Burying Old Hostilities

We make lists for grocery shopping and running errands, but there’s one thing we never need a list to remember: people who have done us wrong.

Ex-wives and ex-husbands. “Friends” who stabbed us in the back. Mothers who abused us and fathers who abandoned us. The people who slammed doors in our faces, made us feel ugly and ashamed, ripped from our lives the happiness we had waited so long to attain.

I ask, “Who has done you wrong?” and immediately their faces appear in your head. Along with scenes of violence, or the sting of razor sharp words, or long years of frigid silence while you screamed in your heart for a word or touch of love.

You know them. You need no list. People who have done you wrong, though they live oceans away, are accessible in the clench of a fist.

I wasted several years of my life as a gravedigger. I’d bury an old grievance, then when I couldn’t sleep, I’d get out my shovel, exhume the corpse, and stare at the rotting bones. I’d relive fights. I’d smooth and polish the retorts I should have made. When I was feeling extra hateful, I’d concoct elaborate schemes to heap public ridicule on my foes.

Maybe you do the same?

I don’t know, and probably never will know, if it was the years that went by, or the lessons I learned along the way, or simply the healing power of the Spirit, but the gravedigger’s life no longer holds the twisted charm it once did.

This I know: hate sucks you dry. It’s the worst high-maintenance companion ever. Always demanding more of your time, more of your energy, more of your emotion. Hate is never satisfied. Dig up the corpse, again, it demands. Let’s relive the pain. We must never forget.

About three years ago, I stood on the back patio of my little house in San Antonio. I started going through my list of people who had done me wrong. And, aloud, to no one but the God who stood there listening, I said each of their names. After each one I took a deep breath and simply said, “I forgive him. I forgive her.” Never until that moment had I said it. And never after that moment have I forgotten it.

I threw away the gravedigger’s shovel. It landed at the foot of a cross, where it belongs.

I still don’t know exactly how to love the people who did me wrong. Maybe you’ve figured this out. I’m trying. But I do what I can. I still say their names on occasion. And when I do, I still add, “I forgive him. I forgive her,” to remind myself. And to remind God to remind me.

@@The burial of old hostilities is the happiest funeral you’ll ever attend.@@ You don’t realize how much joy they steal until they’re gone. Nor do you realize how much you profit from peace until it is finally attained.

In 1913, two groups of men learned this well. They eyed one another across a hundred foot span in a Pennsylvania field. Long, gray beards swung from faces weathered by age and indescribable loss. Some leaned on crutches. The empty sleeves of others flapped in the July breeze. Each wore a military uniform.

On this same plot of ground, fifty years earlier, the earth had lapped up the blood of these men’s brothers. Tens of thousands of union and confederate soldiers had died in this most horrific of battles. Now, half a century after those hostilities, three hundred survivors of Gettysburg met again. Brother faced brother in this Civil War reenactment.

At the signal, these old enemies advanced toward one another. But as the soldiers met, there was no clash of swords, no screams of the wounded and dying filled the air. Instead, as one eyewitness described it, these men “who half a century earlier had fought…with bayonets and butts of muskets, clasped hands and buried their faces on each other’s shoulders.”

That’s the burial our Lord desires for each of us. To bury our faces on the shoulders of our enemies, to experience how forgiveness shows how small and mean hate truly is.

That is what Jesus gives in his own healing embrace of us. An embrace so tight there’s no room for animosity, recrimination, or judgment to squeeze in. He calls us friends; better yet, he names us brothers. And he will never call us anything different.

Today is a good day to bury those old grievances. @@Every day is a good day for a burial of hate and a resurrection of peace.@@ May God in Christ grant that to each of us.