Matthew 6:14-15 (New International Version)
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
A man awoke out of sound sleep one night, due to a recurring dream. The dream was always the same. He was swimming in a lake, and although a good swimmer, his arms and legs grew increasingly weary, and he feared he might not make it back to shore. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, an elderly man who looked identical to his deceased father passed by in a rowboat. He stopped, held out his hand, but recalling how poorly his father treated him as a child, he smiled dryly and said," No thank you, Dad. I'll be ok."
The man continued to frantically splash his way back to shore. Looking to the side, he saw yet another form in the distance. It was his daughter, swimming quickly toward him with a life preserver. "Here, dad! Put this on!" Remembering the many times his daughter disobeyed him as a rebellious teen, the man shook his head and waved his daughter on.
Upon finally making it to shore, the man collapsed from exhaustion in the wet sand. Conscious, yet unable to move, the man spied a large group of people around him. All the people looked familiar - faces of the many friends and relations he had come in contact with during his life. They offered to take him to the hospital, to bring him some warm clothes, or towel, but as each person spoke, the man recalled the many times that person did him wrong. "No thank you," he said, "I will be fine." The man stood up, brushed off his sandy, wet clothes, and walked wearily into the sunset.
After the third night of dreaming this same dream, the man sought the opinion of the only person he felt he could trust to not hurt him, his wise, old grandmother.
"What does the dream mean, gram?" He asked. The wrinkled and wise- looking woman sat in silence for several moments, and then finally spoke. "I'm no dream-readin' expert, sonny, but I'd say that someone is trying to tell you that you are holding in a lot of bitterness, due to an unforgiving attitude."
The man pounded his fists on the table in indignation. "Bitter? Unforgiving? That is absurd! I should have known better than come to an uneducated woman like you!"
The old woman sat very still and calmly said, "There is more. I'm guessin' that the struggle you encountered in the water is the same sort of struggle that you often feel inside. You WANT to reach out and take hold of a warm and caring hand, but no hand is good enough for you. You made it to the shore THIS time, but what about next time?" Red-faced and exasperated, the man stormed out of the room muttering to himself.
Forgiveness is not something we do for others; it is something we do for our SELF. Those who do not forgive others, who do not forgive easily, or who forgive on a conditional basis, slowly build up bitterness inside themselves.
Because when we hold in negative feelings, and do not work on finding suitable resolutions, we carry all the hurts, anger, fear and disappointments INSIDE our selves. Like the man in the story, we might THINK we are "OK," even put on a good social front, but the reality of the matter is, when we refuse to forgive and move on to a new day, the negative baggage becomes so much a part of us, that it blurs our vision and causes our perceptions of the world and those around us to be distorted. An unforgiving attitude not only affects one emotionally, but physically and spiritually.
Perhaps the greatest example of the ultimate forgiveness was the Son of God. Jesus Christ was guilty of no crime, nor wrong doing, yet he hung nailed to a cross, for your sins and mine. How easily he could have cursed those who persecuted him, even damned them to Hell, if he desired, yet, putting all pride aside, he uttered these words, "Father, forgive them..."
In the Bible, we are told many times over that if we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us. It is easy to say we forgive, but forgiveness is an ACTION, not just a word. If we truly forgive, then old grudges, bitterness, and resentments are washed away.
You may be happy to know that after some time of solitude, the man in the story went home to his wife, sat her down, and as he held her hands, he promised her that from this day forth, each day would be a new day, and the sun would not again go down on unresolved issues. This same sentiment was carried over each time he saw a friend or relation.
By crying out to God to forgive this man of the wrongs he did in his own life, he was then able to fully understand the beauty and purpose of his forgiving others. If Christ forgives us, then we must also forgive others.
Dear Lord we pray that we would have the heart of forgiveness today. Help us forgive the small things and the big things. In Jesus’ name, Amen.