A few weeks ago, my aunt – my mum’s twin – collapsed in the street and died. Apparently she was laughing one moment and dead the next. Her son tried desperately to revive her with CPR, but he and the medics couldn’t bring her back. My brother rang me with the awful news and I fell to my knees, floored with shock, literally. We both sobbed.
I still can’t believe I’ll never see my aunt – who was only in her sixties – again. I still can’t accept it. Hard because even now I am incapable of thinking about and talking about her in the past tense — she is so in-tense. How can one say, “was”? That’s not her. I have so many memories of her laughing. She laughed at everything and we all laughed with her. So many memories…
However there’s a cloud hanging over our grief, because my aunt died in the midst of a family feud and my mum hadn’t fully forgiven her. My aunt’s death is a salient message to all of us about the importance of forgiving our loved ones when they’re alive, because you never know when they’ll be gone.
The feud started off as an argument and quickly turned toxic, embroiling the entire family. It became a fall-out where people took sides, which threatened to split our family up. Apparently, the argument was over a very small amount of money in my grandmother’s will. To this day I’m still not entirely sure of the facts. All I know is that in my opinion it appeared nonsensical. None of my cousins wanted to take sides – but we were quickly dragged into it by the three sisters. I tried to defuse the situation by mediation, but that didn’t work; chiefly because nobody would listen. It’s funny when people argue; ‘facts’ are quickly forgotten while ‘feelings’ are always remembered.
So for the past few years my mother cut off her relationship with her sisters. To say the least, it was heart-breaking. It impacted the relationship with my aunts, cousins and my mum. I became angry at my elders for dragging us into it, as we didn’t want to get involved. It truly felt like a role reversal: we felt like the parents and they were the children.
Her twin wanted to make amends, but my mother wouldn’t forgive her. My mum kept bringing up past hurts; she’d unearth every slight and perceived act of betrayal in an effort to condone her stance of unforgiveness. What’s so galling is that before this they were so close. They were twins; confidants. They’d finish each other’s sentences, regale stories and laugh until they hurt with exertion.
So how does a relationship between two people become so sour, so quickly? One of Satan’s favourite tools to cause discord in families is to embed the root of bitterness in us. It happens easily: one person does wrong to another without realising it and then the person who feels wronged holds a grudge. Pretty soon everyone is so busy being bitter towards each other that they forget to love each other.
So for the last four years my mum hardly spoke to my aunt, even though they lived in the same town. I prayed for reconciliation in the family. I tried to reason with my mum; I even bought her a book called Forgiveness: God’s Master Key (Sovereign World Ltd) by Peter Horrobin, founder and international director of Ellel Ministries. But she was immovable. She refused to forgive fully and refused efforts by my aunt to reconcile. And now my aunt is dead.
I’ve learned that if you don’t choose forgiveness, you choose bitterness. Bitterness from unforgiveness turns inwards and in my opinion can cause depression and other physical ailments. I’ve seen my own mother’s bitterness nearly kill her. I said to my mum, “The Bible says if we don’t forgive people, we get turned over to the torturers” – but she still didn’t listen. When I said, “Jesus says bless those who curse you”, she asked, “Why would I want to bless someone who curses me?” Good question. The reality is because of the fallen nature of our own hearts we want to get revenge on people who have hurt us. When we choose to act in revenge and be bitter, we’re actually locking ourselves into what we want the other person to feel. So we’re drinking the poison we want the other person to feel. Peter Horrobin describes this as a ‘Divine Law’ – what we want for other people comes back to us and is the judgement upon us.
When my aunt died, my mum raced to the hospital, wailing in sorrow and grief at her sister’s bedside. She started to shake the lifeless body, begging her to “wake up”. Clearly, she truly cared for and loved her sister. There’s no doubt about that. But had she forgiven her when she was alive, she would have had wonderful memories up until her untimely death. There would be no regrets, no recriminations and no guilt.
Forgiveness is the most powerful prayer on earth. It’s torture to have hateful thoughts toward another person rolling around inside your head. But it’s never too late to forgive. We can still forgive someone who has died knowing that God sees our hearts and knows our thoughts. It delights the Father’s heart when as His children, we let go of our desire to see the offender get punished for the wrong they did to us.
I believe the lesson that needs to be learned from this is: keep short accounts and forgive right away so as to allow no room for regrets. Forgiveness is not a choice. It’s a command. In the Bible, we have no guarantee of tomorrow. To forgive the living or the dead, if we are waiting for the right time, then it is now. If we are waiting for the perfect day, it is today.
Moreover, it is unhealthy to carry all that pain day after day, year after year, when we could have laid it to rest soon after we got hurt. Have you been offended? Then forgive immediately. Forgiveness is an act of grace and mercy. And God forgives us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.
I thank you for the power of forgiveness, and I choose to forgive everyone who has hurt me.
I lift up [name of the person you want to forgive]. Lord I’m sorry for keeping them in bondage.
Help me set [name anyone who has offended you] free and release them to you [Romans 12:19].
I forgive them for [tell Him what you want to forgive them for]. Help me bless those who have hurt me [Romans 12:14].
Help me walk in righteousness, peace, and joy, demonstrating your life here on earth.
I choose to be kind and compassionate, forgiving others, just as you forgave me [Ephesians 4:32].
In Jesus’ name,