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  • David Defries

Drinking the Poison

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

I once heard it said that refusing to forgive someone who has done you wrong is like drinking poison and hoping that the other person will die. All that unforgiveness does is poison us from the inside out, corrupting what was once good.

On the other hand, forgiveness is powerful. There's something cleansing about it. To my knowledge, no one actually enjoys the process. It's difficult, you have to grapple with a lot of difficult and unpleasant inner thoughts and you have to make a difficult choice. In a lot of respects, it's a lot easier to just go the path of least resistance and avoid the entire mess than deal with it head on. However, not dealing with it means that you're trapped with that poison inside of you. There it stays, gnawing away at you until you practice the art of forgiveness. Once you forgive, the poison is drained away and there is something that is restored inside of you. Hope and joy returns. The possibility of restored relationship is now open where before there was only damage.

I encountered this process again as I was counselling a person close to me through emotional turmoil this week. They were in an emotional state, clearly far away from peace, and reacting badly to just about anything. As I was asking them why they were reacting this way, it came to my mind that perhaps they had not forgiven another person for the hurt that had been caused to them. I asked and my hypothesis was confirmed. As I led the person through forgiving from the heart there was a marked physical change. You could see the peace returning. You could see their countenance change. Emotional balance was restored.

I was feeling pretty good about myself until shortly afterward I was challenged by people I admire and respect to examine myself for where I had unforgiveness as they saw evidence of me drinking the poison myself. As I was processing this, I realized that I actually hadn't forgiven myself for mistakes that I had made. You see, this past year has been hard for me (I'm pretty sure each of us could make that claim!) and there's been plenty of things that I've done wrong. As each problem kept piling on, I took each one to heart and used it as fresh evidence that I was failing at every turn. I became so critical of myself that I felt like a failure as a person. I felt that in every way I was leading my life poorly and that everything I was trying to accomplish was coming to naught. This is the essence of self-condemnation. Instead of asking for forgiveness from God and whoever else I wronged, I lived in a spiral of condemnation, poisoning myself for the wrongs that I have committed.

Thank God for faithful people who see the best in me and challenge me to examine truth so that I can live free.

Jesus came so that we would know the truth and the truth would set us free. (John 8:32) Jesus came to pay for our sins and wrongdoings so that we can be forgiven before God. He also demonstrated how we can live in forgiveness with others, not covering over our mistakes or holding people's sins against them, but acknowledging them and dealing with them with repentance. The point is to be free of the poison of unforgiveness. The point is to cultivate a healthy habit of draining the poison whenever it crops up.

It's inevitable, we're going to hurt others and they are going to hurt us. The question is not if they will, it's when they will. We have a choice of what we're going to do when they will. Are we going to choose a path of life and continuing relationship, or are we going to drink the poison and let it destroy the relationship? I've seen the latter happen all too often. Any time we see another person as the problem or treat them as our antagonist, we've drank the poison and end up damaging ourselves.

Jesus made a way for our inner person to be clean. He made a way for us to live together in peace, with joy and hope being our default modes. Is there someone that you need to forgive today? Do you need to forgive yourself? It's time to stop living with poison inside ourselves and to live free and clean.

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