Your Backpack, and Mine

We are on the precipice of a new year as I sit down and write this article.  2016 is upon us, and with it the promise of new and exciting things.  It is a time to reflect on our recent Christmas holiday.  A time to think about what it means to have our shopping done, to be another year older, and to eagerly anticipate what God has in store for us next.  Our adult Sunday school class kicked off the week after Christmas and before the new year with a study about forgiveness.  I suppose in the same way that Jesus will make all things new when He triumphantly returns in the future, so our class discussed what it could mean to delve into the new year with an attitude and posture of forgiveness.  Making things new in the sense that past wrongs could be dealt with.  What it would mean to dare to partner with God's divine nature as we attempt to follow what Jesus tells us about forgiveness in the New Testament.  That it is an act of the Godly, and that we must keep it close to our hearts as one of the most formidable weapons in our Christian arsenal. 
I recently found this quote from C.S. Lewis (famous Christian author and philosopher) regarding the concept of Biblical forgiveness.  He emphasizes why it is so important to cultivate this attitude.  He said:

"Remember, we Christians think man lives forever. Therefore, what really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or hellish creature. We may kill if necessary but we must not hate and enjoy hating. We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it. In other words something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one’s own back, must simply be killed."

It is humbling to think that what we do in this life can reflect in such detail, that higher form of existence in heaven to which we are all called. Holding grudges and keeping unforgiveness in our heart is fashionable and widespread today, and even sometimes gratifying. But why are we gratified?  Why do we sometimes enjoy hating something or someone else?  What part of ourselves are we feeding - the heavenly part or the hellish part?
Fortunately we have the beginning of a new year available to us which acts as a reminder that some sort of resolution is at hand.  But we have so much more to offer the world than trying to lose 10 pounds or quit smoking by end of January.  There is something much more important at stake.  If you are reading these words right now and there is still breath left in your body - then it is still possible to take God up on his offer.  We can still engage in the act of forgiving someone who hurt us, or even to allow ourselves to be forgiven as well.
There is an analogy that I love to employ when discussing this topic.  It involves my 

youngest son.  Well to be honest, it involves his backpack.  It is worth it to note that he has kept this backpack with him for the last two years, and I suspect that he will have it with him well into the new year also.  In his mind, it is part of him.  He wants nothing to do with any new or shiny backpack ... only his old reliable gray and blue one will suffice.
In the course of any given day as he goes to school or attends daycare, there are 100 different ways in which the world may cause him grief.  Every once in a while he will return home in tears.  Someone hurt his feelings that day, or maybe refused to play with him on the playground during recess.  Tough medicine to take at age 7.  A pastor and good friend of mine gave a sermon years ago where he equated any hurtful act done by someone else to that of a builder's brick.  The same type of simple brick used to construct a house or building.  Each time we go through life refusing to forgive people for the things they have said or done to us, we toss another brick into our own backpack.  As you could imagine, the bricks add up quickly.  For me it conjures up a picture of someone trying to walk down the street, barely able to stand upright under the weight on his shoulders.  Backpack fully loaded and bursting at the seams.  A truly miserable existence.  
I believe that we all have our own backpack you see.  It may not be gray and blue or designed especially for a 7-year-old, but we have one nonetheless.  In fact, we may be fairly proud of our backpack.  Maybe it is brand name and very expensive.  Something we love to show off to the right audience and at the right time.  But how heavy is it?  What are you and I holding onto as we go through life?  Are the bricks piling up?  Why do we feel so comfortable under all that weight?
There is an excellent lesson laid out for us in Matthew chapter 1, verses 18-23.  It is a unique take on the birth of the Son of God.  If we read it closely, we see a microcosm of our conundrum in the author's prose.  Matthew writes:
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).  When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  

It would be easy to miss all the implications and social ramifications going on here at  first glance.  God was in fact asking Joseph to endure any possible criticism from his  friends and peers by taking in a woman - who by all appearances - was pregnant with someone else's child.  This was a severely punishable sin in 1st century Palestine.  Despite these strained circumstances, Joseph decided to accept Jesus as his son anyway.  Though also an act of obedience to God (and this Scripture is rightfully taught that way also), at some point I think Joseph had to come to some kind of inward acceptance of the situation prior to taking Mary as his own wife.  I do not believe it is too much of a stretch to say that before the angelic visit - Joseph had forgiven Mary for her circumstances and decided that a quiet divorce would be best.  He didn't want to impugn her character publicly.  He cared too much about her to do that.  He had an attitude of humility and forgiveness - not of anger or spitefulness.

Would others have done the same?  Don't many relationships end today for similar reasons?  Many of us are not that generous I have a feeling. 

Children are lucky I think.  They can forgive and forget easier than grown ups.  Grudges have no room to take hold in the very young.  The predilection toward gossip hasn't taken root yet.  No, these things are saved for the older people - those who should know better.  Those who have graduated on to shinier, more expensive backpacks.  Those who have grown comfortable under its weight. 

In the Biblical parable of the unforgiving servant, Peter and Jesus discuss how many times someone should forgive others.  Matthew 18:21 records it this way:

Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.…

The implication here is that you and I have been forgiven by God more times than we can imagine, and that we shouldn't fumble around with keeping a record of past wrongs.  We are to tear up the scorecard and throw it away.  We are to forgive others in the same way that God has forgiven us.  Now this is tough medicine for you and I, even as adults.  But remember, forgiving someone doesn't mean we continue to stay in a bad situation.  Nor does it mean that there will not be consequences for those who add their bricks to our backpack.  I think it does mean, however, that we are not afforded the luxury of stroking our own egos while maintaining that we are "right" while others are usually "wrong."  We must work to lessen our load of bricks.  We must consider what would have happened if God had not forgiven humanity.  

It is nearly 3:45 in the afternoon, and my children will soon be home from school.  It is almost always a happy time.  Even our pets look out the large front window in eager anticipation.  As my youngest child walks through the door, I check his face for any signs of a heavy backpack.  He is all smiles today.  If anyone did try to hurt him, he has not retained the brick.  He shouldn't have to.  The choice whether or not to hold onto the brick was always his in the first place.  



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