This story appears in FCA Magazine’s September/October 2017 issue. Subscribe today!
What happens when the uncontrollable things in our lives set out to control us? When frustration wraps around our hearts because we’re angry about a missed call, a person, or ourselves?
In the middle of competition, there are always moments that test not only our outward reactions, but also our inward reasoning. It’s often a split-second decision that makes or breaks a game. Or maybe it’s a subtle slight, a lingering resentment towards a coach who doesn’t offer you the playing time you think you’ve earned. On the coaching side, it could be dealing with athletes who don’t move as quickly as commanded, or parents who second-guess every move you make.
In the fast and fierce moments where fuses can short in seconds, disappointment lingers everywhere. If we’re not careful, a seed of unyielding resentment may take home in our heart.
Yet it’s also in those moments where the opportunities to forgive present themselves. And that’s where true victory awaits. Swallowing our pride by either seeking or offering forgiveness goes against every way we’re prone to respond. Honest transparency is a trust builder, and it runs
countercultural to the world’s reckoning. When our hearts are hurt, our first tendency is to wall up and keep away from those who have wronged us. But, when we do that, we unknowingly allow bitterness to take root and wedge dividing lines.
In the midst of it all, Jesus implores us to bridge the gap, promising a return on our investment.
“God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” – Matthew 5:7
• • •
Spend time with FCA Central Indiana Coaches Director Tony Wilhelm, and pieces of his story might seem somewhat surprising. Now a gleaming picture of peace and faith, Wilhelm wrestled with a longstanding grudge against his father, who left his family when Wilhelm was only 5 years old.
For decades, bitterness, hurt and anger built up and twisted Wilhelm’s spirit. Even after beginning a relationship with Christ at age 35, he’d tell people he had forgiven his father for walking out, but he knew it was only a partial truth. The hostility still festered and corroded his heart. When his spiritual mentor asked if his father knew he had forgiven him, Wilhelm couldn’t respond. Just silence. Deep down, he knew the answer. Not only did his father not know, but Wilhelm himself had not fully forgiven.
The Holy Spirit continued to nudge him towards reconciliation, until one day that nudge became a push he could no longer ignore. He had to stop running.
Having not spoken to his father for more than 30 years, finding him would be no easy task. But he started calling every Charles Wilhelm in the phone book. When he finally succeeded, his stepmother answered and gave him some bittersweet news: Charles had become a Christian, but he was suffering from Alzheimer’s. He had zero recollection of the event that had been rolling over in Tony’s mind for virtually his entire life.
Yet, when Charles took the phone, Tony let the man on the end of the line know he was loved and forgiven.
Five days after their conversation, Charles passed away.
Wilhelm, who has been on staff with FCA for 11 years, knows he can’t get back the years he spent holding out on freedom. But the weight was (finally) lifted, and now he makes sure his message of forgiveness is heard, especially by the young high school basketball players he coaches.
For 33 years, he refused to forgive his father, but the resentment he held in his heart wasn’t hurting his father. Instead, it was just hurting himself. Today, he implores his athletes to nip their own resentment in the bud—whatever it may be—before they are consumed by wasted energy and weighed down with regret.
“By God’s grace, they get to learn this at 15 to 18 years old,” Wilhelm said. “Hate is only going to hurt you.”
Wilhelm’s arduous path to forgiveness brings transparency to his roles as coach and FCA staff member. His firsthand experience with the pain of a broken family allows him to identify with many of his athletes who wrestle with making sense of similar issues. He can offer a shift in perspective.
Whether it’s turning the tide of a family through forgiveness, or forgiving yourself for a missed shot or bad turnover, Wilhelm speaks to the freedom of letting go and accepting the grace God offers us to grow.
• • •
Christ calls us to forgive. He wants us to extend grace and mercy in the likeness of the Father. When we hold onto our hurt with a clenched fist, blame wells up inside as we quickly shift into the driver’s seat of accusations and finger-pointing. And when we do that, we’re determining on our own who’s worthy of forgiveness and who’s not.
To turn our hearts towards those who may have wronged us, we must first look inward. Every one of us has fallen short at one point or another. We have lashed out in anger and, knowingly or not, we’ve all hurt someone else by our selfish desires.
But by God’s mercy, He has us covered.
“When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.” – Romans 5:6
When we become new creations in Christ, all of our own blemishes are forgotten and wiped away. When we don’t allow this same grace and freedom to transform our relationships with others, it originates from a fight against flesh.
“When someone wrongs us or something goes wrong, we are wired to want justice right away,” Wilhelm said.
Instead of keeping our eyes on the cross, we narrowly focus on the now. But, as it says in 1 John 1:9, if we admit our weakness, our pride and our sin, and ask for forgiveness, God is quick to clear our slate clean.
No one knows our hearts like Christ.
When we become new creations in Christ, all of our own blemishes are forgotten and wiped away.We’re called to be holy, to strive for Jesus’ example of holiness. With His body busted and hanging upon a tree, spit and insults hurling at Him from the crowd, Jesus lifted His eyes to Heaven and begged His Father for forgiveness on their behalf.
Forgiveness is a daily, active, mindful choice to surrender our slights to the Servant King.
“So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.” – Ephesians 1:6-8
Let’s seek to understand and take a more compassionate approach. If slighted, don’t sweat it. Keep first the Kingdom of God; He will add His peace and grace.
CHECK OUT THE FCA MAGAZINE “FORGIVENESS” READING PLAN
Download the YouVersion Bible app or visit YouVersion.com and search “FCA” to find and begin the five-day plan. Invite a teammate to join you on the journey, or make it a team challenge. Whatever the case, be encouraged to pass the gift of forgiveness on to others!
Day 1: Flex Some Forgiveness
Day 2: Drop The Weight
Day 3: Point The Thumb
Day 4: Only God
Day 5: Don't Sweat The Slight
To download our new FCA Magazine Reading Plan: Forgiveness on YouVersion, click here.