THE CONDITION OF MY HEART
As I walked away, I remembered a man who had never paid me back some money I had lent him. I had nursed a grudge against him for a long time. (Webster’s defines a grudge as “cherished ill will with deep resentment at a real or imagined slight.”) I, too, had to release that grudge; I did after a struggle similar to my new friend’s struggle. The man still owed me the money, but what a difference to love a debtor instead of hating him.
My new friend faced greater problems than most of us can imagine. How foolish it was to add the pain resulting from hate, anger, and bitterness when he could change them for peace, joy, love, kindness, and forgiveness.
I can be just as angry over my little problems as my friend could be over his big ones. The fact that a man did not pay me back my money did not determine what was in my heart. His decision only revealed the condition of my heart. The money issue is between the man and me. The condition of my heart is between God and me.
I will never forget the man from Uganda who took the time to minister to me. In order for any of us to experience the fruit of the Spirit, we must let go of our pet grudges. For him it meant to forgive those unnamed soldiers. For me it was someone who failed to repay a debt owed to me.
Many people who come to me for help hold long-standing grudges. Years ago I naively thought that it would be music to their ears to hear that they could let them go and be released from the ill will and animosity that gripped their hearts. I have learned that for many people, the older a grudge (or a pet peeve) gets, the more precious it becomes, like a family heirloom. A person can carefully nurture a grudge. It may be toward someone several thousand miles away. You can recall such a grudge when you have an odd moment to reminisce, work yourself into a frenzy, then carefully put it aside until you have another off moment. To give up that grudge would be a sacrifice rather than release.
Remember, God loves us and will allow circumstances to come into our lives in order to show us what is in our hearts.
At another conference, in Zimbabwe, I told the audience the story of the Ugandan businessman who had lost everything when Idi Amin’s soldiers seized his possessions and his family had to flee to the forests. This businessman had peace in his heart only after he forgave the soldiers.
After my morning address, I received a note requesting a private meeting. To my surprise, I found myself sitting across from a couple from Uganda who had been urged by some friends to attend this conference. Deeply disturbed by a tragedy in their own lives, the couple had listened intently to the story of my Ugandan friend.
HOW CAN I FORGIVE?
As they sat before me, they told me how they had struggled to keep their business going in spite of the turbulence of Uganda’s last twenty years.
Then one day during the bloody reign of Idi Amin, they received a note stating their twenty-six-year-old son had been kidnapped and was being held for ransom. The parents did nothing for a few days, and then received a note threatening that their son would be killed if they did not pay the ransom.
The couple sought legal advice and consulted with the proper government authorities. They were advised to resist payment. Then came another note. This was the final warning. If payment was not made immediately, their son would be tortured and killed. As they agonized over what to do, they received a note stating that their son was dead. Grief stricken, the father tried to locate the body.
Finally he found someone who, for a price, would lead him to his son’s body. When he arrived at the appointed place late one night, he was seized by a group of soldiers and taken to a prison. In the same cell that had held his son, they stripped him to the waist and made him face a wall. With a whip made of leather strips, they cut his back to ribbons. They loaded him into the back of a pickup truck and dropped him off on a street corner. They shouted at him that if he ever tried to locate his son again, he would be killed.
Two years had passed. The couple had suffered bitter, deep hatred toward unknown soldiers who murdered their son and beat the father until he was unable to lie on his back for two months. They could no longer enjoy success in business, a spacious home in the country, and a happy family life. Now each day was filled with sorrow, hatred, and thoughts of revenge. The story of the Ugandan businessman had disturbed them; they wanted to know if I believed they were wrong to treasure their misery and keep their hatred alive. It seemed to them that resentment was normal and proper. To forgive the soldiers seemed to them to be inappropriate and disloyal to the memory of their son.
What could I say? Theirs was a tragic story. Surely they had the option to choose their own approach to the cruel, heartless event that had clouded their lives. The problem was so far removed from my own life experiences that it seemed almost from another world. I required more wisdom than I possessed. “God, help me,” I quietly prayed.
We sat in silence in a dimly lit room. I couldn’t think of anything to say to the dear couple. The woman’s eyes were filled with tears. The gentleman sat with his elbows on his knees and both hands covering his face. The wife whispered, “It would be a relief to put this behind us and get on with the future.” “Yes, it would,” he replied. “Can you help us?”
How could I help? I leaned back in my chair and thought to myself, “What would the Ugandan businessman who had lost everything say to them right now? I believe he would have said:
Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 4:31-32, NKJV
Murder and merciless beatings are heinous deeds. Many friends and associates assured them that revenge, anger, and hatred were natural responses. To think of being kind and tenderhearted and forgiving was beyond consideration. Would God want them to change their heart attitudes?