By Andy Smith.
Some scholars assert that “the whole nine yards” originated as a military term. The aircraft ammunition belts on a P38 Lightning were nine yards long and discharging the entire belt of ammunition was referred to as going the whole nine yards. The purpose of this chapter, and in fact the entire book, is to educate you and equip you to go the whole nine yards. They unloaded a clip. You and I will unload our hearts. From its original context this phrase is associated with destructive potential. Within the framework of forgiveness the phrase is charged with healing potential.
When dealing with offenses, we have to do it all– go for broke, don’t leave a stone unturned. Or removed. Whatever slogan works for you is fine. The point is that we have to allow forgiveness to work for us and free us from the personal bondages of resentment, grudges, and bitterness.
The previous chapter outlined our personal forgiveness script. Specificity really does make a difference. It enhances communication, clarity, and consistency.
Some may feel as if a scripted apology is superficial. The apology may be superficial, but it won’t be because it is scripted. The only repetitive parts are “I’m sorry for” and “Please forgive me for.” You fill in the blanks and it will be the words you choose that will make it real or phony, deep or shallow.
And in case it’s on your mind, who said you had to feel anything during this whole process anyway? I will address this more deeply during the chapter about the myths of forgiveness, but a quick mention right now could go a long way. Feelings of emotion can facilitate forgiveness. In some instances they might present a barrier to it. Since the act of forgiveness is a spiritual act, it goes beyond our physical and emotional states. I can be red with anger or pale with shock. My eyes can be flushed with tears or stoic with thought. My emotions are not the primary issue. I need the power of the Spirit to help me make the decision to forgive. The act is spiritual. It is a decision. People tend to throttle their forgiveness with their emotions and that is why so many continue to carry the anger of resentment and bitterness. Feelings are variables that affect me, but the act of forgiveness is beyond emotion. At least it can be.
There is a real difference between saying, “I’m sorry” and “Please forgive me.” This book is really about the freedom we receive when we forgive someone, but this is a great time to discuss the part of the offender the one asking for forgiveness.
When I was a middle school teacher, classroom management consumed the majority of my time. It seemed as if rudeness was part of the lunch menu and most of my sixth-graders were binging on it. One of my classes met just after lunch. The lunchroom staff dismissed students at different times and they straggled to class in waves. One afternoon two students arrived early. The boy was trying to flirt with the girl when she made a very rude comment about his height or lack
thereof. My students knew that rudeness was dealt with immediately and I demanded that they practice the forgiveness script that I used at home. I was finishing up my own lunch and a quick glance told her what I expected to be done next. She quickly said, “I’m sorry,” and then went about organizing her book bag. Nice try.
“Good start,” I said, “but you need to ask [him] to forgive you for the rude thing that you said about his height.”
Her tentative reply was, “No way. I said I was sorry.”
By this time several students were in the class. I had to get up from my desk before she said it and then the boy refused (for a moment) to forgive her. Just another day in fifth period! The point of application for us is that saying “forgive me” makes a difference. “I’m sorry” alone just isn’t going to bring the same result.
This type of interaction brings closure. People are clear about what is being discussed. They are clear about what’s on the table. They are clear about what remains as unfinished business. One person asks specifically and one person responds specifically. Feelings may not dissipate and wounds may still sting for a while. That’s okay because those are emotional and physical things. The interaction of forgiving someone is spiritual. It starts in the spirit and begins the process of healing our emotional and physical pain.
Having discussed the how of forgiveness now we need to talk about the who. (We won’t be referencing the British rock band, unless, of course, they happened to have offended you in some way.) Maybe it would be clearer to say that we need to talk about the to whom of forgiveness.
To whom will I give it. When I started to type the last sentence my word processor superimposed a commonly used phrase for me to enter “To whom it may concern.” That’s it. We need to identify the players if we hope to go the whole nine yards.
The most commonly forgiven person is the perpetrator – the one who committed the offense. We easily understand his or her role in the situation. Without him, there would be no need to forgive anything. -He or she is the abuser. The rejecter. The pastor. The went. The friend. There is no specific moduf operandi for them. The common characteristic is that, in some way or another, these people hurt us. Maybe on purpose. Maybe with no knowledge whatsoever. Does it really matter? Knowing their motive may help us more effectively compartmentalize the situation in our minds, but it won’t matter to our heart. We got hurt. Period.
It would be great if we could so quickly speak and act like Susan St. James. Living in the freedom of forgiveness – just days after tragedy took her youngest son. That really is wonderful. But we must remember that it is wonderful for her. In that situation, giving forgiveness is all about her. In your life, giving forgiveness is all about you. Remembering this and maintaining the perspective it brings will help us forgive those who have hurt us.
BLOWING OUR MINDS
This is wonderful in the truest sense of the word because it is full of wonder for us. We can’t believe people do it. Have you ever seen an interview in which a victim’s survivors offered unconditional forgiveness to the murderer? Have you ever caught yourself saying, “How do they do that?” Have you ever thought it? In one interview I heard years ago, the surviving parents answered our question “[He] has already taken one life. We will not allow him to take another.” The other life to which they referred was their own. They made a good choice.
So many people refuse to forgive because they feel as if it will dishonor their loved one or tie the hands of justice. Somebody needs to pay for my pain! That sounds good and it feels right, but it isn’t. In fact, it’s faulty reasoning from a faulty perspective. The facts are these: You have been hurt and someone deserves to be punished. You need to forgive and give up your right to punish. You will be setting a prisoner free. The prisoner will be you.
THE MAN (OR WOMAN) IN THE MIRROR
Speaking of you. . . . What if the offense you carry is directed at yourself? Oh sure, there was a perpetrator . . . an abuser . . . , but you blame yourself for allowing it to happen. Have you ever asked, “How could I have been so stupid?” or “How could I have let that happen again?” These kinds of questions put a bulls-eye on your head one that you are aiming at.
So much of this is self-perception. People tell us that our line of thought makes no sense. Our rationale is ridiculous. It was not our fault. And still we wallow in our self-directed shame. If I would have been a better kid, my parents would not have divorced. If I would not have dressed that way, I would not have been raped. If I would have been worth loving, my father would not have taken his life. I should have called for help. I should have seen it coming. And on. And on. And on.
You need to let yourself go! When it comes to this level of forgiveness, there is a huge disconnect between the mind and the emotions. We often love the abuser so much that we choose to blame ourselves. The vicious cycle is that your esteem was already low given your
probable dysfunctional relationship with the perpetrator – and the abusive act only reinforced your feelings. They’re feelings, friend. They’re not facts. The reality is that you were a victim. Refusing to forgive yourself ensures that you remain a victim.
Forgive yourself. Say the words. Fill in the blanks of your own forgiveness story.
It’s okay to forgive yourself for what you perceive. In fact, I encourage it. I just wrote that feelings are not fact. This is true, but it is also true that perception is reality. It sets the stage for the world you live in every day. It is your reality. Separating the two begins the healing.
You are not a bad person, but you treat yourself like you are. Forgive yourself for the things you perceive that you have done to hurt yourself. (That was a challenging sentence to write with clarity, and a more challenging thing to do with clarity.) Challenging, but not impossible.
I met with a man several years ago who had been molested as a young child. The perpetrator was a relative and the act was so violent that the five-year-old boy’s arm was broken. This adult man sat in the office and cried. He was consumed with shame. The irony is that he was ashamed of himself. I will never forget his words, “But I could have yelled. I should have done something.”
I leaned forward in my chair and implored him to understand, “Man, you were five. You were five years old! You didn’t have the physical strength, the mental ability, or the emotional stability to do anything. You didn’t understand. It was your [relative]!”
He was with someone he loved and trusted. With someone whom he wanted to love him. He was five.
Some of us were twenty-five. In my experience, that only makes it worse. We are convinced that we should have known better. That’s probably true, but mature gazelles fall prey to predators just like the young ones do. We have contributing circumstances just like the perpetrator probably does. Too often the abuser was the one once abused. Break the cycle! You can break the chain. Forgive yourself and let the Lord begin to heal the wound. He is the Master of restoration and you are a work of art that is well within. His grasp.
THE OMNIPOTENT ONE
It is fairly straightforward to realize that we have to forgive perpetrators for their actions and ourselves for our perceived contributions. Accepting these two, although challenging at times, is not as hard to swallow as this third level. Especially for Christians.
I have some simple questions: Do you believe that God is omnipotent? Do you believe that God is all-powerful? Do you believe that God can do anything? Then why didn’t He intervene in the situation that caused you so much pain?
If you’ve honestly wondered about that, then you might need to do some forgiving—heavenward.
Jesus knew that we could be offended at Him.
John the Baptist was sitting on the damp floor of a prison. His public ministry had been eclipsed by his cousin’s arrival. John had been totally supportive of this shift in attention. His current situation, however, called for some reinforcement.
John sent his disciples to find the Truth.
They approached Jesus and asked the question of the ages: “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 1 1 :3 N KJV).
Jesus spoke for Himself. “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matthew 11:4-5 NKJV).
Talk about letting your actions speak for themselves! What a supernatural, non-negotiable demonstration of power and incarnate authority. Sounds like a wrap to me.
Then Jesus continued with a postscript.
Oh, and by the way, fellas . . . “And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (Matthew 11:6 NKJV). The NIV captures His addendum this way: “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”
What is that little addition all about? The storyline was good, Man. No encore needed. No extra trailers. You’ve got the goods and You are the One. King of kings and Lord of lords. No problem with me. I’m sold. So why the need for that last line?
For years I could never understand why Jesus added that. Until I suffered.
You see, Jesus wasn’t communicating to the crowd who was being fed. He wasn’t even communicating to the faithful followers of John the Baptist. He was communicating to John. And John was in prison.
Essentially the message was this . . . I can do all things. .I am fully omnipotent. I am the Messiah. I am the One. But Jesus was also omniscient and He knew that those messages would prompt more questions in His beloved cousin. So He responded to them in advance by acknowledging the likelihood of offense. Of offense “on account of [Him].”
We can’t read about the return of those men. We can’t read the story they related to John. We don’t see them walk away from the prison and we don’t see John turn and slump to the ground in despair. We don’t hear his questions about fairness, justice, and salvation. Wedon’t see him awake at night wondering why Jesus has time to save others and cannot seem to make time for him. The thoughts crush his mind and steal his sleep: “Did I do something wrong? Did I offend the Lord? What have I done to deserve such a senseless end? What glory comes to Him from this?”
I am taking a considerable amount of license with the story, but those questions weren’t too hard to make up. I hear them all the time. I have asked them myself.
Jesus knew the questions were coming and acknowledged and encouraged in one phrase: “And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”
Jesus acknowledged that He could offend us.
Jesus encouraged us that happiness would replace bitterness if we would choose to let it go. Remember, we are not resentful because of what was done as much as we are about who did it.
Jesus didn’t do anything wrong to John. He hasn’t done anything wrong to you, either. Allow you to be hurt? Sure. But it doesn’t mean He did anything wrong. His ways are not our ways. He’s God and we’re not. Accepting this may not make you feel any better right now and it’s not your ticket out of the prisons of life, but it will set you free from the prison of bitterness.
One of the most amazing parts of the story happened after the disciples returned to John. It was then that Jesus faced the crowd and spoke of John,
What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes?
No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.” I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:7-11 NIV).
“More than a prophet . . . my messenger . . . there has not risen anyone greater than John.”
Okay, Jesus. I believe in Your miraculous power and I can accept that You aren’t going to save him from suffering. But couldn’t You have said that last little bit while his disciples were close enough to take notes? Wouldn’t that have been a nice gesture since he would never see You again in this life? That was a Hallmark card that never got sent. Jesus sent the message that John needed: “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of Me.”
We have to accept the fact that Jesus will hurt us. He won’t harm us, but we will suffer pain at His hand for the purpose of His kingdom. The Bible is replete with examples of this. My life is too.
The difference between hurt and harm is cited above . . . purpose. His purpose. Hurt is a by-product of growth and healing. We allow a surgeon to take a knife and cut us open. We submit to that knowing that we will have to endure weeks of painful recovery. Our movements will be limited. Our life will be put on hold. We accept the soreness and we accept the pain because it is pain with purpose. None of us want it, but a situation has arisen in our life that requires us to make a choice.
We choose pain because we associate it with a higher purpose for our health and future growth. It is pain with purpose.
Harm, on the other hand, is pain without purpose. That’s the devil’s territory. The wounds are senseless. Needless. There is no redeeming value. Jesus, because He is omnipotent and omniscient, brings redeeming value. He did it with Job. He did it with Joseph. He did it with Paul. He did it at the cross. He knows all about pain with purpose. Unfortunately, sometimes we forget that.
A HOME RUN
I taught these three aspects of forgiveness for several years before God revealed number four.
(I call this fourth aspect a home run because it helps us touch all the bases.) I was sitting at the sound-board during a prayer conference in Annapolis while a minister by the name of David Shatwell was speaking. I was in the balcony and I had my feet kicked up on the table and my chair was leaned back against the wall. Then he said it. My feet came down and my chair dropped to all fours. “You have to ask God to forgive them.” I thought about that. It felt different from the other three. It was.
I realized that I was comfortable with forgiving the people who hurt me: others, myself, and God. I also realized that there was still a tinge of smugness, even self-righteousness, toward the human offenders. Simply put, I knew I could forgive them, but the justice of God would ensure they were punished. That felt good. I was acting righteously and justice would be done. Worked for me.
The problem was that Jesus had modeled more. The mentality that I had was not Christ-like. It wasn’t the way Jesus would act. It wasn’t the way He did act.
On a cross at Calvary He forgave His murderers. I had done that. On a cross at Calvary He asked the Father to forgive them. I had not done that.
I immediately began to think of people for whom I held resentment. The candle of the Lord was searching my heart and revealing the dusty corners. The floor was clean. The countertops sparkling. But the corners needed some work.
I believe in this stuff and I prayed it right then.
I have forgiven [them], Lord. Now I ask You to forgive me for my hidden, subtle resentments. For my self-righteousness. I pray that You would forgive [them] for the wrong that was done to me. I intercede on [their] behalf I repent for [them] and ask you to cover [their] sin with Your blood. Do not hold this sin to [their) charge. In Jesus’ name I ask it.
That’s a whole new level, friend. It completes the cycle. It models our Messiah. It’s the will of God for you to do.
The above article, “The Whole Nine Yards” is written by Andy Smith. The article was excerpted from the tenth chapter of Smith’s book The Whole Nine Yards.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.