Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Wisdom for the New Year: Forgiveness (Dear Kittens #35)

(I write my daughters aka "kittens" a short letter each week under the pseudonym "TOC"="The Old Cat". We've always had cats so this rubric works for us. My daughters are both in high school. I try to distill the wisdom gained from my 47 years that I wish I'd have learned when I was a teen.)

Dear Kittens,

I’ve held too many grudges over the years. Grudges do nothing but keep us tied to painful memories of the past. There is an alternative to holding on to past pain. The alternative is learning to forgive.

Forgiveness is key for experiencing the life that God desires for us. Forgiveness is at the center of the prayer that Jesus taught his earliest followers. Jesus invites us to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors” (Matt 6:12). Jesus’ words assume our willingness to forgive others. Jesus emphasizes the necessity of forgiveness in the verses that follow his prayer. In Matt 6:14–15, Jesus adds, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Jesus’ intention was not to scare us into forgiving others. Rather Jesus highlights the important role of forgiveness for enjoying an abundant life. The irony of refusing to forgive is that we actually hurt ourselves. Lewis Smedes wrote, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

Forgiveness does not mean that we minimize the pain we have suffered. It is not a white-washing of the past. It does not mean that we continue to allow ourselves to be mistreated by others. It does not always mean a full reconciliation with the person(s) who hurt us. Instead forgiveness is a refusal to allow another’s action to bind us to the past. By forgiving, we release junk that weighs us down. Kittens, if we want to move forward in life, we have to unclog our inner being. Grudges, old wounds, and memories of past pain serve only to weigh down our hearts. When we hold on to past pain, we turn our inner space into a warehouse of dusty and unused junk. When we forgive, we clear out our storehouses and create space for new good things.

As we move into a new year, I encourage you to spend a few minutes reflecting on your own memories of pain. Who has hurt you? Make a list of persons that you may need to forgive. Consciously remember how they hurt you. Don’t make excuses for their actions. Instead, think about how you’ve had to grow to overcome these events. Then begin to forgive each of these people one by one. Start with the easiest ones to forgive. This may not be an easy process. It may require the shedding of a few tears. It may have to occur without the other person ever apologizing. Forgiveness is not a feeling; it is a decision. Make the decision to forgive and over time God will take care of your feelings.

Maya Angelou wrote, “It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.” She is giving good advice, kittens. Take it. I am.

You may find it easiest to begin by forgiving yourself for not being perfect. Remember you are enough Kittens. Always. Since you are enough, you can forgive others for the hurts you’ve suffered. This will open up the future for you in ways that will astonish you.

With much love,

If you would like to be added to the mailing list to receive new "Dear Kittens" notes as soon as I write them, email me at brian.russell9113 at

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