“Don’t let them change you.”
My friend and I were talking – okay, honestly, I was ranting. I was upset and hurt by someone and she asked what I wanted to do about it. All I could reply was, “I need to pray about it. I know I can’t change them or what they’ve done, but I’m angry, so I just need to pray about it.” She nodded at me in agreement, “No, you can’t change them. But don’t let them change you, either.”
Her words stuck to me. They were cautionary. And aren’t they true? Too often we focus on the person who’s offended us. Hoping if we pray hard enough, they’ll change. Or better yet, they’ll realize what they’ve done to hurt us and come to grovel at our feet. Ohhhh, wouldn’t that feel good? Wouldn’t that be just the key to release our anger and allow us to bestow our forgiveness upon them? The problem is, that may never actually happen, and we need to be okay with it.
Here’s the reason: Other people’s poor judgments and hurtful actions do not build a platform for our sin ~ no matter how much we want to believe otherwise. We are not justified in holding to our anger or exacting revenge. Just try to stand before God and use this rationalization: “But, God, they did (insert offensive action here) first. So surely I can (insert vengeful response here).” He’ll listen and simply remind us that, “Yes, I told you, you can get angry, but I also said not to sin in your anger, and don't hang on to it.” (That answer was a paraphrase of Ephesians 4:26, go ahead, look it up, it’s there and we’re supposed to abide by it.) We are responsible for our actions, no matter where they stem from or how justified they seem to us while doing them.
See, as much as we may want to, we’re not allowed to get snarky. We’re not allowed to wish bad things on another, or rejoice when they “get theirs”. That’s taking matters into our own hands. That’s looking for revenge. That’s allowing them power over us, and…that’s allowing them to change us. The only person who should be changing us is God. And if He’s doing the changing, here’s what we’ll see: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control…slow to anger, quick to forgive, abounding in love… love….love.
Don’t you see? Anger is only harmful to us. It robs us of our ability to see love, accept love, and give love. It is a draining emotion that takes too much from us and is not worthy of space in our hearts. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is God’s gift to us. He freed us with it, so who are we to bind ourselves again? He paid the ultimate price to cloak us in His forgiveness, making us righteous. Once we’ve experienced that, how on earth can we not extend forgiveness to others?
All right, I do need to put in a side note here. Forgiveness is not reconciliation. In church this week, this point was brought home again for me. Forgiveness is vertical, it’s between you and God. It must happen; for our hearts to be right, we must forgive. However, that doesn’t mean there will be a restoration to the relationship with the person who offended you. Some relationships are unhealthy. Some offenders don’t desire to make the necessary changes in their lives. Some don’t even see they need to. In those cases, the reconciliation between you and that person cannot happen. And that’s all right, as long as you’ve forgiven them.
Yes, forgiveness can be hard. And some days you’re not going to feel like forgiving. Do it anyway. Pray. Pray, pray, pray. Remember what God has done for you. Ask Him to show you the person you’re angry with through His eyes. Pray some more. Because sometimes it takes awhile to talk yourself into a new emotion. Just keep giving it to Him and trust that He will take care of it. Our job is only to forgive, His is to exact payment for the wrong done. And He will, whether you ever see it or not. Trust Him. Forgive. Walk away from your anger.
Don’t let them change you. Let God.