Near the end of a counseling session, the woman sitting across from me asked two questions; one, then a pause, and then the other:
“How did I get so angry?” Pause. Then,
“How did I get so angry at myself?”
I told her the answer to the first question was simple — how did she get so angry? One unforgiven hurt at a time.
Having said that, I pulled out the big red plastic cup I keep near my desk and set it in front of her. I proposed that every time someone hurt her or wronged her, she put that moment in her cup, along with the anger, bitterness or resentment attached to it. It was no big deal, hardly noticeable as she accumulated one inch of “stuff”, followed by another. The cup was still mostly empty and it was relatively easy to ignore – and to hide from others. However, at some point the cup got full. Now when she made a deposit of unresolved pain, the cup would spill over. Now, it was much messier, so much harder to hide. One day there was no more denying it – she was a very angry person.
The answer to the second question was a bit more challenging but still not hard. She could “feel the cup getting heavier” within her; it was almost literally painful. Over time, the cup had become a muddy, swirling mess and it was hard to discern what all was even in it. Because she had not looked (actually, would not look) in the cup and acknowledge the names and events swirling around in it, she came to an internal conclusion that all the garbage in the cup was her fault (and, in fact, some of it was but not all of it) so the anger about the heavy, painful cup was turned on herself – and when anger is turned inward, it often leads to depression.
She pondered this; then came a third question: “So what do I do now? How do I get rid of all that anger?”
I told her the answer to the question was simple — look in the cup and forgive one unforgiven hurt at a time until the cup is empty. Once the cup is empty, keep it empty.
She pondered this, too. And then asked me to help her scoop out a spoonful of pain connected to a specific individual and forgive it. After we did, she just looked up and said, “The cup is lighter already.”
Please don’t think me naive. I am aware how easy it is to speak the truth and how hard it might be to live it out. When Jesus said, “Take up your cross daily and follow me,” it was a simple declaration that would be incredibly challenging to live out – but that did not stop Him from saying it because He knew there was real life and freedom in obedience to it.
There is real life and freedom in forgiveness – and so we must not stop saying it.