Forgiving those who have wronged you can be one of the hardest things to do. Our nature tells us to take revenge, to pay them back, to take the situation into our own hands. The world says, "An eye for an eye." And that's the rule we live by. When someone disrespects us, we disrespect them. When they gossip about us, we gossip back. When they swing a punch, we hit back. That's what we, by nature, will do. That's why it's really hard to forgive.
In The Servant, James Hunter defines forgiveness as giving up resentment when wronged. Being able to forgive is very important, especially for a servant leader. As a leader, people will let you down. No matter how good of a leader you are or how successful your company or organization is, people are not perfect and they will still fail sometimes. And you need to learn how to forgive. Hunter writes, "As the leader, if you are not able to let go of the resentment, it will consume you and render you ineffective."
It's important to forgive because if you don't, you're succumbing to bitterness. And whether you're a leader or not, you definitely don't want to let bitterness anywhere near you. For a few years, I let bitterness grow in my heart. In my Freshman year, I lost my best friend. She stopped wanting to be my friend and told me that. We were really close and I felt betrayed. I was betrayed. It was hard to get over that friendship. The same thing happened again in my Sophomore year. I lost another good friend because she didn't want to be my friend anymore! I had spent so much time investing in these relationships and had gotten close to each friend, all for nothing. It was really hard to lose those friends. One day, we were best friends; the next, we weren't. I was blindsided and betrayed and I became bitter. I became very bitter towards them. Very bitter. I began to hate those two people and wished harm would come to them. I wanted so badly to be able to take revenge on them.
I once heard a preacher say, "Bitterness is the poison you drink thinking it will kill somebody else." I've also heard that bitterness is a prison cell without doors. Imagine being locked away in a prison cell, a cell without doors. Nothing is keeping you from walking out. You are totally free to leave the jail at any time. But because you're blinded by bitterness, you can't see the way out. You're too blinded by hate to know there is no door on your cell. By harboring hatred and bitterness, you are placing yourself in a prison cell. You're trapping yourself in that jail because you are not able to forgive.
Do you know a person who has let bitterness and resentment take control of his or her life? I'm going to guess they are always in a bad mood, always unhappy, always rude and mean, and always very bitter. There is one man I know of who will tell you he is stuck in a boring, mundane, dead-end job. And he lets it sap the life out of him. He is a great man of God. He is a great teacher of the Word and has shared a lot of wisdom with me. But he sure can be rather grouchy. Another person I know is homeless and blames the government for all of his problems. And I don't just mean his homelessness. I mean everything. When anything bad happens, he unreasonably blames the government. He has allowed bitterness to blind him for so long that he can no longer see reality.
A lot of people find it hard to forgive, and I think that's because many people don't know how to forgive. I think many people don't know how to forgive because they say they forgive someone, but they still feel the pain. It's easy to say you forgive the one who wronged you, but the pain, the memories, and the scars are still there. You can't erase them. You can't simply block out all the bad things that have happened to you. A lot of people mistakenly confuse pain with resentment. They see them as the same thing but they aren't. Remember that forgiveness is letting go of resentment; it doesn't say to let go of pain. I don't think you should bury the pain or ignore it. And that's why forgiveness is simply letting go of your bitterness and resentment. It's you choosing to walk out of the prison cell. That's why forgiveness is about you letting go of your ill feelings, not your pain. You may always feel that pain, or it may go away with time; but to forgive is to let go of resentment.
There's one thing I notice about bitter people: they let the situation they're in control who they are. They let other people determine the attitude they will have. And that's not a Christlike behavior. We as Christians and as servant leaders cannot let bad situations and bad people corrupt our attitude. If we allow the actions or attitudes of others determine the attitude and behavior we have, then we aren't controlling ourselves.
My dad told me a story about Bruce Lee, the late world-renowned martial arts expert and actor. During a filming of a The Green Hornet television show episode, Lee (who played Kato, a butler-by-day, super-hero-by-night type of character) was on set in his butler clothes. Some people who thought they were important saw him and mistook him for a hired hand because he was Asian and short and in "servant's" clothes. They barked at him and gave him a command to go get their car. But then a lady chewed them out for being disrespectful and arrogant. She told them they were talking to the Bruce Lee. They just walked away. She went up to Lee and asked if being stereotyped like that ever irritated him. He replied, "If I let it irritate me, I wouldn't be Bruce Lee."
That's exactly how Christians and how servant leaders should look at forgiveness. We should forgive; we should let go of resentment. We shouldn't let things get to us. Now that doesn't mean the pain will go away. But it does mean we are on the path of healing. Bitterness can literally sap health and strength from your body. Don't let it. Instead, choose to heal. Choose to forgive. Let go of your hatred, your bitterness. It's only harming you. When you're tempted with taking revenge, don't do it. Don't take things into your own hands. Instead, put the situation in God's hands. Romans 12:19 says, "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord.'" Let Him deal with it. That person will deal with their sin one day. Let Him handle it. Revenge isn't yours to take; it's God's. If you really want to get back at someone, then follow what Romans 12:20 says, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."