As we befriended Grant and Caroline, the conversations moved to deeper, more personal topics. One day Caroline asked if we would like to meet her older sister (older by just a year). We met them outside her sister’s home in London and rang the bell. Her sister answered, but we thought she might be the mother or the grandmother. Caroline’s sister looked much, much older; her demeanor was halting, her speech was not the light, vivacious rhetoric we had come to expect from Caroline. Perhaps this radical difference between the close sisters was due to a health issue, or some other distinctive. Over the course of the evening we learned much more. The two sisters, whose father was a British naval attaché in Hong Kong during the early days of World War II, with their family had been overrun and interred by the invading Japanese in the Camp Stanley detention camp. As very attractive teenage girls in a Japanese detention camp, their fate was unspeakable.
Now, many decades after repatriation and living independently of each other, the sisters resided near one another, yet their lives had turned out quite differently. We soon understood that the only true difference between these two close sisters was the way in which they had responded to their traumatic experience as teen girls at the hands of the Japanese. One harbored “offense” – the cancer of bitterness had eaten her from outside in and inside out. The other had loosened her grip on the memory of her horrible treatment and was optimistic, vivacious, and full of faith and hope.
One sister had clearly grown bitter and even decades later was “defined” by this traumatic experience of her youth. Caroline, on the other hand, had grown better, wiser, stronger through adversity; loosening her grip on the toxic emotion called bitterness and achieving a mindset of forgiveness and gratitude. In essence, one of the sisters (Caroline) was a resilient tennis ball while the other sister was a fragile (and cracked) egg.
I think we all appreciate the physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, and relational impacts of bitterness. The less understood issue is “How do we get rid of such bitterness?”
Matt Barnhill, a very gifted marriage and family therapist and a master storyteller, has developed a very useful analogy for explaining bitterness and forgiveness. Very simply, he calls it “The Hate Bus.” With permission from Matt, I will share some of his bus analogy to help us understand the reality of bitterness and the possibility of forgiveness in the power of our Lord.
The story begins with the “Sweet Home Baptist Church” bus. On the side it is labeled “The Joy Bus,” yet from behind the bus one can see the young boys in the back beating the tarr out of each other. Not exactly the “Joy” bus! Based on the behavior on the bus, it might be more aptly named “The Hate Bus.
The reality is that we all have a hate bus. In fact, we are the driver of this bus, blindly and hypocritically bouncing forward on a dark, bumpy road, not even sure of where we are headed. We are blinded by our hatred. We are hypocritical because we see the speck in other’s eyes, not the log in our own.
The passengers on our hate bus are the betrayer we have never forgiven, possibly our last church, most definitely our ex-spouse, and perhaps many others. The dirty little secret is that the passengers on our bus don’t really care; none of them change because we hate them, and some of them don’t even know or remember that they ever offended us. In fact, we may also have corpses riding on our hate bus, people who no longer reside on earth or those in the distant past who still have a toxic influence on our lives. These corpses stink, but we often don’t notice the rotten smell because we have become so accustomed to it. Yet, those around us certainly smell the corpses on our hate bus.
There are often a couple of other passengers on our hate bus: ourselves, and God. For a variety of reasons, we come to loathe ourselves and cannot see clear to grant ourselves grace or forgiveness. Now God is a different matter. While we may “hate” God for a season when we don’t understand or accept events in our lives, He is simply too big and strong and secure to fit on our bus, despite our best efforts to shrink him down to our size or understanding. Gratefully, the real God The Father is able to withstand all the doubts, complaints, and fears that we can throw at him.
So how do we deal with this hate bus full of grievances, bad memories, and unreconciled relationships? As with all buses, we must go to a BUS STOP. The bus stop is FORGIVENESS. Ideally this is where all the passengers simply get off the hate bus, but there are some complexities to navigate. Often we can forgive that which we understand. Hence, we may be able to forgive a person’s addiction, violent behavior, or irrational thinking; but it is much harder to forgive the person themselves. As well, while “forgive and forget” sounds good, the truth is that forgiveness is not amnesia. In fact, God allows us to remember so we can learn and grow from the memory.
Matt Barnhill shifts to another analogy when he describes a bike accident that scrapes off much of the flesh on his right leg. The wound must be cleansed, a painful process of scrubbing and stinging which over time becomes a memory, a story, a scar. The result is changed behavior, increased wisdom, and greater self-awareness. And now the key point: Forgiveness is the cleansing. Without cleansing (forgiveness) comes infection. One can blame the offender for the wound, but not for the infection. As with the unforgiving British girl we discussed, the untreated infection of bitterness is debilitating and eventually life threatening.
So, how do we do this? How do we Forgive?
First, we remember that God has given forgiven us, the only reason that we can pass it on to others. With this in mind, now hold the wrist of your offender in one hand (either in person or in absentia) and hold the hand of Jesus in your other hand. In true sincerity, then say “I forgive _______ for __________. I turn them over to you as you see fit.” Jesus is the Healer and the Judge. Only He can administer this transaction of grace, forgiveness, and possibly justice.
Now, “Who is on YOUR hate bus?” Is it a parent? Maybe an EX? Perhaps a church member who needs to get their last church off the bus? Or, possibly other passengers that need to be let off the hate bus?
We all want to bounce back, to regain our vital optimism, to sing a new song — BUT the only way to our desired goal is through the FORGIVENESS BUS STOP. Let’s go there now!
Respectfully in Christ,
So what about YOU?
Do you have a lot of passengers on your hate bus?
Will you stop at the Forgiveness Bus Stop to let them off?
Are you a passenger on your own hate bus?
God loves you unconditionally! He accepts you.
Now give yourself the same grace.
What is the most important thought for you this week?
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