My resentment grew into a full-blown grudge by high school. Bitterness set in. I never spoke of my third grade experience to anyone, but I secretly hated Miss Culp for what she had done. "She had no right to treat me that way."

Funny how a little injustice, if nursed, will grow up to be a full-fledged grudge. I never saw Miss Culp after the fourth grade. but I remembered and resented her. I left her life, but she never left mine. She was constantly haunting me every time I tried to write on a chalkboard or on an overhead projector. Worst of all, she was there when I prepared a manuscript for publication. Her memory constantly reminded me of my stupidity in spelling.

Why did she shadow me so? Because of my grudge. Forgive her? Not on your life! "I could never forgive her," I told myself. "She was wrong!"

Sixteen years later I finally got free of Miss Culp's dark shadow. I had been elected as my denomination's Executive Editor of Curriculum, a post in which spelling was a necessity. "Why can't I spell?" I asked myself. "Am I really stupid?" God gently reminded me of my buried feelings toward Miss Culp. I was using her as an excuse for my continued failure to spell accurately. I didn't even look up words when unsure. I figured, "Let the secretary look it up, I can't spell anyway."

As God exposed the breadth and depth of my old grudge against Miss Culp, I came to realize its fruitlessness. I hadn't hurt her a bit. She probably died long ago. In my attempt to even the score with her, I had only hurt myself. The blame for my inability to spell hung like an albatross around my neck, not hers.

I confessed to a sinful grudge that day and fully forgave Miss Culp. No, I did not say she was a fine teacher -- she wasn't. But I determined that I would no longer hold a grudge against her. It was too costly to me -- I fully forgave her.

Following that incident, I went about learning how to spell. In a few years I caught up. Except when I tell this story, I pretty much have forgotten all about Miss Culp. And now I can spell.

The Trouble with Grudges

If we slow down and reflect a few moments, each of us will come to admit that a grudge is an awful blot on our soul. What do we gain? Why not release our grudge now? Have you been hurt deeply? Ever? By whom? Has this personal injustice ignited resentment in your heart? Has your resentment turned into a grudge? If so, think about these consequences of a grudge.

1. Grudges don't work.

When someone hurts us, we are inclined to settle the score, get even. If we do not forgive the offender the choice remaining is to try revenge, or decide to hold a grudge. Revenge is an outward attempt to even the score. A grudge is revenge turned inward. But a grudge doesn't work. The person who hurt us may not even know how angry and bitter we feel. In fact, they may go on their merry way, completely oblivious to our feelings of resentment. They are happy. We are angry, sour, bitter. The irony: In getting even with another, we hurt ourselves -- spiritually and emotionally, perhaps even physically.

2. A grudge grows like cancer.

Inner resentment is a spreading cancer of the soul. It multiplies its malignant tentacles, spreading to the deepest parts of our heart. A grudge pours its corrosive bitterness into our entire mindset. Soon we open the door for envy, malice, jealousy, bitterness, gossip, and slander -- we will stop at nothing to even the score. Holding a grudge will eat your insides. Eventually you will become a bitter person. All this happens because you refuse to forgive the one who hurt you. The price is too high. It's not worth it.

3. Grudges generate guilt.

If you have a grudge, yet willfully and continually refuse to forgive the one who hurt you, you won't feel forgiven yourself. People who hold grudges seldom sense that God is satisfied with them. You will experience "free-floating guilt," attaching itself to all kinds of little things in your life. You will not be able to put your finger on it, but for some reason or another you feel guilty. You think God is mad at you. You'll never feel fully forgiven and accepted by God. Why? Because it is a universal law: Those who will not forgive, do not feel forgiven.

It is not that God makes some sort of deal with you...as if you can buy your forgiveness from God by forgiving others. Jesus Christ has already bought your forgiveness. However, you can inhibit your ability to sense God's forgiveness -- by holding a grudge. So, if you often feel that God "has something against me," you may need to look to your past. Have you not forgiven someone who has hurt you deeply? After all "it is in pardoning, that we are pardoned."

4. A grudge handcuffs you to the past.

Holding a grudge keeps life running on rewind. You keep looking over your shoulder at some past injustice you experienced. You recall how awful it was. A grudge handcuffs you to this negative past, causing you to blame your present failures on past misfortunes. "If only they hadn't done that, then I'd not be in this jam now..."

Releasing this grudge brings happiness. I remember the joy of one woman who had finally released her grudge against her father. He had sexually abused her as a child. She was 66 years old. Her face radiated, as she bubbled, "For the first time in my life I feel really free! I allowed this thing to ruin my school years, distort my marriage, and sour my old age. Now it is off my back, and I feel such joy...so happy...so free. If only I had done this years ago."

5. A grudge is an energy leak.

The embers of a grudge require tending. Resentment left to itself flickers and dies out. It must be fed to be kept alive. Where does this fuel come from? Your own mental and emotional energies. Carrying a grudge pokes holes in your energy bucket. You will feel constantly tired, weary, and lethargic. Fatigue is the faithful companion of a grudge. At the end of each day you will collapse in exhaustion, wondering why you feel so fatigued. It is because you are wasting great amounts of unconscious energy maintaining your grudge. Releasing this grudge through forgiveness will result in a brand new surge of emotional and physical energy.

This is not to say that everyone who is tired at the end of a hard day's work is harboring a grudge. Weariness is a symptom of an unforgiving spirit, just as a rash is a symptom of poison ivy. All rashes do not indicate poison ivy, but a person infected with poison ivy will have a rash. All exhaustion does not indicate a buried grudge, but if you've got a grudge, there is a good chance you'll experience fatigue.

6. A grudge usurps God's rightful role.

The ultimate sin in an unforgiving spirit is that we take God's authority from Him. God, and God alone, has the right to condemn men and women. Only God has the right to hold another accountable for sin. Vengeance is His exclusive domain. When we refuse to forgive another we raise ourselves to the level of God, as if we can hold another under charges for their sin. Forgiveness allows us to turn this account over to the ultimate Collector of debts.

Insufficient Remedies for a Grudge

All of us recognize the danger of grudges. This leads us to somehow try to remedy the problem. One danger is to choose an insufficient remedy -- treating only the surface problem, not the deep resentment within. Consider these inadequate remedies:

1. Cover it over.

You won't escape the clutches of a grudge by simply trying to cover it over. This kind of suppression will only lead to a further poisoning of your spirit. Saying, "I'll pretend it never happened," would be like trying to cure cancer with aspirin. Covering up a grudge with soothing words will only submerge it, allowing it to spread unchecked inside you. Radical surgery is the need, not aspirin!

2. Forget it.

God is not asking you to forget the offense. You simply can't do it. He does -- but He does not ask you to do the same. He has designed you so that your memory contains all the events of your lives. It is conceivable that you could remember everything that ever occurred in your life. You can especially remember painful experiences, or more so the feelings resulting from these experiences..

When you fully forgive a person, you do not have the capacity to forget their sin. "Forgive and forget" is an ability beyond human capacity.

While you can't forget an offense, you can choose not to dwell on it. When the devil brings it up again, you can quickly dismiss the event as forgiven. You can't fully erase the memory banks of your mind. God won't do it for you. But you do have the power to refuse to think on past injustices, once forgiven. The curious thing is that once an offense is fully forgiven, the time between your remembering it will increase as time passes. Eventually months, even years, will pass without a thought of this deep hurt. For all practical purposes you might say, "I've forgotten it," though it still lies deep in your memory. The difference: that file is now marked "forgiven."

3. Excuse it.

"But she was wrong," I argued with the Lord about my Miss Culp. "If I forgive her it would be like admitting what she did was all O.K." No. God doesn't ask me to justify a person's sin -- only He can do that. He only asks me to forgive them. We misunderstand forgiveness. Forgiveness can only be granted if the other person was wrong. Fascinating thought: it is only in being wronged that I am empowered to forgive. To forgive Miss Culp I had to label her actions wrong, I could not excuse them.

God calls us to forgive one another as God forgave us (Col 3:13). How did God handle your sins? Did He dismiss them with a hasty "Oh, you needn't worry about your sins, they're minor and I understand"? No. God forgives us by condemning our sins, then granting a pardon. This is what He asks you to do. Condemn the injustice as wrong, then grant a pardon anyway. Hate the sin, but love the sinner enough to forgive him or her!

So what about you, my friend?

Have you been hurt? Has someone been unjust to you? A parent? Brother or sister? Child? Neighbor? Teacher? Former spouse? Perhaps a group or institution hurt you: a school, church, committee, board, youth group. Have you fully forgiven these people? Do you harbor a bit of a grudge for anyone anywhere in your past?

If so, you can get this monkey off your back for good today! You can decide that from this hour forward you are marking that debt "paid in full." It is in the willing that you forgive. You can do it. You can! In one single transaction you can determine that you will no longer consider that your offender has no "outstanding balance" with you. The debt is "history"... cancelled... paid in full -- turned over to the Eternal Debt Collector. Not because they were right, but simply because you want to obey Christ and please the Father. He has commanded that you forgive others as His Father forgave you. How was that? Completely, wholly, irrevocably. Can you now do the same for another? It's not a question of who's right; it's a question of what's right.

Perhaps your injury was especially deep. Could you at least begin to forgive? Are you telling yourself "I can't forgive" when you really mean "I won't forgive?" Are you truly unable to forgive? Are you willing to be made willing? Is the Lord gently urging you to begin? To start? If so, why not turn the corner today? Why not tell Him right now, "Lord, I'm going to begin my road to recovery...and I shall not turn back until I have fully forgiven that person." The Great Forgiver will help you.

Bible Study

  1. Matthew 18:21-35.

    -- What was the question posed which brought up the subject of forgiveness? (verse 21)

    -- What does each of the following parts of the parable represent to you?

    . The King

    . The first servant

    . The hopeless debt

    . The king's cancellation of the debt

    . The fellow servant

    . The fellow servant's debt

    -- Strictly speaking many Bible scholars feel a parable essentially tries to teach only one point. Based on verse 35 what do you think that point is?

    2. Matthew 6:12-15.

    -- What should we pray to God for? (verse 12)

    -- What example of forgiveness do we want God to use in forgiving us? (verse 12)

    -- What promise do you see here? (verse 14)

    -- What warning do you see? (verse 15)

    3. James 2:12-13.

    -- What is the positive Christian characteristic of being forgiving mentioned here?

    -- What warning is here again repeated?

    4. Colossians 3:13.

    -- What example are we to use in forgiving others?

    5. Luke 23:33-34.

    -- Based on this example, how would you answer the question "How far should you go with this forgiveness thing?"

    6. Personal Reflection.

    What is one single thing you could do in response to the truths of this chapter?

    -- An action to take:

    -- A promise to make:

 From: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People by Keith Drury
(c) 1989 Wesley Press
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 To contribute to the thinking on this issue or to contact the writer e-mail Tuesday@indwes.edu