Bitterness often costs us more than forgiving would, even if forgiving doesn’t seem fair.
By Sheila Wray-Gregoire
Recently we received a ticket in the mail from the Toronto Parking Authority. It seems we parked one evening at midnight in a no-parking zone, and we owed them $40. There was just one minor detail they overlooked. It wasn’t us. Sure, that was our license plate on the ticket, but we were nowhere near Toronto that night. My husband was working in the Emergency Room, and I was home with the kids two hundred kilometres away. No problem, I thought. I’ll just clear this all up.
That was easier said than done. There was no email address on the ticket, just a regular phone number (not even toll free) to phone during business hours. The only other way to deal with it was to go in person. So I phoned. It was busy. I tried for three days. And then, miraculously, I got an answer. “You are number 24 in line. Your wait will likely be 38 minutes.” So I waited. And waited. Number 17. Number 8. Number 3. And finally, number 1. And as I was being transferred, I heard—a busy signal. I had been disconnected.
In desperation, I called some traffic ticket specialists, figuring they could help me. They told me that if I didn’t pay the ticket on time, the authorities would double the fine, and it would cost me more than $40 to fight it. I could take them to small claims court, they explained, but again, it would cost me more than the price of the ticket. I may as well just pay it. “But it wasn’t me!” I told her. “It’s the principle of the thing!” She told me she understood, but there was nothing I could do.
How could the government just do this to me? I was really steamed. I told everyone my story, and actually found other people who had received similar tickets. “What did you do?” I asked. “We paid.” they said. “We could never get through on that phone number.”
So after a week of worrying about this, I finally realized there was no point. Sometimes you just have to let it go.
A lot of life is like that. We choose to hold on to our grudges, because it’s the principle of the thing. Bitterness, though, doesn’t pay very good dividends. It doesn’t do anything to the person you’re angry at, but it hurts you. You go through life always testing, always suspicious, and never at peace.
Letting go isn’t easy, but it’s a lot better than driving yourself nuts. I could have fought that ticket on principle, but it would have cost me more. Bitterness often costs us more than forgiving would, even if forgiving doesn’t seem fair. Yet Jesus put no limits on forgiveness. Philip Yancey, in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace?, admits that forgiveness is an “unnatural act”. Extending grace to someone who does not deserve it feels just plain wrong. Yet just as Jesus already paid for the guilt we feel, He already paid for everyone else’s guilt, too.
Unforgiveness is probably the biggest barrier to healing this side of heaven. It takes such humility and strength to say, “I will no longer hold this against you,” and often we just don’t feel up to the task. As hard as it seems, though, it is so much harder to live with bitterness. As speaker Patricia Frances asserts, “unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.” You may be protecting your need to be right, but you give up your only chance at freedom and peace, and limit what God can do in your family.
Forgiveness, of course, doesn’t mean that we ignore problems or subject ourselves or our kids to harm. It just means that we choose not to let those problems consume so much of our emotional energy. We let the anger go so we can enjoy the rest of life. Dwelling on such problems and seeking revenge, even if only in your head, only hurts you. You spend your life with such negativity that you don’t even notice the good around you.
I know someone whose wife left him for someone else. It wasn’t a pretty situation. It certainly wasn’t fair. This man, though, now uses his kids to get back at her. He won’t buy them clothes, school supplies, or toys. He tries to minimize his child support payments as much as possible so she has very little money to live on so that she can’t spend on herself. He’s punishing her, he thinks, but really he’s hurting his kids and himself in the process. He’s losing out on his relationship with his children because he’s still so hurt over her.
She did betray him. She did hurt him. But sometimes you have to let it go. It isn’t always easy, and it isn’t always pretty. Chances are, though, that life will be much easier on the other side. The principle of the thing isn’t always worth it. People are. Sometimes that’s hard to swallow, but it’s the best medicine there is.
After finishing this column, I gave that phone number one last try. To my amazement I got through, and they cancelled the ticket immediately. It felt great, but not nearly as wonderful as giving up that anger in the first place.
Used by permission of FamilyLife Canada. Copyright 2003.