When I was 16, my mother and step-dad got married and we began packing our things to move into a new house. At one point, my step-dad came into my room and looked in my closet.
“What are these?” he asked, looking at a massive stack of newspapers. They were the weekly TV guides from the local newspaper, and I had been collecting them for three years.
“They’re my TV Guides,” I said.
“Well, they need to go.”
“But it’s my collection.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, “but we’re not packing this up and bringing it with us. You’re going to have to throw them away.”
I looked at my step-dad’s face and realized there was no use in resisting; so a couple of days later, I started a bonfire in the backyard and decided that if I was going to have to get rid of them, they were going down in a blaze of glory.
It was strange standing by that bonfire, getting ready to incinerate those newspaper inserts with pictures of the casts of Dallas, The Cosby Show, and Law and Order inside. God only knew the number of times I had thumbed through those papers, looking at the pictures of TV stars and rereading the articles. And as I placed them in the bonfire one by one, I felt an overwhelming sense of . . . relief.
I thought I was the one holding onto the newspapers, but it was more like they were holding onto me. And although I initially saw my step-dad’s directive as an unfair edict, down deep inside, I realized that, in fact, he had actually given me exactly what I needed: permission – to move on, to tidy up, to let go of something that had no real value.
You May Be a Hoarder
I once heard a news report on NPR about the phenomenon of hoarding, and they interviewed a psychologist who explained that hoarders collect old things because they find a sense of identity in them – whether it’s a mountain of baby dolls, plastic bowls, or TV guides. It’s easy to judge these absurd, sometimes disgusting, collections and the people who keep them; but there’s a another kind of hoarding that’s more common and dangerous: the hoarding of offenses.
Stick around long enough and you’re going to get hurt by someone – maybe a parent, a spouse, a friend, a boss, or a stranger. And as we endure various offenses over the years, the temptation is to keep a growing collection of them that we thumb through in our memories, finding identity in what we’ve suffered. Jesus is calling us to something better.
Jesus calls us to declare, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Both we and our sins died on the cross with Jesus – but even better, the sins of our offenders died on the cross as well (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). And if we are willing to let those offenses go – to take them to the bonfire of God’s love over and over again, if necessary – they will have no more power over us.
In Christ’s command that we forgive (Matthew 6:14-15), He is offering us permission to move on, to reduce to ashes the offenses we’ve been hoarding for years. It seems unfair, insensitive – doesn’t He realize what our offenders did to us? But if we will comply, we will discover that in offering us the opportunity to forgive individuals, He’s giving us a chance to do the same thing He has already done for the entire world. Essentially, He’s giving us a chance to be more like Him.