Unforgiveness is not unlike hoarding. I can’t even get myself to watch a full episode of “Hoarders.” I’d cringe, cover my face, and probably hide myself under a huge pillow. It’s just so painful! Chronic hoarders refuse to let go of every single little thing, preventing them from living normal, healthy lives. Unforgiveness prevents us from living normal, healthy lives - the ones we were graciously given to live to the fullest.

If we scour the Bible, we’ll find a long list of verses and passages and stories and proverbs that talk about forgiveness. One specifically comes to my mind, and I decided to stick around here and camp out for a little while.

Having “something” against someone is not just having a light dislike. Jesus was talking about possessing or being in control of feelings that are against someone else. And to that, he said, “Forgive!”

After much reflection and some help from a bit of chocolate, I realized that for most people, unforgiveness is not so much chronic hoarding as it is severely hanging on to that one dusty, allergy-inducing memory box of old stuff. That one box from high school that no longer fits into your adult life but for some reason you insist on keeping around.

I recently unearthed a box like that. I was bravely venturing into the dark spaces of my old closet and found a dusty purple box. (Purple was my favorite color back in high school.) It has been about ten or eleven years since I have opened that box. I didn’t even realize that the thing was still there. I opened the box gently, somewhat anticipating a flood of memories to come rushing at me. It was nowhere close to a flood; more like a sprinkle of memories. I found a lot of pictures of my high school crush and me. I found an overly dramatic letter I wrote for my dad. (I’m quite relieved I never gave that to him. Teenage hormone overload, I tell you.) I found a blue scarf from a teen camp I attended eleven years ago. I found some trinkets from my very first relationship (the one I dubbed “the worst three months of my life”). That was a time I’d rather not dwell on ever again, but there it was, staring at me. A box full of reminders of less-than-wise decisions.

But I kept it.
I’m not quite sure exactly why.

That’s pretty much how unforgiveness works in most of our lives, isn’t it? We don’t struggle with overwhelming, life-debilitating (in our opinion) hatred so deep that we are not able to function. We struggle with that one tiny box that we refuse to deal with. And for some reason, we’ve kept it with us all these years. A reminder of the pain, heartbreak, shame, and bad decisions. Even worse, sometimes we open the box and look inside, just to make sure the mementos are still there. Every time, the pain resurfaces, and we feel it again. We feel everything again. We get mad again. Then we try to close the lid and move on, slightly sore and not unaffected by the encounter.

Why do we keep unforgiveness around?
We don’t consciously want to keep unforgiveness per se, but we do have reasons we hold onto the pain and the hurt.

When people hurt and destroy relationship, it’s never okay. Choosing to forgive does not mean that we are giving the person validation for the hurt or the damage they’ve caused. Choosing to forgive means we give God control over what happens to the person and what comes from the situation. It also means we give ourselves the opportunity to live free from the burden. We probably never
actually forget. I remember things, and even after I have forgiven “the worst three months of my life.” But the memory doesn’t hurt me anymore. It has no control over my life and my current or future decisions.

I can’t help thinking back to Joseph’s story in the Old Testament. What his brothers did to him changed the course of his entire life. His life story and his position in Egypt testify to the fact that betrayal by his brothers actually happened. However, Joseph chose to look at the past and choose forgiveness because the things his brothers meant for evil were used by God for His people’s deliverance.

Jesus seemed to be aware of these boxes of unforgiven junk. That’s why he called his listeners out on it, “If you have anything against anyone…”
If you have that little box you keep hidden in the crevices of your heart… If you’ve held onto the pain caused by something someone said to you… If you keep on revisiting the hurt caused by what certain people did to you… It’s time to throw away the box.

Friends, in the spirit of Spring Cleaning, let us choose to forgive. It’s going to be difficult, and the temptation to want to dwell on the anger and the pain can seem persistent. But, let us go to the One who has forgiven every one of our trespasses and taught us to pray:

We can ask him to help us forgive the way he has forgiven us.

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