A driver lays on her horn when you absent-mindedly pull in front of her in traffic.
You feel the disapproving and judgmental glares of others as you wheel your tantrum-throwing toddler through the grocery store.
The gang at work “sneaks out” for lunch again without inviting you along.
Life is full of hurts and disappointments. Everyday these actions raise our blood pressure, create frustration, and head our day off in the wrong direction. What are we to do?
We must regularly practice the art of letting the little things go.
But how do we do that? How do we avoid holding onto the anger or irritation or resentment that comes from all that’s thrown at us each day? And how often do we need to forgive these acts?
Peter asked a similar question in Matthew 18: “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”
Note here that when Peter referred to “the church,” it consisted primarily of his brother Andrew, his friends James and John, and a handful of others. Peter was asking, in essence, “Lord, if Andrew or James wrongs me, how often do I need to forgive them? Is seven times enough, Lord? I’m on six and I’m hoping seven is all that I owe them.”
Jesus surprised Peter by answering, “No, not seven times, but seventy times seven times,” an idiomatic phrase that meant, in essence, an infinite number of times.
Jesus was telling Peter, and through Peter each of us, that we are to let the little things go. Our lives are meant to be characterized by grace and forgiveness. Jesus was asking us to say, “You’ve wronged me and I could hold onto my anger, demanding some kind of satisfaction, but I choose instead to let it go and not hold it against you any longer.”
Often, others aren’t even aware that we feel they have wronged us. They don’t know to ask forgiveness. So, somewhere along the way we’ve got to find the capacity to let go. But how do we do that? For these little slights, I suggest three steps captured by the acronym RAP.
- R — remember your own shortcomings, the little sins you regularly commit. When you feel that somebody has offended you, stop and consider how many times you’ve done something like it.
- A — assume the best of the person who has slighted you. What’s going on with the other person? Has he or she had a bad day or is not feeling well or experiencing any other circumstances that could cause shortness with you?
- P — pray for the person and about the situation. Jesus told us to pray for those who may not treat us well and to love them. The Apostle Paul, quoting the Proverbs, told us not to return evil for evil, but to return blessing instead.
Once you begin practicing the RAP method a lot, it can almost become a game—assuming the best of those who offend you and finding ways to return blessings. In the process, you can avoid being caught up in anger or irritation, and every once in a while, the blessings you return might just have a remarkable impact.
This post is excerpted from my brand-new book, Forgiveness.
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