You Hold the Key to Open This Prison

Recently I’ve had several conversations centered around the topic of forgiveness for different reasons with various people.

My mind ventures back to the not-so-distant past when I was easily offended, often hurt, and had no desire to listen to what anyone else had to say. It’s a pretty crappy cycle that one can get stuck in. What may start out as a genuine wrong against you can easily become a situation that seems the whole world is against you, no one “gets it”, you push away, others push away, and you end up more lonely, more hurt, and more empty.

I  think it goes against our nature to forgive because if it is necessary to extend forgiveness then we have been been misunderstood, wronged, or hurt in some way. Our pride rises up and demands payment for the abuse. We cry out for retribution. Offense seems our right, and as we stand with our arms crossed, we stomp our feet and expect justice on our terms and swiftly.

Often when we are hurt and wounded we lash out and hurt others, or we nurse our wounds in the corner, letting them fill with the  infection of offense until it destroys some part of us.

That is why forgiveness is so essential.

“There is no love without forgiveness, and there is no forgiveness without love.” Bryant H. McGill

Whether we like it or not, Jesus commands us to forgive others.

In Matthew 6:14-16 He says, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (NIV)

That seems pretty harsh. Part of me rises up inside and shouts, “But do you realize what he/she has done to me?! How can I forgive that?!”

And what about when someone just keeps doing things that need forgiveness? They keep rejecting us. They keep wounding us. They keep misunderstanding and treating us wrongly. Surely it isn’t okay and I don’t need to forgive, right?

No it isn’t okay, but it doesn’t negate my responsibility to forgive.

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” Matthew 18:21-22 (NIV)

Obviously from this verse, sometimes you have to forgive over and over and over. And it isn’t fun. And it isn’t easy. But it IS necessary.

If I am holding on to offenses and hurts the truth is that I am the one that suffer from it. The other person may not even know that they have done something that someone touched a tender spot in my heart and so they go on their merry way while I sit offended. It hurts me when I don’t extend forgiveness. It holds me prisoner and the enemy rejoices. And it isn’t okay.

Nazi concentration camp survivor, Corrie Ten Boom, once said, “Forgiveness is to set a prisoner free, and to realize the prisoner was you.”

I have been hurt by people in life. I will be hurt by people in the future.
You have been hurt at some point in life, and I’m sorry to say that you WILL be hurt again in the future.

What helps me forgive and keep loving?

When I’m reminded that Christ, the One who was completely blameless was executed and resurrected so that I could be forgiven. It is then that I find a little bit of strength to CHOOSE to obey and forgive.

In light of this truth my hurt, though still painful, seems smaller and reminds me that I, too, have hurt others. The ability to choose forgiveness is a little easier in light of the cross, knowing that I, too, have wronged others and have been desperately in need of forgiveness.

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13 (NIV)

Is there someone today that you need to extend forgiveness to? Is there someone you need to go to and ask for forgiveness?

If Corrie Ten Boom could forgive the atrocities she faced during the Holocaust, what excuse do we have? Even greater though is Christ’s example of laying down His life and offering forgiveness to sinful, weak, guilty humans deserving of death and His command for us to forgive others as He has forgiven us.

There is freedom in forgiveness. You hold the key to let yourself out of the prison. Why stay captive?

Not My Home

This past Sunday marked Easter in Ukraine, the land where I get to celebrate many holidays twice.

The Garden Tomb

I celebrated the Easter of our western calendar at a sunrise service in Jerusalem at the Garden Tomb with brothers and sisters from around the world, and I joined with my church family in Kyiv for Orthodox Easter rejoicing again that Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!

Many have asked me about my trip to Israel and in some regards I have been reluctant to speak about it, not having time to fully process.

Maybe it was the expectations of a lifetime’s desire to visit this country, or maybe it’s because I was with a colleague and not traveling with a close friend, or maybe still it stems from having to deal with visa matters, but Israel wasn’t what I envisioned and I even found myself questioning if I could possibly be a good Christian for not falling in love with the Holy Land.

So I’ve done a lot of thinking the past couple of days, and will likely continue to muddle through my densely populated thoughts while finishing out a busy ministry semester.

Walking the dusty streets of Jerusalem, climbing hills and exploring, I felt a myriad of emotions. At times the underlying tensions were palpable, at other times I found myself near tears, and still other moments I found myself in wonder at the beauty and history of the land.

Somewhere in my subconscious I think I expected to have some exceptional experience in Israel – to hear the voice of God or some divine encounter that would forever change my life or something. Instead I found myself homesick for Ukraine and desiring to be back among the country I love so dearly.

And in that unexpected way I find that I did actually encounter God.

Independence Hall, Tel Aviv

I am grateful for the opportunity to walk the streets of Jerusalem and other places in Israel and to see the beloved country. I feel honored to have stood at the Western Wall and prayed for the peace of Jerusalem and the salvation of the Jews. It was humbling to try and take in thousands of years of history in a handful of days.

These are the things that were clear to me from my visit to the Holy Land:

  • Whether one holds that Christ was crucified and buried at what is now the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or the Garden Tomb or somewhere else, He isn’t in the tomb anymore. He is risen. He is alive. Because of this we don’t have to travel to a special place, touch a certain sight or pray a certain line of liturgy to be close to Christ. Thank God!
  • Israel is a special place and the people are God’s chosen and I desire for her inhabitants to come to know the salvation of Christ not just a religion of ancestors.
  • Israel is not my home. Ukraine is. And I am so glad to be back home.

Daffodil Sunshine and Babushka Smiles

Winter has tried to extend her icy grasp once more. She blew back into Kyiv with a blustery forceful hand and covered the city again in a blanket of white.
Her cold hand seemed to reach into my very own soul as well, leaving everything gray, bitter and lifeless.
The underground teems with dirt and dust, hurried movements and furrowed brows. Winter’s reappearing greeted with frigid faces wrapped in layers of brown and black.
photo taken from http://daffodils.flowersinavases.com/

The flowers call to me as they often do. Row upon row touting various hues of fragile petals releasing sweet smelling fragrances that push through the odor of city life.

I find myself wishing for a garden to call my own. Tender shoots to care for and mother. I file it away as a one day wish just next to “have a library room.”
As my weary mind and body push through the crowds, my eyes are drawn to the beautiful yellow daffodils like small globes of sunshine in the midst of a week that has mostly missed out on golden rays.
It seems grhivna can buy sunshine and I happily carry away my bundle. Nine bright and cheerful companions for my cold walk home.
Selfishly I bought them. Do I really want to keep their beauty only to myself though? I pondered as I swiftly walked the 1.4 km from metro stop to cozy flat.
Drawing close to home it seemed that someone else could probably use a kind smile and spot of color as well, and so I determined to give away my little bit of spring.
Quickly I rapped on her window. The little granny downstairs gave me the puzzled look she always does when I stop. Sometimes I wonder what she thinks of me… crazy American girl that cannot communicate. As she unlocks her cubicle I simply smile and hand her the bundle, offering only a meager, “Just because” in Russian.
The light that fills her face, however, outshines even my beautiful daffodils and all question of to keep or give away is erased.
My vase still sits empty on its shelf with the promise of being filled again one day, but my heart is full just from knowing I was part of bringing someone else a ray of sunshine in the middle of a cold, gray day.
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*I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, just before my trip. No worries stories and photos from Israel will come soon. Thank you all for your prayers. I was able to get my visa and have started the process of registration.