The Heart #07: Forgiving Strength – The Red Letter Hate Notebook

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November 12, 2013 by AJ Briones

This is a topic that I would really love to avoid. An ordinary person if asked to write The Heart - Forgiving Strengthabout that would be glad that this was the topic that they are supposed to write; probably because among all of the topics included in the “The Heart” Blog Post Series, this may appear to be the easiest to understand but when you think about it, yes, it is the most difficult topic to discuss. I would be a total hypocrite if I would tell you now that I have no problems when it comes to the topic of forgiveness; much more the topic of the strength to forgive; for the strength to forgive is a strength that does not come naturally as the strength to share or bless. It always involves self-denial and letting go of something we hold so dear or tightly.

I used to study in a very religious Christian school; yes, there are religious Christian schools contrary to what they wish to portray. Being in a religious school involves an expectation to be all nice in every aspect. Well, that’s what it means for most Christian schools, to be enveloped in the blanket of innocence. Those who were deviant to the defining characteristics would be out-casted unintentionally and most of the times intentionally; sadly, even by teachers themselves. I wasn’t one of those social standard passers. I was not that handsome, I lacked adequate hygiene (well, what do you expect for active kids in our days?) and I lacked the smarts to be an achiever (I grades were hanging on a ledge). I was an out-cast and I was teased for it. It sickened me every single day that I would not escape the teasing and bad-mouthing of the cool kids and even the teachers. You see, I get criticized for my looks by the students and I get criticized for my grades and aloofness by my teachers. For that reason, I became a rebellious young man.

From my grader years to my intermediate and then secondary years, I kept in my possession a small notebook. I kept it always in my pocket along with a red pen. Why red? It kind of looked like blood in my imagination as a young man. Inside the notebook were names and tally marks. Those written down represented every person who has wronged me or I have a person grudge on. The more tally marks a person has, the more I would like to get even with the person. Persons would number more than fifty marks. A lot? There was even one who had eighty to a hundred marks. The notebook was an embodiment of all the hate I had against people. All the notes of unforgiveness I had against people. Funny? Well, yes but now as I remember it, it was so sinister.

The notebook was not just to count but for me it had a limit. I kept on telling myself that one day I will receive power, influence or strength to finally receive justice for all the pain I felt. In my mind where thoughts that there had to some sort of pay back. A false-redemption I cooked up in my pain-molded mind. And so, I planned revenge. I held on to the anger, pain and disappointment against those who in my mind should be the good ones. I carried that for seven years, even those years when I became a Christian. I learned how to smile and hide it all but kept the notebook; waiting for my chance to free myself from the pain. I was a Samson, waiting for my final pillar wrecking move.

Well, for most of the people who know me and my story, you may know what happened next. I had a change of heart and the notebook for some reason disappeared. End of story. No! I was just kidding. I wish it were as such. Though I wish that forgiving people was easy, it isn’t. Even as a young man acknowledged by people and loved by even those who teased me, it was difficult; especially when you remember every statement people would tell you. Well, I refuse to tell you my readers about Christianese stereotypes that we should “forgive and forget.” Forgiving and forgetting are difficult actions to do. Doable but demands strength. That’s my intro (Smile on my face).

So, what’s that strength to forgive? Where do you get the strength demanded to forgive? If it is hard, why bother? Well, the answer is this. As a former teacher at a secondary school in the Philippines, I encountered a quote from Lewis B. Smedes, an author, ethicist and theologian. “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” I was a prisoner, a prisoner to myself. It was always a decision to forgive people; my decision.

So, how about the strength I was talking about? Where do you find it? Well, here’s an idea. Prisoners have something called Parole. Have you heard about something like that? Parole is the provisional release of a prisoner who agrees to certain conditions prior to the completion of the maximum sentence period (Wikipedia). Having parole does not erase the offenses they committed or the offenses they received but one thing is notable; they worked out their freedom by doing what is right. Forgiveness doesn’t happen in a snap. You have to decide constantly to forgive until the truth’s presence doesn’t bother you anymore. Forgiveness is not just a word but integration in our lives. No longer allow yourself to be a prisoner. Parole yourself and decide to forgive people. Like people in prison who suffer each day for mistakes they may or may not have inflicted on themselves. Decide to live not as a prisoner to the hate, pain and memories of past mistakes. Carrying a thousand pound barbell may be difficult but carrying it one pound at a time until a hundred would take time but won’t be as straining. Doing this, you will realize this truth. A thousand? One at a time? That’s preposterous! That’s impossible! At the length of doing so, a person would break down and be unable to continue on. It would be like throwing more stick to an open fire. It’s impossible to continuously forgive. Where’s the strength in that? 2nd Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” It is our weakness to forgive constantly and our efforts would eventually dry out. That’s the point of it all. Let alone, we can never forgive constantly. As prisoners breaking their parole without sufficient supervision, we can never work it out because our own strength will fall short. The strength to forgive comes from God alone. The sufficiency of who God is and what His grace can do is more than enough to fuel a continuous integration of forgiveness in our lives. The perfect solution to continuous integration of forgiveness in one’s life is God’s grace.

They say, “Forgive and Forget.” Here’s what I say, “Forgive and let God’s grace do the rest.”

The red lettered hate notebook can never have notes redder than the blood used to write freedom for all men. Freedom that can be found only through the grace of what Christ has done for us all.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV)

Here’s a side note: The beauty of it all is that God’s grace doesn’t just give us something like a parole. His grace gives us something more like Presidential Clemency. Wiped out clean; it’s all no more.

For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. (Hebrews 8:12, NIV)

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