Love Is Not Easily Angered, It Keeps No Record of Wrongs or: The Beauty of Letting Go
(1 Corinthians 13:4-5; NIV)
“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Peter to Jesus (Matthew 18:21; NIV)
I think we can rightfully say that Peter didn’t have that one down.
Maybe it is just because I find the first challenge already the hardest but I think there is a clear connection between love not being easily angered and love being patient. I don’t know what it is for you, maybe the dirty laundry on the floor, the dishes undone or your tools tidied away when they had still been out for a reason. How easy it is then to lose one’s temper, “How many times do I have to tell you…!?!” From this first moment of annoyance, I find it very easy to slide into an “enough is enough!” attitude, which could easily result in a serious crack in the relationship. All because I could be easily angered.
Any good relationship, be it between relatives, spouses, or friends is built on mutual respect and the ability to openly communicate preferences as well as pet peeves. So, a repetitive ignoring of someone else’s needs and wishes might very well be a sign of an imbalanced relationship. The question is, though, what do I do when the offence occurs?
In psychology, anger is defined as a so-called secondary emotion; we might feel it the strongest but emerging anger is often only a sign that something else is not quite right. The underlying feeling might be hurt, fear, a sense of having to meet excessive demands, or humiliation, but we divert to anger because it makes the situation more controllable. And anyone who grew up with an angry parent, has been in a relationship with an angry partner or had to sit through an angry teacher’s tirade knows how much this can keep the recipient of their wrath in check. But there is one thing that anger inevitably does: It creates unhealthy fear and cuts connection. When it says in 1 John 4:18 that “perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment”, it speaks primarily of our relationship with God and if we just knew how much we are loved, we would have no reason to be afraid of anything! But the same is true for our relationships with others. If we can be easily angered the smell of punishment is in the air, which creates an atmosphere of fear. If, on the other hand people around us know that we are patient and cannot be easily provoked, real connection is possible.
As anger is often just a cover-up reaction for an underlying emotion, it is hard to control this instant response. Also, the bible does not condemn anger as such; on the contrary, it names it as the right reaction to injustice and things alike. The Amplified Version tells us in Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry at sin—at immorality, at injustice, at ungodly behaviour, yet do not sin; do not let your anger cause you shame, nor allow it to last until the sun goes down. And do not give the devil an opportunity to lead you into sin by holding a grudge, or nurturing anger, or harboring resentment, or cultivating bitterness.” Or in other words: Don’t act on your anger and get over it quickly.
The pictures chosen here are a perfect description of what happens when we do keep a record of being wronged: We hold on, nurture, harbour, and cultivate – that is a lot of work! And still we do it; we entertain thoughts of what someone did to us, have full-blown discussions in our head with the person who mistreated us, and feed the resentment we are feeling by suspiciously scrutinizing any action a person we hold a grudge against takes, even if what they are doing has nothing to do with us. Holding on to a grudge binds us to the person who hurt us; it keeps us immobile and more focussed on someone else’s life than our own. “Let go or be dragged,” a Zen proverb says.
‘Letting go’ is just another translation for the word forgiving; the Greek word used in the New Testament literally means to ‘send away’. The prefix ‘for’ in ‘forgive’ is an intensifier that indicates that to ‘for-give’ means to ‘give up completely’. This is what we are to do with an offense – to send it away, give it up, cut it loose. If we forgive we let go of what wants to hold us down, drag us around and keep us tied to the past. When Jesus commands us to forgive those who sin against us what he is saying is, “I have got something better for you. I want you to be free from another person’s hold over your life. I have purchased you with a price. You were called to be free from the past that wants to keep you from your destiny. Let go of the hurt you hold on to so that I can fill your hands with the gifts I have for you. Stop turning around looking back and instead look ahead, for I have got a hope and a future for you.” Malachy McCourt said, “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Everybody understands that that would be outright stupid. Let’s do the smart thing and forgive.
Forgiving does not mean that we need to be in relationship with the one who hurt us; on the contrary, it can be the wise thing to put up good boundaries and keep our distance. Reconciliation requires steps from both parties and is not the same as forgiveness. Jesus forgave us even before we knew him or accepted his forgiveness; but we can only be reconciled with God once we confess we are sinners and repent. Forgiveness states that injustice was done that would deserve punishment but chooses to show mercy instead. “It is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart,” Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch watchmaker who helped to save Jews and lost several family member in the Holocaust, said.
What can we do, though, when thoughts and memories of what was done to us just won’t leave us alone, when bitterness keeps popping up, and anger arises in us recurrently? We move in the opposite spirit. But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. (Luke 6:27-28; NLT)
If someone stole from you, give them a gift. If someone lied about you, speak well of them. If someone abused your trust, pray that they make great friends who will be loyal to them. We can hold on to our anger and hurt or we can be free and experience the beauty of making room for God’s blessings. The choice is ours.
Father God, thank you for your goodness and your perfect love. Thank you that you are not angry with me but want me to live a life free of fear. Forgive me where I have held on to resentment and bitterness and refused to forgive wrongs done to me. Show me if there is an area in my life where I hold a grudge. I do not want to give the devil an opportunity to lead me into sin by nurturing anger. Help me to let go quickly. Thank you for the freedom you make available through forgiveness. Teach me how to love like you love me.