Lessons from AX: Forgiveness & Freedom

TR, the administrator of Golden Plume Press, an OEL manga firm, covered Anime Expo for us last year, and has some thoughts for this year’s convention as well from a very different perspective. I think maybe you’ve shared it in some sense, too, if not at conventions, through just the difficulties of relationship in all corners of life.

…”Lord, how many times shall I forgive another when they sin against me? Seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Matthew 18:21-22 NIV

So… clicking on the AX2019 Pre-Show Livestream was not such a good idea after all.

I did not realize it at the moment, but I might as well have pushed the ‘Launch’ button to the emo nuclear codes.

*Ahroogah! Ahroogah!*

“Emotional missile armed.”

*Danger! Danger!*

“Countdown initiated…”

Over the next painfully raw thirty minutes, I tortured myself with 1080p visions of AX2019, something I had spent the previous 361 days dreaming of, only to end up marooned hundreds of miles away the evening of. Images of thirty foot Puella Magi, massive Gunpla exhibits, swag extraordinaire, and shockingly mild weather reports (2018 was an all-time record heat wave) taunted me mercilessly. It was as if Christmas Day was dawning somewhere else in the world for 150,000 lucky boys and girls. Meanwhile Santa left me behind.

Was I naughty this year?

Not quite. Up until May things were all systems go. Then the bottom fell out. Precipitously.

Unfortunately, people willfully make bad decisions and those choices affect others, sometimes dramatically. It is uncertain if the individuals involved ever fully grasped or cared to understand what they did, but I suddenly found myself holding the bag on a huge cancellation fee plus having to pay several thousand more on top of that if I decided to continue to Anime Expo– alone. Running the numbers, I realized it was better to just pay the fee and call it quits.

However, it was more than just the money; it was the sudden realization of three years’ worth of relationships flushed down the drain. What I had once believed was a two-way street of mutual respect was all along actually a one-way vacuum. This was not my first betrayal, but never to this extent. When you put your heart on the line for another, only to have it tossed out like the garbage, it is physically and emotionally nauseating.

Between the lost money, lost relationships, and cancelled attendance to something eagerly anticipated for nearly a year, May was a very difficult month. I tried to move on but the underlying infection of hurt continued to fester.

Until I saw the movie The Shack.

For those who have not seen it, The Shack is a wrenching, fictional story of a father losing his youngest daughter to abduction and murder, sending him into a death spiral of anger and depression. One day he receives an anonymous letter addressed from God inviting him to re-visit the very place his daughter was murdered. Upon returning to The Shack, the father has an experience with God, learning many powerful things, including that forgiveness is a necessary part in the process of healing and that forgiveness does not happen once, but repeatedly, hundreds of times, over many seasons.

Suddenly it clicked. I had to forgive those who wronged me. Not once, not twice, or seven times, but repeatedly, countlessly. Otherwise, I would never be able to heal. So I did something crazy, I sent a simple email, ‘I Forgive You’ to those who had meted out such pain. Then I started chanting to myself, sometimes even verbally, ‘I forgive you’ every time the anger and bitterness welled up within. Slowly, day by day, the pain became less and less.

Eventually I stopped thinking about it constantly. It seemed as if everything was finally in the past, no longer the present. June turned to July. If I could not attend AX, at least I could watch from afar?

Unexpectedly the AX2019 Livestream tore the emotional wounds back open, a tsunami of pain slamming as one mighty wave. All the ‘whys’ swirled about all over again, like hungry piranhas, seeking to devour.

Then it came to me, ‘How many times do I forgive? Seven times seventy.’

So I forgave. Again, and again, and again. But the worst part of all was the terrible feeling that somehow I was failing at forgiveness.

To Err is Christian

Go to your local bookstore. There are shelves and shelves of books and magazines on Success and Fortune, but nearly nothing on the opposite. After all, who wants to purchase a periodical detailing the mistakes others have made? No one likes to admit his or her shortcomings. It is painful and embarrassing. However, because we are all so tight lipped about our slip-ups, it creates a false reality. We think that everyone else has it together, so we should too.

One of traps Christians can fall into is the feeling we are not allowed to make mistakes. We are saved now, which means we should “be better than that”. We think others are watching us under a microscope, expecting us to behave better than non-Christians do. We stress over every stumble and misstep, including in the process of forgiving others. Eventually the self-scrutiny can become crippling:

‘I should forgive them once and be done. No more negative thoughts after that.’

Nope.

‘At most I should only think about it twice, forgive them twice, and then never think about it again because I have Jesus powered forgiveness skills.’

Try again.

Whether seven times, seventy-seven times, or seven times seventy, forgiveness is a process that is unique from person to person and situation to situation. It is not ‘wrong’ if you cannot “Let it Go” the first time. Consider this; Elsa from Frozen still had serious problems after her big musical declaration. Vocalizing it was merely step one in the process for her. So too is forgiveness. It is not a singular moment but a process. Just because you cannot reach serenity after the first attempt does not mean you have a spiritual deficiency, you are simply human.

Because of sin, humans make bad choices. It is an unavoidable part of life. Our job as Christians is not allowing those choices to define or trap us, but to navigate or resolve them to the best of our ability. Forgiveness is one part of that process and sometimes it simply requires more perseverance. Realize that forgiveness is a journey with peaks and valleys. Instead, try to your eyes focused forward on the end goal and take one-step at a time. Eventually you will achieve the freedom that comes from peace of mind.

Freedom from Sin

For we know that our old self was crucified with Him… that we should no longer be slaves to sin.
Romans 6:6 NIV

This weekend we celebrate not only Anime Expo but also Independence Day. Freedom and independence can come in many shapes and forms, whether physical, political, or spiritual. The good news is that, because of Christ’s sacrifice, eventually we will be free from all of these entanglements.

So as the fireworks light up the sky, celebrating the freedom we have achieved, let us also celebrate and look forward to the freedom that is to come.

Is there something that you seek freedom from today? Maybe it is forgiving another? Something else? Let us know in the comments section.

TWWK

Husband. Dad. Occasionally Korean. Enjoys Star Wars, ASOIAF, and Meg Ryan movies. Tweets before proofreading. Ghibli. Oregairuuuuu. Jesus is King.

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