Most grief stories I’ve heard, including the ones I’ve lived personally, all make a pit stop at anger. Sometimes it’s a brief stay, sometimes it festers for years, and sometimes it’s an intermittent emotion. But anger seems to turn up in one way or another after someone dies. Maybe it’s anger at a physician for not making the right diagnosis at the right time. Or perhaps it’s anger at a family member or friend who didn’t speak, serve or grieve in the way we needed them to or thought they should. There are lots of terrible things people do to each other during loss. Too many examples to list, really. And sometimes people get angry with God, or maybe even angry with the person who died.
“How could you do this to me?” is the battle cry of grief anger. It seems it’s often necessary to sit in anger for a bit, but it’s never fruitful long-term. I know it is something that eats me up, and likely something that my offenders aren’t even thinking about. So it plagues my heart, and prevents me from happiness and healing. But how do you just get over it? It’s so hard to let go of hurt, isn’t it? Especially when it feels so justified!
I know forgiveness is the power that can wipe away anger and hurt, but how do I get there? The problem is, forgiveness is more challenging than anger, especially if the person or people you’re mad at aren’t remorseful. Maybe they don’t even realize what they’ve done wrong. Or maybe they do, but aren’t willing or able to admit it. That’s the worst! I want accountability and need to feel their regret. And yet, the journey to healing and forgiveness is mine alone. Often times I have to find my way past the anger without the explanations I need and the apologies I think I deserve.
My prayers are often “Help me let go. Help me forgive.” “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I pray these things because I can’t seem to relinquish it on my own. I need to ask for help in letting go. It turns out it’s really hard to give extra grace! Often after really opening up my heart to God about this, I feel bitterness and hurt fall away. But sometimes I have to pray it every single day. Forgiveness, for me, can be a recurring struggle. I wish it came in one declarative moment. I forgive you. There. Done. But that’s not how it has been for me.
The anger finds its way back into my mind from time to time, and then I have to consciously work on it all over again. I try to forgive, not only because it’s what God says we’re supposed to do, but also because not forgiving doesn’t really affect the person/people who have hurt me. In fact, the odds are great that I spend 100% more time thinking about it than they do. Holding on to the offense is tearing me apart, not them.
God has a lot to say about forgiveness. Do you suppose it’s because He knew we’d need the instruction? Do you t think He knew it would be really hard but necessary? I know anger and bitterness prevent me from being closer to Him and when I’m not closer to Him, things aren’t good.
Luke 6:37 (NIV)
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
Mark 11:25 (NIV)
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
And then there’s the perfect example – Jesus himself. While nailed to a cross for us, He says:
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34 (NIV)
I really dwell on this one. They turned on Jesus. They betrayed him, mocked him, spat on him, and forced him to carry the cross they’d later nail him to. And he asked for their forgiveness!! I guess if my God can do that, then maybe I should find a way to forgive a much lesser offense.
Forgiveness is hard, but it’s also liberating. Anger crushes our spirit, steals our joy and amplifies our pain. Feel it, sit in it as you need to, but work on forgiveness. I’m working on it right now, actually. There are words I desperately need to hear. There are admissions and apologies that would help me so much, but I doubt I’ll ever receive them. I can’t control that.
I am trying to forgive anyway. I’m trying to give extra grace to those who have hurt me. It doesn’t come in one decision. Sometimes it takes many attempts, but I’m trying. I know I require extra grace too, so I have to work on giving it out – not just requiring it.
It’s so difficult. Every single part of grief is hard. I know some of you have experienced unthinkable wrongdoings, some criminal perhaps. Let me just say justice is not the same thing as forgiveness. I imagine your road to forgiveness is extra complicated. But I pray in time you’ll find the way.
I want all of us to find the way to forgiveness, because there’s freedom and healing in cutting ourselves loose from the clutches of anger. I want every one of us to be free from that crippling stuff because life is hard enough.
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