Thursday

Unpacking Forgiveness: Motivation to Unpack

In the year after my first husband died from pancreatic cancer, I was left alone with three boys, a dog, a new house and lots of boxes. Everything happened so fast after the funeral. The boys and I got everything important unpacked, and then placed the unpacked boxes in the garage, what is now the guest room and the shed.

Many of the boxes we had "hidden" away contained my late husband's belongings and since I was trying to stay strong for three grieving boys I had no desire to unpack those boxes. Plus, I was working full time so between keeping up with the boys, my job, housework and everything else, unpacking was not a priority. That is until Mike came into my life. Once we knew we wanted to get married, those boxes had to be unpacked because Mike was moving in after the wedding.

In order to forgive, Chris Brauns writes in his book "Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds", we must be "properly motivated." This is because forgiveness is highly emotional and intellectually demanding, Brauns writes. Emotional because the issues that surround forgiveness can involve complex feelings such as fear, anger, worry, etc. Remember when people told me that I needed to forgive that ex-boyfriend who was stalking me and making my life miserable? The reason I didn't want to forgive him (which in their minds meant becoming pals again) was because I was afraid that we would get back together. There was a reason I had broken up with him. I was too stressed out emotionally to deal with him.

Forgiveness is also intellectually challenging. Brauns says that it is because it is a "practical area of living." What we believe on a theological level, such as matters of salvation, the church, what happens after death and the end times, all affects how we live out forgiveness. In the case of unpacking my boxes, I knew that my late husband was with the Lord so that was comforting; however, it didn't help much with the rush of emotions I felt after seeing his picture or handling a favorite shirt. It was not until God gave me the emotional comfort of being loved again by Mike that I had enough courage to unpack. That was the motivation I needed.

"So why do it?" Brauns asks. "Here is the short answer. You should be motivated to unpack forgiveness so you can know maximum happiness."

How can this be? 

Consider this statement from John Piper that Brauns quotes: "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him."

To apply this statement to forgiveness, Brauns writes: "We should seek to glorify God in how we work through broken relationships, know that even as we glorify God, we will maximize our joy. Or to use my words, we ought to unpack forgiveness because it is both right (it glorifies God) and best (it maximizes my happiness)."

No one likes a mess or constant reminders (like stacks of boxes) of what has been left undone. We need Jesus to guide us, to reshape our motives, to teach us how to forgive. We need to take time to learn from Jesus because he is "gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11: 28 - 30). This involves reading Scripture, prayer, fellowship with other believers and worship, or the means of grace. 

Learning does not happen all at once. Do you remember learning how to divide numbers? That didn't happen overnight. First you had to learn how to read numbers, add, subtract, multiply, follow procedures and then you were ready to divide. This is rather simplistic but I hope you understand my point. It's the same in our spiritual lives. God isn't going to dump "division" on us before we learn prior steps. He isn't going to give us anything that he knows is too difficult for us to handle. Being obedient will lead to joy and happiness in Christ. 

After unpacking all of those boxes, I felt great relief. My new husband moved in and we could begin building our lives together. However, I think that if I had never unpacked those boxes it could have been a source of contention between us. We wouldn't have been able to arrange the house in the way we wanted; they would have stopped progress in everything we tried to do regarding cleaning, hospitality, household repair, etc. Mike would have been pressured to convince me somehow to do something with the boxes knowing that I was hanging on to the past, afraid of moving forward. It may have caused unnecessary tension.  Eventually, I would have unpacked, but it took proper motivation - wanting happiness in a new life - to move forward.

Other posts in this series:

 Unpacking Forgiveness: How to Start

Forgiving from a Distance