During the holidays, our stress levels mount and those little things that used to be easily overlooked suddenly weigh on us like heavily-decked barbells. Family members gather in closely confined areas, bringing with them their quirks, inconsiderate tendencies, and baggage–a recipe for disaster which is fueled to explosion if we bring with us even the slightest hint of unresolved anger. That comment Aunt Bertha made ten years back? Yep, out it pops, swirling through our memory, along with all those sarcastic jokes that fly off Uncle George’s tongue.

So, what can you do? Hide away in your nice, safe, non-confrontational closet. (Oh, that sounds so nice! J/K. Almost) How about you drop a few suitcases and make the effort to travel light? This season, add a dash of forgiveness to your plate. (You might also be interested in an article Bruce Hebel wrote for Reflections.)

Today’s devotion comes from Edwina Cowgill. As you read over her wise words, ask God to show you festering wounds that need amputating by the scalpel of forgiveness.

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A few weeks ago, a dear friend made a comment that caused me to stop and think. She said, “It’s a season of forgiveness, a season of friendship, a season of new starts. One act of forgiveness can change the outcome of a life.”

I believe there are certain “levels” of offense. Before you scream in protest “An offense is an offense is an offense…” let me say that this is not based on Scripture but on years of observing and counseling people:

Level 1: Offenses of No Significance: An example of this would be the “grocery cart bump,” where someone who is in a great hurry accidently bumps another person’s cart. The bumper says to the bumpee “excuse me” and most normal, sane people will answer “no problem” or some other acknowledgement and life goes on.

Level 2: Offenses of Minor Significance: After you have worked for hours and hours in your yard, your neighbor, who just happens to be married to the Chairperson of the Landscaping Committee for the homeowners association, wins the “Yard of the Month Award” and rubs your nose in that fact.

Level 3: Significant Offenses: Perhaps a significant offense would be when a dear friend, or a spouse makes an extremely unkind remark about you. Extremely unkind.

Level 4: Offenses of Major Significance: With this level, begin the wounds that usually change a person’s life. A spouse leaves his/her family for another person. A teenager rebels and begins a life of addiction.

Level 5: Offenses of Grave Significance: Wounds of grave significance are usually wounds that are inflicted on a person in their early years as a toddler or young school age child. These wounds are normally caused by a parent or a major caregiver in the life of a child. Sometimes, these wounds are buried by the child and forgotten until something later in life triggers the memory of that wound. For that adult, it is as if their entire body is being ripped in two and everything they thought was buried has been dug up. These types of wounds range from abuse to absentee parent(s) to never being accepted and loved unconditionally by one or both parents.

If there are levels of offense, then it would stand to reason that there are levels of forgiveness. Right? Wrong. Forgiveness is forgiveness. And as Christians, we are commanded to forgive. It’s not an option. And it’s serious business. Jesus said, “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.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

I don’t think the language can get much clearer than that! If we forgive people who offend and hurt us, God will forgive us our offenses. If we don’t forgive people who offend and hurt us, God will not forgive us our offenses.

There’s not a cap on the number of times we are to forgive. Again in the book of Matthew, we read this: 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 times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22).

Someone is probably thinking, “So if I forgive someone 490 times (70 x 7) and they offend me for the 491st time, I don’t have to forgive them? No. Jesus used those numbers to illustrate the fact that there is no limit on the number of times we must forgive those who offend us.

But what if the wound is one of those of grave significance? Must we forgive that person too? Absolutely. If we want our sins forgiven, we must forgive those who sinned against us. But how can one forgive the person who wounded them so deeply that their entire life was affected by that wound?

Many years ago, I heard an excellent teaching on forgiveness. The teacher had been wounded deeply. She shared that she had learned to pray “make me willing to be willing to forgive.” You see, she had learned an invaluable lesson on forgiveness. Sometimes we are not able to forgive on our own. Maybe it’s because the wound is too deep and the hurt is too great. Whatever the reason, we are not able to forgive. The Bible says that “God looks on the heart.” Even though this teacher was not able to forgive on her own, God heard her prayer of “make me willing to be willing to forgive.” He looked at her heart and knew she wanted to forgive. He had compassion and mercy on her and answered her prayer. Soon, she was able to pray, “Make me willing to forgive.” And God answered her prayer again and she reached the point of saying “I forgive….”

I’ve used this prayer myself many times in my life. I fully believe God understands and knows my heart when I pray this prayer. He knows I realize I must forgive that person but at that moment in time, I am unable to forgive on my own. Thus, I ask for His help and He answers. As I become more willing, forgiveness appears on the horizon and eventually becomes full blown in my heart.

If you have been wounded, at any level, I encourage you to begin to forgive. It may not be easy. It can be an uphill battle. Pray the “willingness” prayer. Begin to be willing to be willing to forgive. God will help you. He will walk with you every step of the way until forgiveness is full blown in your heart. With forgiveness comes healing.

Oh, yes. When is the season of forgiveness? Every day.

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Edwina has written numerous articles. Many have been published on various websites including the Houston Examiner and the Midsouth Diocese of the Charismatic Episcopal Church. Her short story, “Katie’s Story: A Story of Redemption and Love” was published in 2009. A second short story, “The Front Porc” has just been published in Skinned Knees and Skate Keys. Edwina updates her blog three times a week.

She is a member of American Christian FictionWriters, Writers of Remarkable Design, and member of the Southside W.O.R.D. She is also a member f Christian Writers United, a writing group within her community.  Visit Monarch Ministries to find out more about Edwina and her heart for God and women.

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