The Car Story
Many people think about forgiveness as a process yet when challenged to forgive, the expectation, especially in the church, is often that forgiveness is simply a matter of choice. You pray a prayer or make a decision or tell someone you forgive them and you’re done. Case closed. End of discussion. But sometimes it’s not that easy. Sometimes it takes a while to work through all the hurt and anger. I believe that forgiveness begins with a choice but is a process that can take 5 minutes or 5 years depending on the depth of the hurt, how long you’ve been holding on to it and the effects of the offense. To explain how the forgiveness choice and the forgiveness process work together I’ve developed an analogy.
Suppose you were at home and got offended by someone. They hurt you and you wanted to get away from the hurt as fast and as far as possible. So you jump in your car and start driving. As you drive you replay the offense in your head and your heart continues to hurt. After a while, you get a little lonely and you see a hitchhiker on the side of the road. He is very clean cut, dressed in a business suit and you think to yourself, “His car probably just broke down, his cell phone died and he’s just trying to get to the next exit. He looks safe enough. I’ll give him a ride.” So you stop and let the guy in and immediately he asks, “What’s wrong? You look very upset?”
Now you have a sympathetic ear so you tell your story, from start to finish in full detail. He listens intently, asking questions at just the right time to help you vent your emotions. At the end, he says, “I can’t believe anyone would treat you that way. You should never take that from anyone.”
Now you feel validate and exhausted from your emotional catharsis and you just want to take a nap, but you don’t want to stop the car. So you ask your new best friend to drive while you climb in the back seat and immediately fall asleep. When you wake up, feeling rested and refreshed, you look around and discover that there are other people in your car; people you did not invite, people who do not look as clean cut as your new best friend. You also see that you are in a part of town you never intended to enter. It has a reputation of being sketchy and dangerous. You turn to your new best friend and ask, “Who are all these people? How did they get in the car? Where are we? And give me back my keys!” Your new best friend looks back with a sly grin and says, “Let me introduce you to my friends. This is Depression. This is Resentment; this is Bitterness; and this is Revenge. By the way, my name is Unforgiveness. These are my friends. You invited me in and gave me your keys and now this is my car and I will take you wherever I want to go.”
Unforgiveness speeds up and drives through the dangerous part of town. He takes you over mountains, through valleys, through deserts and over rivers. You are completely at his mercy, of which he has little. However, you do have a choice. You can decide to get out of the car and begin the long walk home, back through all the terrain that you have travelled through.
When you get out of the car you are making the choice to forgive. The journey home is the process of forgiveness. This process can be quick or lengthy depending on how long you have been travelling with Unforgiveness and how deep the hurt is. Oftentimes, when you get out of the car, Unforgiveness will trail you. He will tempt you to get back in the car. If you are walking through the desert, Unforgiveness will say, “Come back in the car. I have a nice, cold lemonade. I have air conditioning. You can rest in here.” Or if you are on a cold snowy mountain, he’ll tempt you with, “I have hot chocolate and a nice warm blanket. Come on back with me.” And if you should give in to that temptation, as soon as you get in the car and get settled, Unforgiveness will take off again and continue taking you wherever he wants to go. No matter how many times you get back in the car, you can always choose to get out and begin the journey home.
So, where are you and who is in your car?
To learn more about the forgiveness process go to What is Forgiveness?