IT’S BAD ENOUGH that we have to forgive viperous people in our life who do nothing but spit poison at us whenever they open their seemingly God-forsaken mouth.
Do we have to stay in their snake pit and keep them in our life?
Do we have to tolerate them and take their poison?
I used to think so.
I used to think that if we really forgive someone, we should be able to keep them in our herd as we rumble through life together.
That seemed a fair presumption based on the advice Jesus gave Peter, who wanted to know how to deal with someone who does us wrong:
“You must forgive him even if he wrongs you seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22).
At one time I wondered why a friend of mine couldn’t seem to forgive her brother, whom she called “that man born to my mother,” or some close variation of that. Whatever it was, she wouldn’t call him “brother.”
It bugged me. I thought she should eventually be able to get to the point where she could restore the relationship.
Then I met my version of her brother.
More than one, actually.
Standing within talking distance of these people feels like getting dropped into a pit of vipers.
I couldn’t take a step without getting bitten. The bites hurt. Worse, the poison lingered. It made me sick – and sometimes bad company, which made other people sick.
That means the poison is contagious – airborne as well as by contact.
For a time, I may have become clinically depressed while I lived inside that snake pit, back when I felt there was no way out and that these were people I should forgive so I could redeem the relationships.
The spirit inside me felt physically heavy. I know it sounds odd to describe it that way, but it felt as though the spiritual part of me living inside this physical body actually took on some kind of physical weight. I felt as though the real me inside this body – the spiritual me – was getting dragged down by a heaviness.
It made me sad. And it took me back to sadness every time I thought about those viperous people.
I made a decision.
- Forgive. I would work on trying to forgive the vipers, realizing that it may take years – and that I may have to finish the job in the next life.
- Forget. I would climb out of the snake pit and never the heck look back. The vipers would no longer be a part of my herd.
Exiling them is easier than forgiving them.
The forgiveness part is tough especially if the snakes go to church. What I wanted to do was get in their face the way Jesus did with the religious frauds of his day:
“You are snakes! A family of poisonous snakes!” (Matthew 23:33).
You tell ‘em Jesus. Tell ‘em for me.
We can get over it eventually, I think.
By “we” I mean some of you, too. I’m guessing many folks who have lived long enough to grow hair under their arms and in their nose have spent some time in a snake pit. With viperous relatives, “friends,” or co-workers.
Life in a pit of vipers poisons us.
There comes a time when we say “Enough.”
Enough poison. Enough pain. Enough depression.
We lace up our old-man, New Balance all-weather shoes and we climb the dickens out of that snake pit as fast as our dragging fanny will cooperate.
Leave first. Forgive later.
And don’t leave a forwarding address. Get gone and stay gone for the rest of our life.
Sure, the snakes might change into butterflies. God could do that.
Someone might defang the snakes. A doc might be able to do that with the right drugs.
But I’m not sure it’s a good idea for snakebit people to hang around the snakes that bit them.
I’m not giving marriage counseling here. That’s life in a whole different zoo.
I’m talking about ancillary people whom we don’t absolutely have to be around to live a full and happy life.
- “That man born to my mother”
- “Mommy Dearest”
- “Uncle You Know Who”
If they puncture our veins with venom that makes us sick in the soul and sick in the body, I’m thinking that Jesus would be the first one to advise us to strap on our shoes, climb out of the pit, and “shake its dust from your feet as you leave” (Matthew 10:14).
Then do the best we can to live happily ever after. At least happier than before.
A pastor once remarked during a sermon, while speaking of the human race, saying, “we’re pretty tough on each other.” Amen to that. Some people are mean-spirited and vicious, and it does not take an advanced degree to realize it. One of the trickier questions pertaining to our faith is, are we to forgive a person or persons who show no desire to be forgiven? (this would be a good follow-up to this blog post). I think the thing to remember here is, we are commanded to forgive as many times necessary, as our Lord does for us. But, we are not commanded to enable or develop a victim/martyr mentality. Send people who are bad for you packing, emotionally if not physically. A good read this morning, Stephen.
Stephen M. Miller
Thanks, Tom. I was nervous about posting this article. Still am.
I am in a very structured form of therapy that teaches a variety of tools on how to navigate life and the ups and downs, without becoming Chicken Little everytime you break a shoelace or someone looks at you sideways. One of the tools is called “Burning Bridges”. I was very surprised when I saw this tools listed, because the heart and core of this therapy is acceptance, trying to see various perspectives, including those of people you are frustrated with, one-mindfulness, serenity, etc. I asked my counselor what “Burning Bridges” meant, and she explained that it was removing anyone from your life who is causing you harm, e.g. drug dealers, active alcoholics who have no desire to be in recovery, those who are abusive (physically, emotionally, psychologically), etc. It is a clean break of removing them from your life, but at the same time NOT hating them or holding a grudge. That seems to be the tricky part. At any rate, I really needed to hear this this morning, Steve, I am praying for someone that, to be truthful, I think sometimes would make everyone’s life so much more peaceful if he/she just disappeared.
Stephen M. Miller
Thanks Erin. I, too, know those people whose disappearance would make the world a better place. I may not have the power to make them disappear from the world, without getting caught in an FBI hire-for-murder sting. But I can make them disappear from my life.
Hi Steve. I am not eligible for a book, but I have a question. Can you be saved during the Tribulation! I was reading through some old notes from years ago and I have “you cannot be saved during the Tribulation”.
I was thinking I read differently, and when I saw this in my notes, I found it troubling.
Any thoughts? Thanks