There was a little shih tzu that wandered our neighborhood and regularly pooped in my front yard. He/She was clearly well fed and flawlessly maintained, so the dog is definitely not a stray. It seems that somebody allowed their dog to roam the neighborhood, pooping wherever it saw fit.
I was very angry about this. Truthfully, it seemed like a small but annoying injustice. Who lets their own dog poop in a neighbor’s yard and doesn’t clean it up? My initial plan was to catch the dog in the act, trap it, figure out who owned it, give them an earful about responsible pet ownership and then make THEM clean up the growing poop garden in my front yard. It only seemed fair.
Eventually I abandoned this plan, at least partially because I work for a church but mostly because it didn’t seem like the “right” thing to do. However, that didn’t resolve the conflict. The anger I felt didn’t go anywhere. It was shoved down to the deep, dark place I try to hide the emotions, pain, fears and disappointment I don’t want or know how to deal with. That’s called repression. So imagine my bitterness weeks later when I went to work on the lawn and the original set of poop had multiplied. Apparently ignoring it didn’t make the problem go away either.
Then, as I stewed in my anger, it hit me. The only people I was punishing by not dealing with the poop was myself and my family. Not just the ever-growing resentment and bitterness is my heart, but my front yard was filled with poop. Sure, it was their pet and their responsibility but my house was the one that stunk. So I cleaned up the poop and in that symbolic act found the path to forgiveness, not just for my neighbors (which was a small issue) but for the other people in my life that had hurt me deeply. By not forgiving I was letting the “poop” pile up, creating resentment and bitterness for me, and affecting those I love the most.
You may not have actual dogs running amok in your neighborhood, but we all have crap in our front yards to clean up. Forgiveness is cleaning up the poop, not because it’s “fair” or your “responsibility”, but because your house is the one that smells. That was the only response that freed me from the burden. I considered revenge, which created more problems than it solved. I tried both resentment and repression and those two responses only made my life worse while not effecting them at all. I came to find that ultimately, forgiveness is not for the person that wronged you, it’s for yourself.
If you are a follower of Christ, there is a higher calling to forgive as well. Since our sins have already been forgiven by God, it is cruel not to forgive the sins of others. (Matthew 18:21-35 offers a great explanation). And the only way that I’ve found to forgive, particularly as it relates to deep wounds, is to actually forgive and pray for the person that has wronged you. It’s not enough to say “God, one day I hope that maybe you’ll help me forgive _________.” You must utter the words “I forgive _________” and pray for them. It sure isn’t easy, but it is worthwhile. Who do you need to forgive today? Where can you start?
BTW, this was meant to be an introduction to the concept of and importance of forgiveness. I know that all cannot be resolved by a blog post. Especially for significant wounds and horrific abuses. A more complete forgiveness resource is this service and message by Pastor Brent at CityChurch. If you need to talk to someone about this, you can contact me or someone else at CityChurch.
Photo credit: http://donnajenkinscanuckdogblog.blogspot.com/