The Greatest Gift

“’Tis the Season to be Jolly”, the song says. For many of us Christmas is jolly and joyful, but it can also be full of rush, pressure, expectation, a need to perform, and an undercurrent that something is not quite right somehow, as though Santa is about to drop the other boot.

This is not another cliché essay about the joy of the season, rather about something messy and demanding. It is about the greatest gift we can give at Christmas, a gift we give to ourselves.

It’s the gift of forgiveness, a gift that always, always benefits the giver.

Image: Wolfgang H. Wögerer, Wien, Austria via Wikimedia Commons

Please resist believing the lie that says you have to get even. There is no value in getting even, only in getting free. It is a simple act; it is not always an easy act, but you can do it, and it will change your life.

We start the journey of forgiveness in places like: “If you only knew what he did to me…” “What happened was unforgivable…” “She has to pay for this…” “I can never forgive.”

Please, never say “never”, because you will forego a transformational experience.

Forgiveness of others can be a difficult, demanding and painful thing. I know. I have had grudges and resentments that I bore for years before choosing to unburden myself. I use the word “unburden” deliberately because a lack of forgiveness is simply that – a burden, a weight, a drag, friction.

To better understand, imagine me walking along having just finished all my Christmas shopping in one go.

On my left shoulder is a large bag, the long strap of which is over my head to keep it from slipping away. My arm hangs over it in an uncomfortable arc, supporting a hand that grips another shopping bag, this one hanging low and heavy to the left of my left knee. These stuffed satchels would have me leaning hard left if it were not for the oversized weighty sack I’m desperately clutching with my right hand as a counterbalance. Meanwhile, I am kept from being hunched over from these burdens by a giant rucksack weighing heavily on my back. It appears to keep me over my center of balance, but that is an illusion. What it actually does is weigh me down, creating additional pressure.

This is the picture I want you to have when I speak of bearing a grudge or carrying a resentment. Grudges are heavy things, and they get heavier over time; their inertia increases, as though some sort of scale builds up on them, a crust that refuses to flake off. It is as though gravity increases where they are present. They are weighty matters. Don’t take them lightly.

Can you see this? Here I am, not skipping along, not striding purposefully, not even merely walking really. Because of what I choose to carry, I am trudging, perhaps even plodding, or slogging. This is no good way to live.

Is it any wonder we speak of ‘personal baggage’ when describing this? Baggage is something we carry that has our “stuff” in it. When we travel on an airliner, we are restricted to both the size and weight of the baggage we can carry. Too much of either and the plane would burst at the seams, or simply not be airworthy. An apt metaphor for us as we journey through life with this junk!

What is in this baggage that I tote resolutely and stolidly, refusing to relinquish? Remember, in my shopping metaphor, I spent an entire day ‘spending good money’ – investing, as it were, in these things. If they are a good investment, they will increase in value. But how can a grudge increase in value?

Well, here’s the truth of it. It can’t. It has no value in the first place. And anything times zero equals zero.

This begs this question: at what point do I cut my losses and divest? Why is divestment beneficial? And what are the risks, if any?

Here is the upside: It makes my life, and my heart, lighter. Without carrying baggage, I can pay more attention to what is in front of me and enjoy it for what it is, instead of being on the lookout for obstacles. When I carry so much weight, the risk of a drop, a stumble or a fall is so great, there is no opportunity to stop being on the defensive.

Over time, without forgiveness, life then becomes a balancing act, full of deliberate steps not toward anything joyful, but away from or around anything which could possibly be harmful or painful. I live in lack, not abundance.

Can you see the trap in this? Until I lay down the burden, I cannot feel free and easy, not ever, not for one moment. I always carry the weight of it, and have to live life around it. Sure, I can pretend it is not there, but pretense itself only becomes more mass in the sack. And so it goes.

It is also very bad for my heart and puts needless pressure on it, as though I were obese, carrying so much extra weight I cannot function the way I was made, and my body’s systems break down one by one.

But – danger: divestiture can be painful. If you have ever held something tightly in your hand for too long, it can hurt to unclench the muscles. The path of least resistance is to leave it alone. It hurts because letting go means laying down the ego long enough to admit I was wrong (even if only to myself). Remember where we started?

If you only knew what he did to me…” “What happened was unforgivable…” “She has to pay for this…” “I can never forgive.”

The things we tell ourselves over and over become the elephant in the room. Living with an elephant in the room is messy and claustrophobic, but we get used to it. Worse – we become blinded to it’s presence, just as we become so used to the unhealthy ‘weight’ we carry, we cannot imagine living without it.

But if the elephant disappears, how do I clean up its mess and use all the space that is created? The beauty of true forgiveness is that the space immediately becomes empty and clean, as though the mess has been removed of its own accord.

Christmas should be a season of forgiveness, and the miracle of Christmas is that this freedom is very near. It is right on the other side of one simple act.

Here it is: declare aloud, and mean it, “I forgive [you, him, her, Uncle Bob, that nasty boss I had, such-and-such church, Politician X] for the things [he/she/they] did to me or the ones I love [enumerate them specifically], and I absolutely refuse to carry the burden of them any more.”

Mean it. And refuse to go back there. If you do this, you will be free, you will be lighter, and life will get better.

Most important of all, you will participate in the gift God gave us at Christmas – forgiveness of our sin – forgiveness of all the things we do that separate us from Him. We can’t help those things. No matter how good we think we are, or how much we do, we can never be good enough to be forgiven, because only God is perfect. And only He can grant us forgiveness for living in a state short of perfection. This He can do, through the birth, life, sacrifice, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So please take His gift, this greatest of all gifts, and then say a simple “thank You.” He’s waiting.

Merry Christmas!

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