Unpacking Forgiveness: How to Start

Unpacking Forgiveness at Amazon
Every year my husband and I take a trip to North Carolina by airplane so that we can visit his sister and her family and become reacquainted with the salt air and the sea water that courses through our coast-loving veins. We were both brought up on separate coasts and we somehow met here in the middle where water is a precious commodity. But we're together, it's okay.

Every year we pack for the trip and try as hard as we can to condense what we need for the trip down to what will fit in our carry ons. It's hard for me, especially on the way back because of all the seashells I have gathered. Mike does well because he was in the Air Force for 20 years and had to live that way from time to time. I've gotten a wee bit better over the years out of necessity. Packing heavily and carrying or rolling a heavy bag through the airport is cumbersome, especially when you're trying to make a flight. My baggage has become somewhat lighter because I do not want to bear the load.

Forgiveness is like my suitcase. Whether or not to forgive and unpack unnecessary emotional baggage is an issue that many of us face - sometimes everyday. Let's face it, life is not easy. People hurt us. We hurt others. Sometimes we're just born into a bad situation and have painful scars; sometimes we either put ourselves in a painful position or someone else does it for us. Either way, the wounds we suffer do not go away easily. Neither do the items I pack thinking that I might need them, for that matter.

The hurt we feel is not something to take lightly, but we can tuck them away in the 'suitcase of our soul', thus making our travel down life's road more difficult. Or, we can unpack them and make our suitcase lighter.

My use of  the term "unpacking" in this sense comes from Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds, by pastor and author Chris Brauns.

 Jesus, Brauns says, is there to help:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11: 28 - 30

You can begin to unpack forgiveness by first accepting Jesus' invitation to lay your burden on him, Brauns writes. Jesus is not up in heaven standing over us like a patrol officer, or angry parent, waiting to strike us for having problems. Jesus invites us come to him, take on his yoke and rest.

"But wait. Before you accept Jesus' offer to rest, read the invitation closely. Jesus does not invite worn-out people to take a nap. Nor does he suggest that if we will chant a one-time prayer, refreshment will be granted automatically. No; Jesus says to assume his yoke and learn from him. Jesus invites those who need rest to work with him," Brauns writes. 

When two oxen are yoked together, each ox must carry its own part of the load in order for the yoke to work effectively. If one ox decides to let the other ox do all the work while he just muddles along, the load they are supposed to be pulling will not be equally distributed; they will not move in the right direction, if they can move at all. If both oxen work together, the load is carried; the furrow is plowed correctly, the work gets done. If both oxen do their own work, it's a lot easier for both.

This is why Christ describes his offer to rest as a yoke. If we are to unpack forgiveness, if we are to unpack our suitcase of unnecessary baggage, we must work with God in order to get the job done.

There are tools to help. These are what theologians describe as the "means of grace." 

"Means of grace are how God pours out his grace into the life of a Christian. These means of grace include his Word*, prayer, fellowship with other believers, and worship" (Brauns, 31)

John Wesley describes the means of grace this way: "The chief of these means are prayer, whether in secret or with the great congregation; searching the Scriptures (which implies reading, hearing, and meditating thereon); and receiving the Lord's Supper, eating bread and drinking wine in remembrance of Him: And these we believe to be ordained of God, as the ordinary channels of conveying his grace to the souls of men." (Sermon 16, The Means of Grace).

Wesley includes communion as part of the fellowship of believers. Communion is a means of grace because in it we ask God's forgiveness and partake in common ground - Christ's sacrifice - with other believers. Taking communion together may indeed remind us that there is something much larger for which to live and may therefore help us drop petty offences that we hold against each other. For wounds that are very deep, communion may help serve as a balm that eases the pain for a while - the balm being God's grace and love poured into our broken hearts.

To close chapter one, Brauns writes: "These means of grace are how we take Christ's yoke upon us and learn from him. Christ's way of unpacking forgiveness is not three easy steps. It is a way of life, following Jesus, learning from him, being involved in his church, hearing his Word preached. Apart from consistent involvement in these disciplines, you are trying to paddle with a stick. And that just won't work" (Brauns, 32).

Sometimes I need help unpacking my suitcase. I talk to Mike, asking his opinion on what we'll need. Usually, after this discussion, I do not miss what I leave behind. If you unpack that 'suitcase of your soul' with the 'means of grace' as your guide, you will not miss what you leave behind after unpacking your burdens.

If you would like to discover what you believe about forgiveness and to gain more insight into this book, try this quiz from Pastor Brauns' website:

Forgiveness Quiz

Next week well look into chapter 2, Motivation to Unpack.

Other posts in this series: Forgiving From A Distance

*I assume by using the capitalized term Word, that Brauns means the Bible. Whenever you see the term "word" capitalized on this blog it will mean the living Word, Jesus Christ. Any reference to the Bible as the word will not be capitalized. However, if I am directly quoting someone, I will leave the capitalized version as I do here.