An injury suffered by word or deed transfers a negative thing from one to another. Yet, we all employ the use of many phrases to deny this truth.
"I don't let it bother me," or "I just let it roll off me like water on a duck's back," and of course the famous, "Sticks and stones my break my bones but words can never harm me."
The truth is words DO affect us, sometimes worse than physical pain. If the average person dug deep down and tried to come up with some of their most painful experiences, they'd be more likely to remember how something said hurt them rather than the time they say, broke a toe or got hit by a baseball. Those types of injuries heal, the pain goes away and the event that caused it often becomes all but a faded memory. But with an injury suffered through damaging words, the wounds can hurt over a lifetime, the moment of impact remaining a clear memory over a long time. After all, people end up in counseling not to get over cuts and bruises, bumps and scrapes, but much of the time in order to deal with, heal and move past the pain caused to them through verbal assaults.
Being attacked by words seems as though the person on the attack reached inside of their chest, grabbed something ugly and unkind from within their heart and shoved it into your hands. Even if it seemingly "rolls off your back" or you dismiss it, it has to go somewhere.
In fact, the definition of "dismiss" is to "put aside mentally." When something is put aside, like a stack of mail or a burnt pot on a stove, you have to get back to it to deal with it eventually. Otherwise it gathers dust or keeps on smelling bad, much like the mess under the rug.
But while we might not have to struggle to forgive the mailman for doing his job or a family member for forgetting about hot chocolate on the stove, messes created by stinging words can only truly be cleaned up and eliminated by the not so easy choice to forgive.
Genuine forgiveness is work. It's only accomplished by constantly honing our ability to do it. Sometimes it happens quickly while for some things it requires a lengthy process.
But if we care about our relationships, the only way to keep them alive is to keep practicing. That's because relationships are living things. You have to feed them right or they will die. The nourishment they require is love, truth, compassion--and forgiveness.
The apostle Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?"
Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." (Matthew 18:21)
While the rabbis of the day taught people that they should forgive those who offend them three times, the apostle Peter decided he should be generous and offer forgiveness seven times to those who offended him. But Jesus' answer was intended to mean that we shouldn't even keep track of the number of times we forgive. And if we aren't meant to keep track, this certainly implies that people are capable of offending us over and over. It's a given.
While Peter talked about forgiving a "brother," it's just as important to let strangers and people you dislike "off the hook" for their offenses. When anyone rips that ugly thing from within them and dumps it on you, you've got to deal with it and clean it up--whether or not you want to.
Think of it this way; if your hands are clenched in anger they aren't open to receive. You cannot fully embrace the love from your adopted child or the God that gave him to you or return that love.
Without forgiveness, love is a mere concept. If only nations would pardon violations, infractions, injuries and offenses. There might be a chance for the world peace so many profess to want.
Forgiveness is the cornerstone that securely anchors a flawed humanity. It prevents anarchy and the revenge that breeds destruction at the expense of many, including many children. It is the only means by which fallen man has a chance at coexisting peacefully with each other.
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