I am one of those people that have a tendency to keep things that I do not like hidden in a closet under lock and key so that I do not have to deal with negative emotions. I call this my emotional dirty laundry. There have been those who have tried to force open my closet to only get an emotional slap in the face. Just ask those close to me for they are usually the ones that get this emotional slap. This is dangerous business because keeping these negative emotions hidden means you never allow yourself to go through the grieving process, forgive and eventually heal. Furthermore by ignoring negative emotions we release them in unhealthy ways that often leads to harm to ourselves and to those close to us. Many addictions are the result of emotional dirty laundry.
Through the process of cleaning out my dirty laundry of negative emotions I have wrestled with what forgiveness means in practical terms. Christians talk about forgiveness, about it’s importance but not many people could actually describe to me what it is. Early on in my journey to forgive I thought of it was just saying to myself I forgive that person and then forget, move on. But this did not actually work. Furthermore I have experienced many relationships in which I would forgive and then they would in turn hurt me again, repetitively. God says that we are to forgive an infinite number of times so I thought to myself, “does this mean I just keep forgiving and letting someone continually hurt me?”
The answer God has given me is complicated. He has helped me look at relationships as either healthy or unhealthy. For a healthy relationship, when there is harm done there is work done on both sides to reconcile the relationship. Therefore I am called to forgive an infinite amount of times and more forward in the relationship. On the other hand, a unhealthy relationship often means only one side is working on reconciliation. It has been these relationship I have struggles with how to forgive and move forward. For forgiving does not mean we forget. I do not believe there is a clear answer to how to deal with these situation. As an adult God has always given me a choice. I can stay or leave and he will honor my choice. For it is often through staying, prayer and walking in the spirit that God uses us to be Christ healing hands to others. That being said, God has never forced me to stay in an unhealthy situation. As an adult it has always been my own choice.
When I was younger I thought forgiveness meant that I had to forget and trust the other person but God has shown me this is not the case. For when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden God forgave them but he did not trust them. Trust is earned not freely given.
Through the years I have created a kind of processes in which I would call forgiveness. It starts with me recognizing that what someone has done was wrong. After recognizing it was wrong I had to actually allow myself to feel the grief and anger. I then would give all these emotions to God and pray for the person who wronged me. It is through prayer for this person that I would ask God to give me a heart of forgiveness. This would often become a daily exercise. For each time I feel angry or upset at the person I would pray for them, ask for a heart of forgiveness and release this to the lord. I have had to do this for years for certain people. But God has always been faithful in eventually taking the burden. I feel like this then brings me back to ground zero where I am extremely mistrustful of the person or people that remind me of the person. I think I am still trying to figure out how the building trust phase works.
“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:22-26
So to anyone who has emotional dirty laundry, may you set aside time to pray through your grief and anger so that you can reach forgiveness. And to all, let us be a body of Christ that come along side those who grieve, listens to others so that we can be the seed of change. For if the body of Christ would listen we would know exactly what God wishes us to do. Amen