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Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. This week's was really more regional in nature, so I thought I'd scour the archives for another one to print you probably haven't read. Here's an oldie but a goodie:

Recently we received a ticket in the mail from the Toronto Parking Authority. It seems we parked one evening at midnight in a no-parking zone, and we owed them $40. There was just one minor detail they overlooked. It wasn’t us. Sure, that was our license plate on the ticket, but we were nowhere near Toronto that night. My husband was working in the Emergency Room, and I was home with the kids two hundred kilometres away. No problem, I thought. I’ll just clear this all up.

That was easier said than done. There was no email address on the ticket, just a regular phone number (not even toll free) to phone during business hours. The only other way to deal with it was to go in person. So I phoned. It was busy. I tried for three days. And then, miraculously, I got an answer. “You are number 24 in line. Your wait will likely be 38 minutes.” So I waited. And waited. Number 17. Number 8. Number 3. And finally, number 1. And as I was being transferred, I heard—a busy signal. I had been disconnected.

In desperation, I called some traffic ticket specialists, figuring they could help me. They told me that if I didn’t pay the ticket on time, the authorities would double the fine, and it would cost me more than $40 to fight it. I could take them to small claims court, they explained, but again, it would cost me more than the price of the ticket. I may as well just pay it. “But it wasn’t me!” I told her. “It’s the principle of the thing!” She told me she understood, but there was nothing I could do.

How could the government just do this to me? I was really steamed. I told everyone my story, and actually found other people who had received similar tickets. “What did you do?” I asked. “We paid.” they said. “We could never get through on that phone number.”

So after a week of worrying about this, doing little else, I finally realized there was no point. Sometimes you just have to let it go.

A lot of life is like that. We choose to hold on to our grudges, because it’s the principle of the thing. Bitterness, though, doesn’t pay very good dividends. Someone once said that anger is like a poison that you take yourself. It doesn’t do anything to the person you’re angry at, but it hurts you. You go through life always testing, always suspicious, and never at peace.

Letting go isn’t easy, but it’s a lot better than driving yourself nuts. I could have fought that ticket on principle, but it would have cost me more. Bitterness often costs us more than forgiving would, even if forgiving doesn’t seem fair. Forgiveness, of course, doesn’t mean that we ignore problems or subject ourselves or our kids to harm. It just means that we choose not to let those problems consume so much of our emotional energy. We let the anger go so we can enjoy the rest of life. Dwelling on such problems and seeking revenge, even if only in your head, only hurts you. You spend your life with such negativity that you don’t even notice to see the good around you.

I know someone whose wife left him for someone else. It wasn’t a pretty situation. It certainly wasn’t fair. This man, though, now uses his kids to get back at her. He won’t buy them clothes, school supplies, or toys. He tries to minimize his child support payments as much as possible so she has very little money to live on so that she can’t spend on herself. He’s punishing her, he thinks, but really he’s hurting his kids and himself in the process. He’s losing out on his relationship with his children because he’s still so hurt over her.

She did betray him. She did hurt him. But sometimes you have to let it go. It isn’t always easy, and it isn’t always pretty. Chances are, though, that life will be much easier on the other side. The principle of the thing isn’t always worth it. People are. Sometimes that’s hard to swallow, but it’s the best medicine there is.

After finishing this column, I gave that phone number one last try. To my amazement I got through, and they cancelled the ticket immediately. It felt great, but not nearly as wonderful as giving up that anger in the first place.

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At 1:14 PM , Blogger Mary R. said…

While as Christians, we don't have the right to bitterness and revenge, like the man you described, something impersonal like the wrongfully charged ticket costing $40 (a clerical error) is a lot easier to *let go* than your wife running off with somebody else (adultery). All things are not the same. This man needs some sort of counseling or something to be able to get over this kind of bitterness and revenge; that's really sad. It is the type of thing that requires true repentance (which will probably not be forthcoming) before real Biblical forgiveness can take place. I don't think you can compare the two situations. You can't make adultery as trivial as a wrong ticket and expect it to be gotten over as easily.


At 1:34 PM , Blogger Herding Grasshoppers said…


I think I'm going to print that motto Anger is a poison you take yourself in huge letter somewhere we can all see it! Same for bitterness.

And I suppose I respectfully disagree with Mary. It IS the same, the scale is just different.

We get so tangled up about things, thinking that because things are difficult they must be complicated, when they're not. Sometimes the hardest things to do are the simplest.

Forgive. Repent. Confess. Apologize.

All very simple to understand, but very hard to do.

But Mary, yes - I agree(!), the man probably needs some kind of accountability/support/etc.

Good food for thought, Sheila.


At 1:41 PM , Blogger Mary R. said…

This comment has been removed by the author.


At 1:54 PM , Blogger Mary R. said…

Trying to say this right, so I deleted my last comment.

Yes, I was trying to say the scale is different, so the getting over it part will be much more difficult and perhaps take longer. Not excusing his revenge or anything, just didn't think it was an equal comparison, it kind of trivialized his misery.

You can't say "I got over this ticket, he needs to get over his wife's adultery" in the same breath.

I thought the comparison in the same article was off. It came across as "I know exactly how this man feels with his wife running off, because I got a wrong traffic ticket and I got over it."

Only when you successfully get over adultery can you chastise somebody who is not dealing with adultery well, because you know what it is like. Know what I mean? The man has a real problem and needs somebody to talk with him, not have it intimated that his problem is no worse than a wrong ticket.

Sheila, I hope you get what I'm saying; I'm not trying to be disrespectful to you. I just didn't think it was a good comparison, that's all.


At 2:53 PM , Blogger jerysmiles said…

I find myself in a unique position; this is the first time I have disagreed with one of your columns or blogs (in 2 years of reading your posts). I DO agree with letting go of wrongs and moving past them, and not letting the poison of bitterness and a lack of forgiveness make you the victim. However, I think that it is a mistake to not fight things like unjust parking tickets on principle. The problem with just paying it and moving on is that the same injustice that happened to you and to the friends you encountered afterward will be continually perpetrated on other victims with no one standing up for the wrong being done and the lack of redress allowed. After not being challenged for years, the practice may even escalate or be used in other arenas. It may have cost you more to fight it, but in the long run it costs all of society more not to. If the founding fathers of the United States hadn't fought over the principle of taxation without representation we would still be under tyranny. If Rosa Parks had just sat where she was told where would the civil rights movement be today? Sometimes what seems like a little compromise, because $40 just isn't worth the trouble and/or time to fight it, is really a HUGE compromise down the road. On the other hand, as you fight for your principles it is still important to do so without letting bitterness and the holding of grudges keep you in bondage. On that point we DEFINITELY agree!


At 5:14 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

While I can see what jerysmiles is saying, and I agree to a point, I think they have missed the point of the article.
Yes, there are some who carry large burdens (like adultery) for whom forgiveness will take a long time. But most (if not all) of us at some point choose to carry around the parking ticket bitternesses. And so very often we see those little bitternesses grow into big ones. And we need to let them go. I don't think Sheila's point is about parking tickets, but about letting little bitternesses go. And I think she illustrated that very well :-)


At 5:40 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Interesting comments; thank you.

Mary, I think what I would say is that the principle is the same in all cases of bitterness; usually holding on to anger costs more than giving it up. I agree that adultery is a much larger issue, but I think the principle is the same. And I don't think you have to have forgiven adultery yourself to advise others to do so as well, or else most of us couldn't give advice on anything!

nevertheless, forgiveness is entirely different f rom reconciliation, and I'm certainly not saying that we should act as if something didn't happen. But we can stop carrying it around.

jery, I do agree with fighting for principles, but Indo think you need to pick your battles. And in this case there was no way for me to win that wouldn't have cost me more money and a lot of aggravation and time. my kids didn't deserve that. On something else I ,ight have chosen differently, but this wasn't important enough. The cost of holding on was too high, and that's the point I was trying to make!


At 9:04 PM , Blogger Mary R. said…

This comment has been removed by the author.


At 9:28 PM , Blogger Mary R. said…

This comment has been removed by the author.


At 11:01 PM , Blogger Mary R. said…

While I understand that Christians should not wallow in bitterness and revenge, seeing someting so trivial as a ticket juxtaposed with something as serious as adultery was jarring, because it seemed to trivialize the latter case. It just bothered me. One case merely requires amnesty (the ticket), the other forgiveness on the man's part, which can only come when there is repentance. Only then can some sort of reconciliation occur, even if it is only agreeing not to "get" one another.

Sorry for deleting my comments, I'm having a hard time saying what I want to say.


At 5:15 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Sheila, your post has certainly helped me. I'm afraid I have an awful personality trait that causes me to hold onto grudges if I've been hurt or if I feel I've been unfairly treated. I've always been like this and it's a heavy load to carry. And these grudges tend to escalate and make me feel miserable in an over-the-top way in comparison to how the rest of the world copes. I loved the earlier comment that referred to anger being a poison. Obviously, there is a case for righteous anger, but that's more of a clean, pure emotion, not the toxic sort that poisons your whole way of thinking and causes bitterness. From today I am going to be trying so hard to 'let go' of such negative feelings. There ... you see! Your post has inspired me to be more positive!


At 9:10 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Hi Mary! You know what? I think I was snarky to you, and I really didn't mean to be. Read my post from this morning because I laid it out a little bit better. I really apologize; I so appreciate your comments, and I think I was too flippant when I answered you last time. For that I am truly sorry.

I guess the thing that I should have said in my column is that forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. I do think forgiveness can occur without reconciliation--for instance, I had to learn not to expect anything from my father and to let go the dreams I had of reconciliation. I had to forgive, but I doubt we will ever be reconciled because that requires effort on his part.

But still, just doing my part was so freeing. And it has changed my outlook on life, even if our relationship is unchanged. For that I should have elaborated, but it is very difficult to do in 600 words!

Look forward to more of your comments.


At 5:53 PM , Blogger Mary R. said…

I think we have re-defined "forgiveness" as "just getting over it" or as "love." I understand the Bible to teach that true forgiveness always includes repentance and restoration. In the case of your family, I understand, because I have had to let go bitterness and get over it. This is not necessarily true Biblical forgiveness. It is realizing nothing can be done at least at the time and making the best of it and moving on. Sometimes there can be no true forgiveness, because there is no repentance and can be no true reconciliation. We just get over it and get by the best we can. I did that, too, with my family.

I think I'm having a problem with the definition of forgiveness. God does not overlook sin, He forgives it, which implies repentance and reconciliation. It is the same human-to-human. Like I said, though, we are not permitted to dwell in bitterness all of our lives or to get revenge, which belongs only to the Lord.

And, amnesty should never be given. I have given amnesty before, and shouldn't have. It lets the person think they did nothing wrong, and to harm others in the future, and sin against God, too. I don't help a person when I give amnesty. I open the door for him to do it again to others. When a true wrong is done, the person needs to be held to account. Sometimes this cannot be done right away; you mark it in your mind, leave it with the Lord, and move on. Pray for that person's repentance. This is Biblical.

And, Sheila, I NEVER, NEVER, NEVER thought you had ever been snarky to me. Really. I didn't take offense at all. So, don't worry about that.

Right now, I'm trying to get Biblical definitions for things, and am pretty much caught up in semantics, which is important. These days,most of us get our "theology" from the Christian bookstores. Posts like yours give me a lot to think about.

For true offenses (not just stupid stuff like somebody putting their foot in their mouth and saying the first thing that comes into their heads, in which case you just overlook it, because we all do that inadvertently) there is no forgiveness without repentance and ultimately some sort of reconciliation.

Sorry for the book.

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Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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