Years ago I was a pastor at a local church in upper state New York. I was called to that ministry to serve a small congregation. I was told that I would have free reign to grow that ministry, to grow that parish. And so in that first year the ministry began to grow. We began to reach out to adults, to children, and to youth.
As the ministry began to grow, I recognized that I needed help and I called upon my leadership to help me. They pulled me into office, into the boardroom one day, and they said, “Bob we want you to stay focused on us, and not reach out to the other people in the community.” And I told them, “I couldn’t do that,” because I really wanted to reach out to other people. To make a long story short, they decided to terminate my services. I was married with 4 children, 4 young children with no place to go. Upon leaving that church, they also gave me no severance pay.
So I packed up my truck, with all of my children, my wife and myself to head to another state. It impacted my family in major ways. In fact, my oldest daughter was so emotionally impacted by that, that we had to admit her into in a psychiatric hospital for 2 weeks because of how hurt she was about what had happened to her dad.
Unforgiveness has toxic effects emotionally, psychologically, and even spiritually. I recognized after that event in my life that I had to make a very informed decision about how I was going to interpret the actions of others. Whether I was going to internalize and keep that anger and resentment and bitterness attitude for the rest of my life, or I was going to do something about that.
I share with you that personal story because I have recognized through my own experience and working with other patients during the years that toxic unforgiveness can produce Post-Traumatic Transgression Disorder. It’s kind of like PTSD. When you hold onto something it’s almost like when a trigger affects you it ignites some kind of emotional reaction inside of you. The transgression could have happened years ago. The wrong could have happened weeks ago, but when something immediately causes you to remember, then it’s like a flood of emotions takes place as if it happened just yesterday. Hence the Post-Traumatic Transgression Disorder. And I recognized that when people are in a PTTD, they are in an emotional fortress of a sort. They stay imprisoned in their anger, their resentment and their bitterness. It happened to my oldest daughter and it can happen to you. It can happen to people who want to feel entitled that they have to hold onto this anger inside of them.
An unforgiving spirit is defined as taking a poison pill in hopes that the person who wronged you is going to die. It never works. And so what I want to share with you is the fact that an unforgiving spirit affects us, and I believe that the way to be able to forgive is to choose to forgive the actions of that person for what they did in order to give yourself freedom. If you won’t forgive, you stay inside that emotional fortress, and it’s a terrible place to be. I have worked with so many folks who are imprisoned in their own emotional fortress for years and years and years. They all expect some kind of progress in their life when in actuality they find themselves held in that emotional fortress.
And so I believe that the way to be able to resolve that is take it upon themselves. It is an act of the will. I choose to let this person go. Regardless of whether that person acknowledges their wrongdoing or not.
So here’s a footnote to what happened to me at that church. Years later I got a UPS package from that church. And inside that box were letters of apologies from many of the parishioners, except the one who was the mastermind, who initiated my termination. And I read through all of those letters and every one was asking forgiveness for what they had done.
And I recognized that even though that one person, the mastermind of all, did not write a letter of apology, I had to make a decision in my mind that I was going to wipe that slate completely clean regardless if that person’s letter was in the UPS box or not. And so I am telling you that forgiveness is not conditional. It’s not if it feels good. It’s not if the other person makes it right. It’s me that makes the decision. I have to make a decision, a choice that I am going to wipe that slate clean, regardless of whether the wrongdoer asks for forgiveness or not. It’s not up to them. It’s up to me. I have to make that decision in my heart of hearts if I am going to be freed from that emotional fortress.
And I recognized that when people are in a PTTD, they are in an emotional fortress of a sort. They stay imprisoned in their anger, their resentment and their bitterness.
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