Recently we received a parking ticket in the mail from a nearby city. It seems we parked one evening in a no-parking zone, and we owed them $40. There was just one minor problem. It wasn’t us. Sure, that was our license plate on the ticket, but we were nowhere near that city that night. My husband was working in the Emergency Room, and I was home with the kids one hundred and fifty miles away. No problem, I thought. I’ll just clear this up.
That was easier said than done. There was no email address on the ticket, just a phone number. The only other way to deal with it was to go in person. So I phoned. It was busy. I tried for three days. And then, miraculously, I got an answer. “You are number 24 in line. Your wait will likely be 38 minutes.” So I waited. And waited. Number 17. Number 8. Number 3. And finally, number 1. And as I was being transferred, I heard — a busy signal. I had been disconnected.
In desperation, I called some traffic ticket specialists, figuring they could help me. They told me that if I didn’t pay the ticket on time, the authorities would double the fine, and it would cost me more than $40 to fight it. I could take them to small claims court, they explained, but again, it would cost me more than the price of the ticket. I may as well just pay it. “But it wasn’t me!” I told her. “It’s the principle of the thing!” She told me she understood, but there was nothing I could do. So after a week of worrying and researching hopeless courses of action, I finally realized there was no point. Sometimes you just have to let it go.
Much of life is like that. We choose to nurture grudges because it’s the principle of the thing. Bitterness, though, doesn’t pay very good dividends. You go through life always testing, always suspicious, and never at peace.
Letting go isn’t easy, but it’s a lot better than driving yourself nuts. I could have fought that ticket on principle, but it would have cost me more than the $40 I owed. Bitterness often does cost more than forgiving would, even if forgiving doesn’t seem fair. Besides, Jesus put no limits on forgiveness. Philip Yancey, in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace?, admits that forgiveness is an “unnatural act”. Extending grace to someone who does not deserve it feels just plain wrong. Yet just as Jesus already paid for the guilt we feel, He already paid for everyone else’s guilt, too.
Unforgiveness is probably the biggest barrier to healing this side of heaven. It takes such humility and strength to say, “I will no longer hold this against you.” As hard as it seems, though, it is so much harder to live with bitterness. It’s like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. You may be protecting your need to be right, but you give up your only chance at freedom and peace, and limit what God can do in your family.
Forgiveness, of course, doesn’t mean that we ignore problems or subject ourselves or our kids to harm. It just means that we choose not to let those problems consume so much of our emotional energy. Besides, when we’re angry over something that happened in the past, we can’t move forward. A friend of mine was very angry towards her husband because he had worked such long hours when the children were young. They grew up with little direction and security, and rebelled when they hit the teenage years. She was angry; he was contrite. But they couldn’t handle the children because they were too involved with their own dynamics. Only when she was able to forgive him could they work together to help their kids.
With God’s help, you have to let it go. It isn’t always easy, but chances are that once you do, life will be much easier. The principle of the thing isn’t always worth it. People are. Letting God help you let go really is the best medicine.
After finishing this column, I gave that phone number one last try. To my amazement I got through, and they cancelled the ticket immediately. It felt great, but not nearly as wonderful as giving up that anger in the first place. You can find me at www.SheilaWrayGregoire.com, and my book Honey, I Don’t Have a Headache Tonight in Christian bookstores everywhere.
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