(We cannot effectively minister to others if we are burdened down with excess baggage due to past experiences in our lives.)

By Betty Benson Robertson

Unnecessary Weight

 Excitement charged the room as the teenagers planned their overnight camping trip.  My pastor-husband outlined what everyone needed to take, stressing the importance of not carrying a single unnecessary item.
"Keep the weight to the lowest possible level," he admonished, "because it's a strenuous 3-miles to the camp site.  Buy light-weight food items such as Top Ramen, beef jerky and Fruit Roll-ups."

The long-awaited day finally arrived!  As the teens assembled, my husband took mental inventory of what one girl unloaded: sleeping bag; bulging backpack with heavy canned food items;  large hand-mirror; huge make-up bag; hair dryer; three changes of clothing and her teddy bear!    

High on enthusiasm and short on experience, the young lady ignored all questions by survivors of this annual event: "Are you sure you want to carry all that weight?  How are you going to feel after walking two hours carrying all that stuff?"  

After intense persuasion, this stranger to back packing finally consented to lighten her load.  She left behind the hair dryer and teddy bear!  Thirty minutes into the hike, the bogged-down young lady began pondering the issue of laying aside every unnecessary weight and stripping off the excess.

Excess Baggage

Forty-year-old Cathie grew up in a home filled with guilt, shame, constant terror and years of learning to "walk the chalk line."  Encouragement to excel was pitted against punishment for less than excellence.
At age three, Cathie's father declared:  "If you had been born in China, we would have thrown you in the river."  This toddler began carrying rejection.

By age twelve, Cathie's responsibilities included baby-sitting four younger brothers, cleaning the house, ironing and preparing meals.  If performance did not measure her father's expectations, his wrath was unleashed at the end of a long-handled clothes brush.  Cathie began carrying resentment.

From seventh grade until the end of high school, she was regularly, sexually abused by her church-going, Bible-toting father. Each time he concluded by saying: "I'll beat you to within an inch of your life if you say anything."

Cathie spent her junior and senior high school years avoiding close friendships, fearing her friends would discover what was happening while her mother worked.  She began carrying around anger, bitterness, resentment, and guilt.

Following high school graduation, Cathie married - not consciously aware of the heavy baggage she carried in her inner life. She was confused as to why she constantly felt guilty; had difficulty establishing relationships; could never let anyone close;  kept her emotions shut off;  and could go only so far in her spiritual walk. 

Looking Within

Are you carrying excess baggage?

* Resentment toward the man who has broken up a home
* Bitterness against the person who has ruined a career.
* Hardness toward God for allowing hypocrisy in the church
* Guilt over an abortion or giving an unwanted child up for adoption
* Despair that a mate will ever change

Who hasn't carried unnecessary weight?
I have. For five years, we cared for my elderly parents in our home.  I had never been as close to mother as I had Daddy.  It was nothing more than little irritants which I just tried to bury. 

The interaction of daily care giving caused the feelings to rise with volcanic intensity. The excess baggage of resentment and anger began weighing heavy -- causing tension, stress and physical problems. 

I knew the barrier between mother and I needed to be broken.  I knew the conflict had to be resolved.  Simple!   
I just was going to change my mother!  When that didn't work, God said:  "How about doing it MY way?"

The outline for His way is found in Matthew 6:14-15:  "If you forgive other people their failures, your heavenly father will also forgive you.  But if you will NOT forgive - but if you will NOT forgive - but if you will NOT forgive...neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your failure."

So - now the question looming on the horizon was:  To forgive...or not to forgive?
Often we live with one foot on the road of wanting to forgive - and the other on the road to wanting revenge. 

We are immobilized.

Giving up resentments may also involve our giving up:

1.  Having someone to blame for the predicament or situation we're in.
2.  Feeling sorry for ourselves.
3.  Talking so much about the other person or the past.

To forgive...or not forgive -- that is the question. 

Sometimes we say, "Here, God.  You can have the teddy bear."  We expect the load we carry around to be lighter.

Do I want to stay in bondage to resentments and hurts - past and present?
Do I want to keep carrying excess baggage?
Or do I choose to forgive and experience freedom?
The pain is unbearable, you say.  It's too hard. 
Forgiveness IS hard work.
Forgiveness is emotionally tiring.
Forgiveness takes all the power of God's compassion within you.
Forgiveness takes all cooperation on your part of His healing touch.
Forgiveness takes time.
Forgiveness is a process.
Forgiveness must go as deep as the pain. 

Some people say, "Sure, I've forgiven."  But they have not forgiven in the citadel of their soul...where the pain is lodged.  Forgiveness must go as deep as the pain.

You say, "If forgiveness is a process...tell me how."

Step # 1:  Survey the damage

In the second chapter of Nehemiah we find that he viewed the devastation of Jerusalem before designing plans to rebuild. Survey the injury in your life so needed repairs can occur.  Identify what damage has been done. Is there bitterness, depression, difficulty in loving others, exaggerated attempts for acceptance, fear of rejection, feelings of inferiority, hurt feelings, low self-image, pain, perfectionism, inability to trust God, withdrawal from others?

Who caused the damage in your life? 
List those with whom you have, or have had, conflict: mother, father, stepparent, church member, friend, yourself.

You may say, "I could never forgive myself for something I did."  Your name should be on the list.

Step # 2:  Acknowledge the pain from the damage

Our hurts from the past are like abscesses - raw, hemorrhaging wounds that become covered by scabs.  But from time to time the scabs peel off.  Unfortunately, what is uncovered is not the complete growth of restored life, but the same bleeding sore.

Much of the suffering in our lives comes from memories.  These memories emerge as feelings of loneliness, insecurity, fear, anxiety, suspiciousness.

The more painful these memories are, the more hidden and repressed they become. They hide in a corner of the deepest cavern of our minds. 

What do you do with a painful memory?

You may try to forget it or you may act as though it did not occur.  Trying to forget the pain of the past gives 
these memories power and control over our lives.

We proceed through life dragging the weight.  We become walking emotional cripples.  We miss out on the opportunity to grow emotionally -- and spiritually.

A painful memory can become a healed gift instead of a searing reminder -- if we will just acknowledge it and continue through the process.

Step # 3:  Write to release the feelings

The purpose of writing is to recount incidents and experience feelings so the poison can be released.  This is vital in the releasing process of genuine, lasting forgiveness.

Describe in detail in letter-form what you are feeling.  This is NOT given to the offender.  It is only a method for deep expression, to help the releasing process.

Example:  "Mother, I feel resentment because you never attended any ball games when I was in Little League.  You had the time.  You just always said, 'I don't like baseball.'  It made me feel insignificant and worthless.  It was humiliating never having any parental support like the other kids had."

In my situation, I grabbed a box of Kleenex, a large legal pad, and a pencil.  My head had forgiven my mother -- we all know we're supposed to forgive -- so in a brief moment of prayer we bow our heads and say, "God, help me to forgive."  Nothing changes.  We get frustrated. We don't understand that often forgiveness takes work -- takes time -- takes a resounding YES, LORD...I will let down the walls...I will get in touch with the pain so you can come in and heal.

I spent three intense hours writing my letter to my mother. It started out generic.  As I continued writing, I gave myself permission in this safe setting (just God and I) to go back and relive that pain.
Sometimes I scrawled a gigantic WHY across the page?  Or my heart screamed, "If only you had not." Sometimes my heart yelled, "If only you had..."  My sobs were so gut-wrenching I had to stop writing, as pain gushed forth in geyser force.

I continued writing page after page, until I could think of nothing else to say.  Then I said, "Okay, God, if I'm carrying any other baggage...if I've crammed anything else inside that needs to be released -- now is the time to let me know about it.  I'd rather not go through this again!

I took my stack of paper, folded it, placed it into an envelope, and sealed the envelope. Then I took the letter and start tearing it up.  I shred it into little, itty, bitty pieces. Each tear brought a new sense of freedom...each tear brought peace...each tear lifted some of the excess baggage I had been carrying for years. 

I prayed, "Redeemer-God, you have promised beauty for ashes (Isa. 61:3). Please make creative use of this..."  Then I took the torn-paper and brushed it into the trash can.  I picked up the Kleenex-mountain and dumped it into the waste basket.

I was emotionally exhausted -- but I had never felt so free inside.  I was excited because I thought this journey to forgiveness was over.

I learned that forgiveness is a process – not to be rushed for the sake of saying, "I've forgiven."  Long-lasting forgiveness costs.  It cost Jesus His life.

People I have counseled thought they were going to die before they were done.  Without exception, they would all say today: "It was worth it.  The biblical process of forgiveness makes a difference.  Hang in there." 
If your name is on the list in Step 1, for whatever reasons -- write a letter to yourself.

It works!

You may have carried pent-up pain for years.  Releasing this emotion on paper will bring a renewed sense of God's forgiveness.  Those who have written letters to themselves say they are able to finally, truly forgive themselves.  Writing is a vehicle for allowing the forgiveness to go as deep as the pain.

Step # 4:  List personal rights that were violated.

Webster defines a personal right as "something to which one has a just claim." A "right" could be expressed:  "I deserve proper nurturing;" "I deserve praise instead of continual criticism;" I deserve a husband who is faithful;" "I deserve a spouse who will communicate with me;" "I deserve not being robbed of my virginity on a date-rape;" "I deserve having my child rather than him die from infant death syndrome;" "I deserve the right to maintain purity instead of incest;" or "I deserve the right to have  a mother longer than 14 years." do deserve, but clutching to our rights causes bitterness, anger, resentment, and pain.

Step # 5:  Yield those rights to God

Scripture encourages yielding of rights. Romans 6:13:  "Yield yourselves unto God, has those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God."

A major decision of the will surfaces in this step.  The glass ceiling must be broken.

Ask yourself, "Do I WANT to let go of these feelings?  Do I want to say, 'Yes...Lord – I yield my rights to You?'"
If so, a prayer can be, "God, I thought this was a basic right I had.  I have clutched tightly.  I now surrender and release it to You."

By the time I had completed this step, I was feelin' great!  I thought I was D-O-N-E!  My relationship with my mother was certainly improved.  Then one day, God spoke clearly to me again.  I was writing my book, Changing Places, I happened to read what I had just written in chapter one, about following the scriptural mandate of honoring our father and mother. 

I looked at the computer screen and read:  We honor our parents because we have received so much from them, including life itself.  Our gratitude often is mixed with resentment about their perceived short-comings and imperfections.  Honoring our parents has nothing to do with whether or not we LIKE them.  It means, rather, not shaming them verbally or minimizing the investment they have made in our lives.
God said, "Betty, you cannot go on writing this book until you take care of one more thing.  Make a list of YOUR offenses toward your mother."

Step # 6:  List your wrongs

Acts 24:16 -- "I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man."

1 Pet. 3:16 -- "Keep a clear conscience"

In my situation, my list of offenses toward my mother read:  insensitivity - intolerance - ungratefulness - slander (I had often shared her faults with others).

I bowed my head in prayer: "God, forgive me."

My mother was now incapable of verbally responding.  I was not even sure if she received my verbal messages correctly.  I went to her bedside, picked up her bony hard, covered it with both of mine and said, "Mother, I have not always been patient with you.  Please forgive me.  Mom, I was not always grateful for all the things you did for me through the years.  Please forgive me." 

I wrote letters to my brothers, and others I knew I had shared her faults with, and said: "I was wrong.  Please forgive me."

Step # 7:  Forgive

Forgiving seems to be the hardest step. When challenged to forgive, responses often are:  "I would like to forgive, but..."' or "I know I should forgive, but..."

Mark 11:25 admonishes:  "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."

Col. 3:13, "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you."

Is there something blocking your ability to love?  What is keeping you from forgiving: anger, fear, hurt feelings, insecurity, pride or stubborn will?

On a sheet of paper write:  "My ______________ is keeping me from forgiving __________________(name of offender).

Spend time in prayer with God until you can declare, "I forgive," and there are no "buts" remaining. 

Step # 8:  Desire reconciliation

Hebrews 12:14 says,   "Make every effort to live in peace with all men."

Reconciliation does not mean acceptance of what the violator did.  It does not mean what happened has to be denied.  Reconciliation means the biblical guideline of seeking peace is being obeyed.  It is following the scriptural admonition of rebuilding relationships through unconditional love and acceptance.

John 13:34-35 reads:  "Love one another, as I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

The process of rebuilding is difficult.  Old patterns of relating and communicating hinder the ability to start anew.  Sometimes the offender is not interested in rebuilding the relationship. 

The first thing which needs to be done is to demonstrate love.  Tangible expressions should be presented to the violator, such as prayer, showing appreciation, giving presents, or giving attention.  Scripture indicates we are commanded to act in spite of the emotion we may feel.

Helpful Tips

Individuals going through this process often find they need alternative plans for their daily devotional time.  

Try reading a Psalm daily.  One plan is to read every thirtieth Psalm, which means that on the first day, you would turn to Psalm 1, 31, 61, 91 and 121.  The next time you would read Psalm 2, 32, 62, 92 and 122. 

Don't feel guilty if you feel the need to stay in the Psalms for weeks or even months. Concentrated time in this Bible book will bring you comfort during this vulnerable time.

Find an individual who will commit to pray daily for you. 

You may feel there is no light at the end of the tunnel, as you go through the forgiveness process.  Keep your eye on the goal of removing unnecessary weight, so you can run the race. 

You WILL make it!