Anger and bitterness can really weigh one down. There are times when the wounds can feel so deeply rooted that we become broken. We may carry these hurts for years, but there has to be a time when we understand that these wrongs must be forgiven.
If anyone had a reason to be angry or bitter, it was Gilbert Tuhabonye. Born in Burundi, Africa, a national champion runner shares in his book titled, This Voice in My Heart, when fate changed his plans of obtaining a scholarship to an American school and train for the Olympics during the war between the Tutsi and Hutu tribes erupted in 1993; he ran from horror into a new life of forgiveness.
While in school, Hutu classmates, their parents, some teachers and tribe members, forced more than a hundred Tutsi children and teachers into a room where they beat and burned them to death. After nine hours of being buried by the corpses of beloved friends, and himself on fire, Gilbert used the charred bone of one of his classmates to break a window and jumped free of the burning building. He ran into the night on charred feet, surviving one of the most horrible massacres in the long Tutsi-Hutu war.
In his book he says, “Forgiveness has allowed me to move forward. Forgiveness has allowed me to find joy. It was very hard, I had to find running. Running is my therapy, it’s my freedom. It grounds me. It makes me happy. It is the vehicle for all other blessings that have come my way.”
Eighteen years later and living in the US, Gilbert is a celebrity in the world of running, despite being covered with scar tissue from his extensive burns. Gilbert still competes and owns and operates a training program called Gilbert’s Gazelles and co-founded the Gazelle Foundation whose mission is to build water projects in Burundi. His life song is that no one can extinguish the fire inside of him because the “light God still burns brightly.” After that terrifying experience that haunted him for years, Gilbert learned to forgive and find peace and joy through his precious gift of life.
Like Gilbert, there are things, situations, unnecessary weights and sin that we must let go of in order for God to reveal His master plan for us. Some of these can be the most difficult to let go, but we must understand why we must let them go. One of my favorite verses in the bible is found in Hebrews 12:1, “Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely (so easily entangles us), and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
Think of all of the unnecessary weight…holding grudges, unresolved problems or concerns, and guilt from the wrong choices. It’s time to resolve the problem, forgive yourself, and lay aside the weight. The bible tells us that we are to “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you,” Colossians 3:13. Remembering that Jesus was “wounded for our transgressions; crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed,” Isaiah 53:5.
How do we forgive? Pastor Mike Claunch (St. Andrews Baptist Church) put this in perspective for me this past Sunday. He said that we forgive by faith and out of obedience. Whether we want to or not, we must forgive by faith and trust God to do the work in us that needs to be done so forgiveness can be complete. Philippians 1:6 says, “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”
How do we know if we have truly forgiven? Corrie Ten Boom, a Christian who survived a Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust, said, “Forgiveness is to set a prisoner free, and to realize the prisoner was you.” Like Gilbert, we will know the work of forgiveness is complete when we experience the freedom that comes as a result. When we do forgive, the Lord sets our hearts free from the anger, bitterness, resentment and hurt that previously imprisoned us. We are the ones who suffer the most when we choose not to forgive. Matthew 6:14-16 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.” We must forgive others because we cannot have forgiveness from God without doing so. Forgiveness of others is the most important thing in life for us to do.
Forgiveness is a choice, a decision to make (and a great one). As we learn forgiveness, we discover that Jesus put this command in place for our own good, we receive the reward of our forgiveness – freedom. So, let’s watch our lives get lighter as we move run into the path of forgiveness.