The assassination of our 20th President, James Garfield, offers an important lesson for people struggling with bitterness and resentment.
Let’s start with when Garfield was assassinated. It’s hard to say exactly. He was shot on July 2nd, 1881, less than four months into his term. But he didn’t die until 79 days later, on September 19th.
It’s also difficult to say exactly who killed him. The man who shot President Garfield was named Charles Guiteau. But Garfield didn’t die from his gunshot wound. He died from an infection caused by his doctors.
In those days, the medical community knew almost nothing about microbiology. They didn’t fully understand germs, bacteria, and viruses, so when doctors probed Garfield’s wound for the assassin’s bullet, they thought nothing of using dirty instruments and fingers.
Within days, Garfield became ill. Within weeks, infection had spread throughout his body, and he died.
How does Garfield’s death relate to the subject of bitterness? Think of it this way: Broken relationships can feel like a gaping wound in your heart. The thing is, a wound can heal. It’s the deadly germs of resentment and bitterness that’ll get you.
Author and speaker Gil Mertz had such a deep grudge against his father that he didn’t speak to him for 10 years. Growing up, Gil’s dad had two emotions – anger and rage – and Gil reasoned that he must have been a terrible child to deserve a father who was constantly frustrated, angry, and violent with his children. When he became an adult, Gil cut off his relationship with his father.
But the Lord taught Gil that he was either going to recycle the pain of his past, or he was going to choose a new path. God also taught him that there’s only one antibiotic for resentment and bitterness: forgiveness.
Only forgiveness will heal your wounds and bring you back to life.
That can be tough for some people because they’ve confused “forgiving” with “excusing.” They feel they’re being asked to consider it acceptable that wrong has been done to them. This is not true.
Forgiveness is not about excusing the wrongs against you, or about watering down the awful nature of an offense. Forgiveness releases your heart from the resentment that keeps you trapped in emotional pain. It sets you free and allows you to move forward with peace.
Perhaps you feel wounded because of the actions of others, but you’re struggling to forgive. If so, remember the words of psychologist Arch Hart, “Forgiveness is surrendering my right to hurt you for hurting me.”
And tune in to our Focus on the Family Broadcast “Finding Peace Through Forgiveness.” We’re airing a recorded message by Gil Mertz in which he shares his story and explains how he was able to reconcile with his father, after 10 years of silence, to find forgiveness and peace.
I encourage you to read Gil’s book, Forgive Your Way to Freedom: Reconcile Your Past and Reclaim Your Future. We’d love to offer it to you for a gift of any amount. Visit our website or give us a call at 1-800-A-FAMILY (232-6459). If you can’t afford it, we’ll find a way to get it to you.