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The Why and The How Of Letting Go

Colossians 3:12-17
"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." vs 13  

A few days ago I was listening to an NPR radio station from Seattle. An artist named Bo Bartlett1 was being interviewed about an exhibit of his works currently in Seattle. He was describing the feature painting named "Heartland". It is a painting of a boy pulling a wagon filled with sticks. As he spoke about the painting he said that part of the inspiration came from his own childhood. When his mother would discipline him, she would make him go and cut the stick, or the "switch" which she would then use to spank him. He said that he had wondered to himself..."what if I had kept all those sticks over the years?"

Colossians 3:12-17
"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." vs 13  

A few days ago I was listening to an NPR radio station from Seattle. An artist named Bo Bartlett1 was being interviewed about an exhibit of his works currently in Seattle. He was describing the feature painting named "Heartland". It is a painting of a boy pulling a wagon filled with sticks. As he spoke about the painting he said that part of the inspiration came from his own childhood. When his mother would discipline him, she would make him go and cut the stick, or the "switch" which she would then use to spank him. He said that he had wondered to himself..."what if I had kept all those sticks over the years?"

The boy with the wagon load of sticks stands facing us with his hand on his heart. Is this memory a part of his heartland? And if he had retained the sticks, what would he have kept...the memory of pain, of guilt, of resentment or gratitude for a parent doing what she thought was right at the time? He did not say what it might mean to him, but the memory inspired something beautiful to be created in its place.


What do we retain in the memories we carry into a new year? Do we carry memories of past pains, or past guilts as a burden we must endure, or do we carry our memories as inspiration for something beautiful to be created with the help of God?

The Why of Letting Go
 
Much ink and many sermons have been made from the "why" of letting go.
Paul writes in Colossians 3:13 "....forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another." He then goes on to say, "forgive as the Lord has forgiven you."
The first reason for us to let go of hurts is because we ourselves have been forgiven.
This is the most important reason.
Jesus tells a story of two men who owed money. One who owed a great deal was forgiven his debt, but he in turn refused to forgive the smaller amount owed him by another. For his attitude, he is imprisoned.
Jesus says that we are imprisoned by an unforgiving attitude.

One of the more diabolical punishments in the ancient world was to chain a prisoner to a corpse, then lock him away in a dungeon. Paul alludes to this practice when he says, "who will free me from this body of death".
We chain ourselves to the corpse of our despair, our hurts, our disappointments when we cannot let go.
Unforgiveness is a ball and chain that holds us fast to our sorrow.

This time of year, A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens can usually be found on TV, if you look through the listings. I haven't seen that classic for 2 or 3 years. I am taking a break so that I can come back to it again somewhat fresh.
Who can forget the first time you saw or read Dickens tale, especially the scene when the ghost of Jacob Marley puts in his first appearance. I was in grade 7 and our teacher read it to us. I remember being very creeped-out at the appearance of Marley and his rattling chains. But remember what he says about his chains:

Again the specter raised a cry, and shook its chain, and wrung its shadowy hands.
``You are fettered,'' said Scrooge, trembling. ``Tell me why?''
``I wear the chain I forged in life,'' replied the Ghost. ``I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?''
Scrooge trembled more and more.
``Or would you know,'' pursued the Ghost, ``the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!''

In Dickens tale, Scrooge repents of his hard heartedness and is redeemed.
To Dickens' credit, Ebeneezer Scrooge does not repent because he sees it is in his own self interest. He is convinced of the wrongness of his attitude and learns compassion.

We are going into a new year and this season presents us with a natural mile stone. If you are carrying wounds of resentment, and anger toward someone else, this is a good time to leave them behind.
The best reason is to remember that you have been forgiven by God and the response He asks of you is that you forgive as well. We repeat this every Sunday in the Lord's prayer...forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

We should also forgive because it is in our self interest. When we hang onto a grudge, we are the only ones who carry it. It would be one thing if the person who hurt us could feel the weight of our unforgiveness, but they can't. We carry that load alone.
But we are not the only one hurt by an unforgiving attitude.
There is a verse in scripture that says, "the mouth speaks out of the fulness of the heart"
What that means is that when your heart and mind are crammed full of something, it will leak out your lips. You may be able to censor it to an extent, but sooner or later it will come out. Anger and hate will escape and is often directed toward a person who is totally innocent.
Let it go and allow yourself to be filled with something beautiful. Empty the place of hurt and allow it to be the inspiration for something of beauty.

For two decades49-year-old Wayne Messmer has been a public address announcer and national anthem singer for sports teams in Chicago. After singing the 'star Spangled Banner? at a Chicago Blackhawks game in 1994, though, Messmer was shot at point-blank range by two teenage boys. Because the bullet passed through the singer's throat, the doctors were unsure if he'd ever sing again. Amazingly, six months later (still bearing evidence of his ten hour surgery) Messmer returned to the microphone.

Physical healing was one thing. Emotional release of the hatred and resentment he felt was another. Because of his personal faith in Jesus Christ, Messmer was convinced that his emotional healing was linked to his ability to forgive his young assailants.

In his book The Voice of Victory, Messmer writes: "In spite of my frustration I believed I had reached a point where I could honestly say I had forgiven these young men. In doing so, over a period of contemplative and reflective prayer and meditation, I was confident I had set myself free from the chains that had connected me to the incident."

Although one of the boys had been released on a plea bargain, the other, James Hampton, remained incarcerated. To prove to himself that he truly had forgiven his would-be killers, Messmer drove 225 miles to Galesburg Correctional Center and asked to see Hampton. Although several years had passed, and Hampton had grown from a teenager into a young adult, Messmer found the strength and grace to say, "James, I'm here to see how you are doing." After a two hour, emotional visit, Messmer turned to leave. Reaching out and touching Hampton's forearm, he offered a benediction that revealed the freedom of his heart. "James, I bid you peace."3


The How of Letting Go

It's one thing to say that we need to let go of the sins others commit against us. It's sometimes another thing entirely to know how to let go.
Sometimes letting go comes in stages. When wounds are serious and the scars deep, we may not be able to let go immediately. We may need to do so in stages.
When I was doing counseling this was one of the most common issues with clients--needing to let go of old injuries. Sometimes the first step in doing that was just telling another human being about the hurt.

Following the end of apartheid in South Africa, the new government under Nelson Mandela  brought together a Truth and Reconciliation  Commission  to help South Africans  bring those  years to a conclusion. Penalties were not always severe for serious crimes. The commission believed that what was most important was that the truth be told. The most important element in healing was for victims of injustice to be heard.

If  you have a wound that has not healed, perhaps you need to be heard. Simply having another person hear and understand can validate the injustice and allow you to begin the process of letting go. That hearing may also need to include the anger you feel. Find someone who can hear your pain and anger and begin the process of letting you go.

Another step in letting go of deep wounds is to confess your lack of ability to God. Call it what it is--a problem that you are having. Then ask for God's help in changing your mind. A simple prayer that is effective and can get you started is to ask God to help you be willing to let go of your grudge.

Another step is to remember how much you have been forgiven.
This helps us to reframe our perspective on the issue. It reminds us that we are all debtors to God and that along with counting the wounds we have suffered, we also need to count the sins of our own which have been forgiven.
It's like a book keeping entry where a liability is transferred to the asset side.
That sounds strange. How can you possibly call a wound an asset?
It can become an asset, a thing of beauty before God when we allow God to use it.
But to do that, we have to turn it over to God.

This is another way of letting go.
We may not be able to bring ourselves to forgiving everything. But maybe we can take those more difficult matters and assign them to God.
Here's how you do that. You admit you don't know how to deal with it.
You confess that it needs what God alone can do.
You take the offense and place it in God's hands and release Him to do what is best.
There is a passage in the scriptures that is not often understood.
Jesus is talking to his disciples. He says, "those things you bind on earth are bound in heaven, and those things you loose on earth are loosed in heaven"
A very practical application is in forgiveness. When you hold fast to a wound or a resentment, you are binding it on earth. You bind it to yourself, like that body of death, and in so doing, you bind it in heaven. In other words, you shut down God's room to work in that problem. When you loose it on earth, you turn it over to God, then you loose it in heaven and God can begin working in the lives of many to bring about a thing of beauty that we would never anticipate.

I read this account of a boy who knew the value of  keeping records of the things that really matter.
The story comes from Darlene Neufeld of Delta, B.C.

I was going through the bedtime routine with Micah, my autistic son, I asked him, "How many kisses do you want?" Micah loves this game. Sometimes it's just one kiss; sometimes it's "a hundred." He asked for one.

Then suddenly he sat up in bed. "We need a record of kisses!" he declared. He jumped out of bed and went to the small chalkboard that's in his room. Taking a piece of chalk, he laboriously printed out KISSES on the top. Then he recorded one small mark.

"There," he said. "We have a record of kisses."

He was so cute I had to give him another one, to which he promptly responded by jumping out of bed to add another tally to his record. Then he started counting: "One, two, three, thirteen. We have thirteen kisses," he announced. "We can have records and records of kisses," he said as he snuggled under the covers. I refrained from smothering him with more. He did need to sleep.

These words whispered into my memory: "Love keeps no record of wrongs."

True, I thought, it keeps a record of kisses.4

Paul says to us, 

"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."

When Jesus came into the world, He was God in a body. That body eventually was put to death for your sins and mine. And I am glad of it. Without his gift of himself, we would still be struggling with trying to keep all the rules and failing miserably as every generation has failed. But the word of good news is that He has set us free from the record of our failures. Lets keep new records and let go of the record of our own and of others failures. Who needs them anyway?

Lets give God a chance to turn them into the inspiration for something new and beautiful.
In Jesus name, this is my prayer for you.
Amen

Preached December 28, 2003
Dr. Harold McNabb

West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia

1.The work of Bo Bartlett, including the painting "Heartland" can be seen at his official website.
2. Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol. I cut and pasted this scene from an online source. www.literature.org
3. Pat Karlak, 'messmer Writes of Recovery, Forgiveness,? Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, Illinois; 1-16-00)
   as cited by   Greg Asimakoupoulos; Preachingtoday.com
4.Darlene Neufeld, as told to Lyle Schrag, Delta, British Columbia, Refrenced in Preachingtoday.com

 

 

Resources Consulted

F.F. Bruce, Commentary on the Epistle to the Colossians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Eerdman's, 1977

Online:
Preachingtoday.com
Esermons.com
Email Harold McNabb


Notes