The Porcupine and the Snake - Forgiveness can be a prickly subject

I once heard an Australian preacher describe the conflict between porcupines and snakes in the outback. When hunting the snake,

a porcupine will repeatedly bite the snake's tail, then stick out its quills to avoid the snake's poisonous bite. Eventually, the snake dies

 by self-inflicted puncture wounds from the porcupine's quills. The preacher used this example to illustrate the negative effects of

seeking  revenge.

The word "bitterness," as used in the New Testament, comes from the Greek word pikrias, meaning a cutting, pricking or puncturing.

It's pure torture. In our marriages and relationships, this is exactly what we put ourselves through when we choose bitterness over forgiveness.

In What's So Amazing About Grace?, Philip Yancey admits that forgiveness isn't easy: "When we feel wronged, we can contrive a hundred

reasons against forgiveness.  ‘He needs to learn a lesson!' ‘I don't want to encourage irresponsible behaviour!' ‘I'll let her stew for a while, it

will do her good!' ‘I was the wronged party-it's not up to me to make the first move!' ‘How can I forgive if he's not even sorry?' "If we want

to learn how to forgive, it is helpful to first understand what forgiveness is and isn't.


Forgiveness is NOT:

  • A feeling. When someone hurts you, naturally you don't feel like forgiving them. But feelings can contradict what you need to do. Forgiveness begins with a choice-an act of the will.
  • Pretending it didn't happen. Trying to bury the painful memories can shortcircuit the healing process. If you don't face the hurtful issues from the past head-on, you bring unfinished business into your relationships.
  • Ignoring the hurt. Don't make light of your pain. Acknowledging the full impact of your hurt brings significance to the act of forgiveness. The old maxim "time heals all wounds" is false. Time does not heal anything. But time can help you sort through your emotions and understand what you need to deal with.
  • Denying the wrong. Rationalizing your pain by saying things like "Well, she has a lot of problems" or "He had a rough childhood" interferes with the healing process and your ability to forgive. Making excuses for the other person sends the message that their behaviour is acceptable.
  • Demanding that the other person admit they are wrong. You don't have the power to make a person change. Forgiveness doesn't depend on the other person's participation. The person who wounded you may be long gone from this world or ambivalent toward your feelings, and yet you can still release your resentment.
  • Feeling obligated to trust the other person again. Trust is earned. Forgiveness is the first step but it doesn't necessarily lead to an instantaneous or complete restoration of trust.
  • Forgetting. Remembering what happened can help you to create healthy boundaries to guard against the wrong happening again. In The Bondage Breaker, Neil Anderson writes, "Forgiveness is not forgetting about past hurt-rather it is making a conscious decision that gives up the right to use the offence against the other person again."
  • Conceding defeat. You aren't saying what was done to you is OK, and you are not lying down like a doormat to be stepped on. Instead, you release the person to God and in the process set yourself free.

Forgiveness IS:

  • A Choice. Forgiveness opens the way to reconciliation and halts the cycle of blame and pain. It is a process that requires patience, time and understanding.
  • Difficult and humbling. You must be willing to let go of what you feel is your right to "get back." Remind yourself of the many times God has forgiven you, then transfer the offender and the offence over to God.
  • Exercising God's strength. Loving and accepting someone who has hurt you requires resources outside of yourself. As you respond to God's will to forgive, he will empower you to love.
  • Breaking the control that someone has over you. An unwillingness to forgive hooks us into the trap of resentment and bitterness. Forgiveness frees you from being controlled by what someone else has done to you.
  • Healing and freeing. Forgiveness allows an individual to move on. Emotional energy can now be used for creative and positive endeavours.

When we take our unforgiving spirit to God, he can melt away our bitterness. By holding on to resentment we remain emotional prisoners.

The only thing harder than forgiveness is the alternative. Ask yourself: Do you want to get even or get well? The choice is yours.

How to begin the process:

  1. Make the choice to forgive
  2. Refuse to hold on to "ifs" or "untils" ("If he does this I'll forgive him" or "Until she does this I refuse to forgive her")
  3. Don't bring up the past against those who have hurt you
  4. Avoid feeling controlled by the person who wronged you
  5. Realize you have better things to do with your time and energy
  6. Give yourself permission to make life choices that lead to peace and contentment


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