A number of years ago I presented a children's sermon in which I used a pair of handcuffs as the object lesson. I asked for a volunteer from the group, chose a very lively first-grade boy who usually was very active during the children's sermon, and proceeded to handcuff him to my wrist. While I shared the children's sermon I had a smug sense of satisfaction that I had this young man under control for a change, right where I wanted him. The moment came for my grand finale. I reached for the key, attached to the handcuffs by an elastic band, to un-cuff my young friend and me. That’s when I discovered that the band was not long enough for the key to reach the lock. I could not break it. I could not stretch it enough to make it reach. And then I began to see my situation very differently. I realized that I had not only bound my young friend to me, I had also bound myself to him. I had visions of leading the rest of the worship service bound to a first grader. Before I resorted to gnawing off my hand to get free, a kind deacon with a pocket knife took mercy on my young friend and me and cut the band which held the key. Freedom was sweet for both of us.
What happened to my hands also happens to many of our hearts. We can choose to bind others to the wrongs they have done to us in the past. We can wrap those events around that relationship just as we would slap shackles upon the wrist. For a while, we feel a sense of satisfaction from this. They are paying for what they have done. They are getting what they deserve. But what we must see is that when we bind others with the shackles of their sins, we bind ourselves as well. We wear a blindfold which keeps us from seeing joy and beauty. We bind our hands and keep them from reaching out in love. Worst of all, we chain our hearts to what is evil instead of freeing it to fly toward what is good.
Forgiving is important because we cannot bind others in the shackles of unforgiveness without also binding ourselves.