By Kelly Wright
I loathe returning items to a store. I don’t keep receipts, which is usually a receipt of a different kind: one that guarantees things to get weird. I especially dislike returning items right after Christmas. Some years ago, I decided to forego the long lines and take my returns on a Thursday morning in mid-January. The cashier exchanged the items and put the total on gift card but needed a customer service manager’s approval. To my shock, instead of approving the returned items, the manager asked me, “How do I know you didn’t steal these items?” I was dumbfounded and could only mutter this witticism in retort: “Uh . . . because I didn’t steal them?” Then, he refused to approve the returns. I left with my bag of duplicate toys, feeling shame and anger.
My feelings of anger weren’t wrong, as feelings aren’t right or wrong. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:26-27, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Paul makes it clear here that we need to deal with anger with immediacy because if left to simmer it gives the enemy a foothold in our lives. That’s because at its core, anger is the prideful belief that says I deserve my way. Unprocessed anger can lead to hatred, wrath, and seeks revenge and payback. In over a decade, I’ve yet to return to the store that wouldn’t take my returns!
We don’t always associate anger with Christmas, but there are abundant triggers during the holidays. We don’t have enough time to get everything decorated or cleaned, or maybe we are short on resources or we just can’t find that item at the top of our child’s Christmas list. Then add family conflict and end-of-the-year work checklists. Sure, we may just call this stress, but it often leads to unresolved anger.
Continuing to carry around our hurt never makes us feel better. It only increases our anger and hurt – only gives those who have hurt us control of our future because of a murky past. Holding on to anger is exhausting and life-taking.
Anger is the poison and humble forgiveness is the antidote.
Ephesians 4:31-32 - Stop being bitter and angry and mad at others. Don't yell at one another or curse each other or ever be rude. Instead, be kind and merciful, and forgive others, just as God forgave you because of Christ.
What if this year, you gave yourself the gift of setting your hurt down, getting rid of anger and bitterness, and forgiving those that have hurt you?
In a practical way, we begin this process with these three steps:
1. Name who you are angry with. Who took something from you or mistreated you? We don’t explore this in order to blame or shame people in our lives. We explore who we are angry to take responsibility for our anger.
2. Name what is owed you. It’s important to be as specific as possible. What does the person that hurt you need to return to you? What does the person or situation that hurt you need to return to you?
3. Cancel the debt. We have named who and what is owed to you. To cancel the debt, we determine in our heart that they no longer owe us anything. This may be an exercise where you write down who and what is owed to you, and you symbolically mark it as paid or you burn it as a way to cancel the debt.
We cancel the debt because, as Paul says, “Just as God forgave you because of Christ.” God has cancelled our debt. God paid the debt by giving us Jesus. Jesus lived and died for our sins. And that began at Christmas, when unto us a child was born.
Who is God inviting you to forgive this Advent Season?