Friday, August 29, 2008

Don't Take it to the Grave

I had the privilege of taking my kids to Arlington National Cemetery last April and was able to watch the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I witnessed this ceremony as a young child, but as an adult I have much more appreciation and a tremendous amount of respect for the honorable men and women of our Armed Forces that guard the Tomb 24/7, 365 days per year in extreme heat and cold, rain, sleet or snow.

As we walked through the cemetery I was awed by the rows and rows of meticulously placed white tombstones - markers for those who have served our country and are laid to rest there. As I took in the sight I thought about how each tombstone represents a man or woman and that some gave their life serving their country while others served their country and went on to live their lives. Some were farmers, and teachers, carpenters, businessmen and women, nurses, doctors, and clergymen and each had their own story. Then I began to wonder how many of those buried in Arlington died with 'unfinished business' in their hearts. Who died with anger or contempt towards a brother or neighbor, un-forgiveness or bitterness towards their mother or father, an ex-spouse or 'used-to-be' friend? Who had let these things destroy their life and take away any hope for real, true happiness or joy that they might have experienced in life?

The other day I was saddened as I read an article about a couple from Brooklyn who were murdered in their home this past summer. What really struck me was the title “Bitter to the End – and Beyond”. Apparently they detested many in life, mainly members of their immediate family, and when they wrote their will, they allowed all of their bitterness to spew forth and literally filled it with all the hatred they had stored up. Now the whole world has knowledge of this and most likely this couple will be remembered not for the good they may have done, but for the will they left behind laced with acerbic words for their family. How sad that they chose for their last words to be hurtful, hateful and vengeful instead of forgiving and healing.

I don’t think this couple is any different than me or you or millions of others in the world. They are just as human and prone to allowing past hurts and resentments quench the true joy and happiness we can experience in life. Un-forgiveness is a slow death, like strapping the person we have issues with to our back and carrying them around until we crumble under the weight. It’s giving others control and power over us. If I can forgive, I’m essentially taking them off my back, freeing myself of the burden and not allowing them to control my life any longer. We should take the saying 'get off my back' literally!

I know as a Christian that I am called to love. Not just those that I like and get along with, but those that I don't like or those that say things about me or persecute me. God makes that very clear when he tells us in Romans 10:12 - Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. If I have bitterness, anger or un-forgiveness in my heart how can I do what God tells me to do – which is love others? If I can't forgive how can God forgive me? Mark 11:25 -And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. Living victoriously in Christ and loving others is dealing with our past hurts, anger and un-forgiving hearts and learning to love as Christ loves us. Its living Ephesians 4:31-3; Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

It's easier to be un-forgiving than forgiving. But, I don't want to go to my grave and not have taken full advantage of living victoriously in Christ and receiving all of the hope and joy that He has for me in my life. That would be cheating myself out of some pretty cool things I know God has for me.

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