When it’s the season of holiday parties and family get-togethers and not everyone gathering is on good terms and there’s bitterness harbored it can be one of the most painful events you ever attend. Perhaps when you see the person who’s caused hurt in your life you want to avoid them in the grocery store, and maybe you become sick to your stomach, or you immediately recall the story and plan more revenge scenarios.

Forgiveness is a process of letting go and letting God make amends. I’ve done it the other way by letting my mouth run wild while pulling others into the drama, and then striking back at the one who’s hurt me. But the wise thing is to shut up. I need to let God in and hear what He has to say.

After 25 years of living in a small town of 7,000, I like to say it’s nice. Because when you don’t know what in the world you’re doing, someone else does. What’s not so nice? It’s hard to find a place to be alone. I go to the airport. It’s a remote location where I can park, sit, talk to God and sob. Last month, I drove to the airport to process, vent and cry. I eventually found some peace and settled into the back of the van to write in my journal. I was ready to hear what God had for my hurting heart. I was startled when Daryl tapped on the back window.

“Hey, are you OK? What are you doing?”

“Hey, Daryl, this is Debbie Griffith.”

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“Oh, hey, it’s you. What’s going on?”

“I know this is weird, but sometimes I just come to the airport to write and reflect. That’s what I’m doing right now. It’s too crazy busy at home and everywhere else in town I seem to run into someone who knows me.”

“Oh, Ok. You’re sure you’re Ok.”

“Yes, thanks Daryl. See you in church on Sunday.”

Visits to our small town USA airport parking lot help me get perspective. I’m able to look out at the horizon and somehow get the bigger picture and remain silent. Of course, this is after a good cry and an “it’s not fair” speech to God.

A scenario that recently brought me to the airport lot was learning that someone was talking behind my back, stabbing me with gossip and unkindness. My usual first response is to set things straight by talking to everyone involved and to make sure my side of things is told. That’s not the healthy route. Been there, done that. That path only sets in seeds of bitterness, which, if allowed to grow, become deep roots of unforgiving ugliness that rots our lives. Remember that forgiveness doesn’t excuse the other person’s behavior. It prevents their behavior from taking over our thoughts.

God is fully aware of what the other person is doing and feeling, just as He’s fully aware of what you’re going through. He loves us both. Sometimes I need to confess and bring my garbage to the light, but in more recent times I’ve needed to trust the promise of Romans 12:19 and leave the avenging part to God.

One of the hardest things EVER is to let the offense drop and not to play the hurt over and over in my mind. When I ask God for wisdom, He continually and clearly speaks. “Wait on Me, Debbie.”

After my recent airport “sob and sigh,” it seemed like everywhere I turned there was a Post-it reminder of encouragement like Exodus 14:14. “The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.” I’m not saying this is the easiest of exercises, to restrain yourself and stop rehearsing the hurt over and over in your head like a nagging melody, but it’s so worth it.

You have to make a choice. You have to choose to let all the garbage, hurt and anger go to God and not think or talk about it. If you’re simply saying to yourself, “I’m not going to think about it,” good luck. My experience is that it only results in obsessing and remembering even more about the incident. Instead, choose to replace your thoughts with how much God loves you and then follow what He directs you to do and think about.

Let’s start with Love. It never fails. Go to 1 Corinthians 13 and put your name in the “LOVE” blank. Love is patient and kind. It does not demand its own way. It’s not irritable and it keeps no record of being wronged. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

I know it doesn’t seem fair. It’s hard. But if you think that’s tough to apply, go to Luke 6:28.

“Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” It’s crazy, but it works. God’s passionate, crazy love for you promises a blessing when you obey what He calls you to do.

When you lie in bed at night hating someone because of the hurt they've caused, simply repeat over and over: "Lord, bless them, bless them."

God tells us to forgive others, but He doesn’t stop there. He instructs us to bless them. In this context, the word “bless” means “to speak well of.” So, one of our problems is even though we pray and try to forgive those who offend, we turn and curse them or rehash the offense again and again with others.

This will not work.

To work through the process of forgiveness and receive peace, we must do what God tells us to do, which is not only to forgive, but also to bless. One reason we find it so hard to pray for those who hurt and mistreat us is that we tend to think we are asking God to bless them physically or materially. The truth is that we are not praying for them to make more money or have more possessions. We are praying for them to be blessed spiritually. What we’re doing is asking God to bring truth and revelation about their attitudes and behaviors so they will be willing to turn to God and be freed from their own junk.

Hating those who hurt you is like taking poison and hoping your enemy will die. Obviously, anyone who did that would only be hurting themselves. Why spend your life angry at people who probably don’t even know or care you’re angry? These people may be totally enjoying their lives while you’re miserable. Release them, let the offense go, drop it and have the same attitude toward them that Jesus had toward His enemies. By doing this, you will experience wonderful freedom and God will show Himself as your Vindicator.

Finally, I gear myself up to follow Philippians 4:8. “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Again, this is not the easiest of tasks when you’re hurting, but it works. I think on what is right in my life. I have a relationship with Jesus who loves me right where I’m at.

He understands what I’m feeling. He’s been there and He doesn’t condemn me for my feelings.

Sometimes I think on the silliest things to get my mind right, like “I have water from a faucet to use. I can do laundry in my house. I can eat plain Lays potato chips with Top the Tater dip. I can walk. I can laugh. I can find the fun in most situations. I have a family who loves me. Jesus never leaves me. I get fresh grace each day.”

Good stuff to think on. I have peace.

I also have to bless more people than I thought could hurt me. With some relationships, there’s been restoration and with others, I’m still waiting. Nevertheless, I’ve landed on a good truth; “God can handle it all.” When He asks us to do something, He always gives us the grace and strength to do it. I pass those in the grocery store and smile. I can say, “God bless them” and mean it.

HE IS here, waiting to make creative, redemptive use of what has happened with our relationships. He is always on the move. He isn’t wasting time thinking about all the trouble He has with us or how awful we feel about where we are with ourselves and our troubles. God loves us unconditionally.

I have the hope of that ol' song; “One glad morning I’ll fly away …” home to Him. My airport parking lot days are numbered, this Earth experience is tough and it’s not our home. But until I’m “home,” I’m so grateful He meets me right where I’m at. And no matter what season, you or I are in, the best and most freeing gift is to receive and give forgiveness.

This column is a regular feature of the Detroit Lakes Tribune's monthly Faith page. Debbie Griffith is a Detroit Lakes-born speaker, radio personality and writer who now resides in International Falls, Minn.