Foxglove at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

The elephant in the room

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to have a conversation with someone who hasn’t done something they know they need to do? True, they may be really good at hiding it. But if it’s a friend you’ve known for a long time and you know they’re purposefully ignoring something they’re supposed to get done, what do you talk about? Sure, you can talk around the problem. But isn’t there a saying about the elephant in the room? It’s like a cloud that hangs over both your heads, that has a negative effect on your conversation and your relationship.

It’s like trying to talk to someone who has something in their teeth. Can you focus on what they’re saying?

I’ve noticed that’s true in my human relationships. So why wouldn’t it be true in our relationships with God?

Foxglove at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Foxglove at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is Matthew 6:12.

And forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.

If this looks familiar, it should, because this is the same verse I blogged about on Friday. But on Friday I only took the time to focus on asking forgiveness for our own sins. I didn’t touch on how we need to forgive others, which is just as important as asking forgiveness for ourselves.

As followers of Christ, we are commanded to forgive. Christ told multiple stories about forgiveness throughout the Gospels, and the Bible is full of stories about how people forgave those who had done them wrong. But that was then, right? Is it really still the same? Well, people haven’t changed. So why should this?

If you’re holding something over someone else’s head, that’s what you’re focusing on. That’s a part of yourself that’s tied down. A part of your heart is distracted. And God wants our whole heart. All the pieces not just the ones we’re willing to give Him, not the pieces that are perfect or in good order. He wants all of us.

Unforgiveness is one of the hardest hurdles to overcome, I think. At least, that’s been my personal experience. It takes a lot to really hurt me. Most of the time I just let things roll off. I don’t get offended easily, and I try to live understanding that people are perfect, that everyone has bad days, that life isn’t about me. But every now and then, I run into a situation where someone manages to hurt me on a level that I don’t expect. And as someone who doesn’t get hurt often, it’s difficult for me to forgive, especially if I’m not the one who was hurt. Forgiving others who have hurt people I love is more difficult for me than forgiving people who hurt me.

But unforgiveness is just as damaging no matter who got hurt. And holding on to it does nothing to the perpetrator while it poisons me from the inside out.

I’m not going to go into details but a long time ago I had a friend who stabbed me in the back. I was naive back then, and I didn’t see it coming. The one person I thought I could count on turned against me, and I didn’t understand why. I still don’t. Not really. I thought I let it go. I thought I left it behind me as I moved on with my life, but deep down inside I hadn’t. And that old hurt festered and turned to resentment and then to bitterness, and all the while I was living a good Christian life. Anyone who talked to me wouldn’t have known any different. But I knew I was holding on to it because every time I talked to God, it would come up at the back of my mind–a still, small voice that whispered, “Hey, you need to take care of that.”

And I knew I did. I just didn’t know how to go about it.

I’ll never forget. My awesome pastor preached a message called “Scar Tissue” ages ago in a series called Life Ink that really changed the way I looked at forgiveness. And I remember letting go. Finally. And I can’t tell you it felt like a weight off my shoulders. I can’t tell you that I noticed a change in my daily life. But talking to God didn’t feel strained anymore because I’d finally acknowledged what I hadn’t done yet, and I’d taken care of it.

It’s important to ask forgiveness for yourself, yes. We all do wrong. We all sin. And we need to acknowledge those sins when we talk to God, but we also need to forgive others who have sinned against us. If we don’t, holding that against them will change you, and it will have a negative effect on your prayer life.

Whatever you’re holding on to today, consider letting it go. I’ve never tried to talk to someone with a literal elephant in the room, but I can only imagine how distracting it would be.

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Bright red flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Asking forgiveness isn’t for God’s benefit

I struggle with living in denial, sometimes. I can convince myself that just about anything isn’t a problem, or at least that anything can be dealt with later. In some cases, this is a big blessing because otherwise I would drive myself crazy with all the things that I can’t accomplish. Example? I live alone in a 100-year-old farmhouse that brings new meaning to the phrase deferred maintenance. It’s not that the place is falling apart, it’s just that there’s a lot to do and no way for me to do it all, especially not alone.

Right now, my yard (which is mostly weeds) is knee-high because my mower broke. My basement is still half put together after the flooding last week, and I still have towels under the leaky window well because it hasn’t rained enough since then to prove that we’ve fixed the problem. Also, the house is still damaged from the major storm that blew through a month or so ago, but we’re still in storm season, so fixing the damage is a bad idea until the majority of storm season is over. The chicken house is still mostly destroyed from the major windstorm in November, but the only way to fix it is to tear it down and build another one, and who has time/money for that right now? On one hand, this stuff could drive me nuts. But I don’t let it. I know it’s there, but I can live without it being perfect for a little while.

But what about the stuff that I can fix? That stuff isn’t so good to live in denial about. If you’ve spent any amount of time on this blog, you know I have an aversion to doing the dishes. And putting away my laundry. And keeping my office clean-ish. And just housework in general. Granted, there’s no problem with living in denial about any of that, but it doesn’t make for a very orderly home. And I wouldn’t exactly say that being able to ignore those things is a blessing. It’s more of a bad habit, and unfortunately a habit like that can spill over into other areas of our lives.

Bright red flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Bright red flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is Matthew 6:12.

And forgive us our sins,
    as we have forgiven those who sin against us.

Can you pray without asking for forgiveness? I can. And I really probably shouldn’t. If you can get through a day without needing to ask God’s forgiveness for something you did or something you said or something you thought, you must be perfect. Either that, or you’re living in denial.

There’s a reason asking for forgiveness, and conversely forgiving others, appears in the Lord’s Prayer. This month I’ve been studying prayer, and I started with the most famous prayer, which is actually more of a format to follow than a prayer to be repeated. This is the example Jesus gave for us to follow when we pray.

Why is it so hard to ask forgiveness? Well, who likes to admit when they’re wrong? Who likes to admit that they need forgiveness? Let’s be real here, Christians. It’s easy to say we need it, but it’s not so easy to live like it. It’s not so easy to ask it. It’s easy for me to sit at my computer and write about how I’m not perfect and how I need God’s forgiveness, but when I get out into the world and I’m making snap decisions and fast judgments and doing the best I can, living the way I’m supposed to isn’t always at the top of my mind. Not like it should be.

And when I make mistakes and realize it, I get defensive because I know better. Of course, I know better. I’ve been following Christ since I was seven years old. And there’s some part of me that tells me to sweep it under the rug and ignore it. It’s forgiven. It’s not a big deal. God knows I’m not perfect.

But what happens if we do that? What happens if we ignore our sin, even the minor ones? Well, in my case, I become accustomed to them. I don’t notice them anymore. I desensitize myself to them. And before long, they become a habit. And when sin becomes a habit, you’ve got big trouble because habits are hard to break, especially bad ones.