Forgiveness: The gift you give yourself

One of the most complex subjects human beings grapple with is understanding and embracing the concept of forgiveness. “…62 percent of American adults say they need more forgiveness in their personal lives, according to a survey by the nonprofit Fetzer Institute,” reports www.johnhopkins.org.

To be honest, I’m certainly not an expert on forgiveness. That’s why I was really surprised when a personal story of transitioning from unforgiveness to forgiveness that I wrote, was included in the recently released book, “Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Forgiveness Fix.”

Like a lot of folks, I have secretly wrestled with this tricky topic for most of my life. According to the article, “What is Forgiveness?” on www.greatergood.berkeley.edu, “Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.”

There’s the complicated component, forgiving someone who has harmed you who might not “deserve your forgiveness,” especially when they aren’t remorseful for their actions. Two decades ago, I learned a lot about undeserved forgiveness from a Jewish Holocaust survivor named Elisabeth “Liesl” Sondheimer. My late friend, Liesl, eventually made her home in Lima, Ohio, after she fled her German homeland during Hitler’s reign of terror.

Liesl celebrated our wedding as if she was the grandmother of the bride.

Like the famous Nazi Hunter Simon Wiesenthal, Mrs. Sondheimer spent decades retelling the horrific account of the World War II extermination of more than six million European Jews to countless audiences. She was featured in the regional Emmy award-winning documentary, “A Simple Matter of God and Country.” Unlike Wiesenthal’s quandary concerning forgiveness highlighted in his book, The Sunflower, Liesl always maintained, “You must forgive, but never forget, or Hitler has won.” The silver-haired survivor’s ability to forgive astounded me.

Oh, I knew about forgiveness. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I grew up mouthing these words as a Catholic school girl, almost daily reciting this line from “The Lord’s Prayer,” also known as the “Our Father.” Although I recited words about forgiveness, in my heart I had no idea how to forgive childhood trauma. I was the ultimate grudge keeper wearing my unforgiveness as a badge of honor.

In my twenties, shortly before one hospitalization for depression

As a vulnerable teen, I became consumed with a lack of forgiveness, which resulted in depression, migraine headaches, ulcers, and a failed suicide attempt. As a high school senior, I was committed to Toledo State Mental Hospital. During the 1970s, the barbaric institution only intensified my desire for validation, that I was the one who had been wrongfully treated. Yet when we are victimized, we become a further victim when we hang onto the hurt and bitterness. Thus, I spent years in and out of psychiatric facilities battling depression.

There is a famous quotation that’s been circulating for decades, it says, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Our health truly can be affected. “Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards…lowering the risk of heart attack; improving cholesterol levels and sleep; and reducing pain, blood pressure and levels of anxiety, depression and stress,” this according to the article, “Forgiveness: Your Health Depends on it” from www.johnhopkins.org.

Don’t get me wrong, this column isn’t about “cheap” forgiveness, which is denying the offense or violation. Nor does forgiving a grievous offense mean the perpetrator should be spared from consequences. Whether it’s a prison sentence, a permanently broken relationship, or instituting healthy boundaries; there are circumstances where we must protect ourselves or those we love from physical or emotional abuse being repeated.

For less serious matters though, it’s crucial to remember, no one’s perfect. It’s a pretty lonely existence when we refuse to forgive. In addition, the hardest thing can be to forgive ourselves when we mess up in a major way. Forgiveness is truly a gift we give ourselves. It is the condition of the heart where we let go of bitterness, anger, and a desire for revenge, and find emotional freedom.

2014 – Me reading my first Chicken Soup for the Soul book as a contributor – such a happy day!

But back to the “Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Forgiveness Fix book,” which was released on Nov. 5, 2019. This is my third title as a contributor for this inspirational series of uplifting books. I’m beyond thrilled to have my story of embracing forgiveness as one of the 101 stories included. After all, for a girl who once was a champion grudge holder, this seems like a consummate testimony to the extraordinary power of God’s grace.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an award-winning freelance journalist, Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor, and author who has been featured on Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV Show and CBN’s 700 Club. Her recent inspirational book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is available on all major online retail outlets. Amazon link.

What will be under your tree this Christmas?

It was a long ago Christmas, when the budget was tight, and hope seemed far away. That year, presents were notably absent under the artificial two foot pine tree in our cramped apartment. Probably, some of you reading this are experiencing economic difficulties like I was back then.

Even the yellowing angel that sat atop the tiny tree had seen better days. That holiday season more than two decades ago, “…was the best of times, [and] it was the worst of times…” as Charles Dickens once wrote. The worst of times, because as a single mom I found myself part of the U.S.poverty statistic. Yet, it was the best of times, because I was a new Christian with a committed faith in the God who could do anything, but fail His children.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” according to Hebrews 11:1. If you have walked with God for awhile, you probably know firsthand that there can be profound joy in the midst of difficult circumstances. It really is true what Philippians 4:11 says, “Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances.”

At Christmas, mature believers are often grateful simply for good health, the gift of a loving family, and the celebration of the birth of their dear Savior. They understand that there is little more they can want. But children can’t help but dream of brightly-colored presents filled with treasures they’ve longed to call their own.

How many of you remember anticipating childhood holidays by studying the thick department store catalogs that used to come in the mail? Or making Christmas wish lists printed in pencil, numbering the most desirable gifts first? Even as adults, it’s not wrong to want things. Psalm 37:4 records, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” Although Matthew Henry’s commentary cautions that God “has not promised to gratify all the appetites of the body…but to grant…all the cravings of the renewed sanctified soul.”

Yet our Heavenly Father also promises to give His children good things, if we ask Him. (Paraphrase Matt. 7:11) Our faith is often the catalyst that causes us to reach for the otherwise unobtainable. Therefore, it is always the balance of being content, yet pro-active about seeking what God wants us to have in our lives.

All of this theological jargon is lost on a young child wanting a few gifts to celebrate the season. That’s why it is important during the holidays that we as Christians find the time and use our resources wisely to support: church outreaches, Toys for Tots, Angel Tree, the Salvation Army, or to assist a neighboring family facing financial struggles.

Maybe this year, finances won’t allow you to bless others. You find yourself in need of assistance, and wondering how to celebrate the birth of our Savior. After all, Scripture says, “…It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35b) That’s the lesson I learned twenty years ago when there was no money for gifts. In the newness of my faith back then, I realized that Christmas was simply the celebration of Jesus’ birthday. He was the one having the party, the one who should receive presents. It became glaringly apparent that there was nothing under my tree for Him. 

Pastor Mike Slaughter of Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio, also had this same revelation. Slaughter, whose rural United Methodist Church has grown from double digits when he took over in 1979 to approximately 5,000 weekly attendees, first challenged his congregation in the fall of 2004, “I want you to have a slim Christmas this year . . . and whatever you spend on your family, bring an equal amount for hunger relief in the Sudan. Because Christmas is not your birthday; it’s Jesus’ birthday.”

That year, Ginghamsburg’s “Christmas Miracle Offering” brought in more than $300,000. Now an annual tradition, the church has raised over $5 million for The Sudan Project, a humanitarian program in Darfur, Sudan. In 2011, Pastor Slaughter authored the book, “Christmas Is Not Your Birthday,” which is rapidly becoming a Christian classic. The book’s back cover reads, “Every year, we say we’re going to cut back, simplify, and have a family Christmas that focuses on the real reason for the season—Jesus. But every year, advertisements beckon, the children plead, and it seems easier just to indulge our wants and whims…This Christmas, cut through the hype that leaves you exhausted and broke at the end of the year. Instead, experience the peace of knowing that God is truly with us, the joy of giving sacrificially, and the love of a Savior who gave everything he had for us.” Slaughter’s devotional, “A Different Kind of Christmas,” was also released in the fall of 2012.

Like the Ginghamsburg congregation, I have found joy in focusing on helping others. As far as presents, admittedly you can’t purchase a tangible gift for a God who created and owns “the cattle on a thousand hills.” (Psalm 50:10) But if you pray and listen very closely, you can trust that His Holy Spirit will tell you in a still small voice what the Savior of Mankind wants you do for Him this Christmas.

There are gifts like blessing others with time, money, or services; or using God-given talents to promote His kingdom. It could be the sacrificial act of forgiving a seemingly unforgivable offense. Or it might be a repentant present of confronting a habitual sin or addiction by giving up drugs or alcohol, finding a recovery group, and getting some help. But if finances allow, use your resources to assist those struggling to meet their daily needs. These are all ways to put something under the tree for dear Jesus. After all, it is His birthday!

 Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning freelance journalist and evangelistic speaker who has been featured on CBN’s 700 Club and on Joyce Meyer Ministries  TV program. She blogs at www.christinaryanclaypool.com/blog1 or contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com