A hand snake is an interesting tool.
Some people call it a plumber’s snake.
But whatever you call it, I needed one Sunday night.
That’s when I went downstairs and saw water on my laundry room floor.
Now, I didn’t start building a big boat and gathering animals like Noah or figured I’d somehow sleepwalked to the Great Lakes, but I knew I had to take care of things.
So I called a guy who’d recently done some work in my basement and he told me to go to the large tub near my washing machine. He figured there was a clog in the tub and asked if I had a hand snake.
Then over the phone, he gave me directions on how to use it.
It wasn’t too difficult.
A hand snake has an auger that looks like a long, metal rope.
You put the end of the “rope” into the drain and turn the handle on the black drum that holds the coiled snake. You keep turning until you dislodge the blockage.
I turned and turned that handle and then I used a plunger until I saw the water going down in the tub and heard it flowing through the pipes in the house.
It was a nice sound.
I think my late husband, Chuck, would have been proud and maybe a little amazed.
In the almost 23 years we were married, I’d never asked him how to use one of these.
Actually, I didn’t ask my handyman husband to teach me much of anything, because he just took care all of the repairs.
I remember Chuck unwinding a wire coat hanger and using the hook on the end to pull a hairy clog out of our vacuum cleaner hose (after the vacuum was unplugged from the electrical outlet).
Whenever I saw Chuck do that, I’d think about the clogs we can have in life.
I think our spiritual life can get clogged.
It can happen so easily.
People say things that really hurt us and we develop a hairy knot of unforgiveness in our souls that can keep us from feeling God’s love.
There’s no feeling God’s peace when bitterness and resentment is clogging the flow of his spirit.
Or maybe we have a clog of pain and grief that blocks any sense of joy or contentment.
Or a clog of guilt that keeps us from feeling God’s forgiveness and grace.
It’s tough to have a clog.
There was a guy in the Bible who seemed to have a clog. We find him in a story that Jesus told.
You may know the story as the parable of the unmerciful servant which can be found in the New Testament book of Matthew.
The account begins after one of Christ’s followers, named Peter, asks how many times he should forgive someone.
Peter sounds pretty generous.
“Up to seven times?” he asks.
Jesus gives a reply that sounds kind of like a math problem.
“I tell you, not seven times, but 77 times,” Jesus says.
That’s not the kind of math we like – not for those of us who’d rather say, “I’ll give them one and then be done.”
But Jesus tells why forgiveness is so important, using a story.
Jesus tells about a king who wants to settle accounts with his servants.
One owes 10,000 bags of gold, which he can’t pay back. So the king orders the man and his wife and children and everything he owes to be sold to repay the debt.
The man falls to his knees.
“Be patient with me and I’ll pay back everything,” the man says.
The king takes pity on him, cancels the debt and lets him go.
But then that servant goes out and finds another man who owes him about a hundred silver coins.
He grabs the guy and starts choking him.
“Pay me back what you owe me,” he demands.
The other guy falls to his knees.
“Be patient with me and I’ll pay back everything,” he says.
You’d think the first guy – who’d been shown such splendid mercy – would remember the king’s uncommon kindness and show his debtor the same grace.
But he doesn’t.
Instead, he has the other guy thrown into prison until he can repay the debt.
When other servants see this, they’re outraged. They go to the king and tell him everything that’s happened.
The king calls the first guy into a meeting.
“You wicked servant,” the king says. “I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to do so.
“Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” he asks.
Then the king has the first man handed over to the jailers to be tortured until he will pay back all he owes.
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart,” Jesus says.
It sounds so rough.
And for those who’ve endured years of terrible, unthinkable stuff at the hands of others, it could sound absolutely impossible.
“You don’t know what I’ve been through.”
“You don’t know what they did to me.”
“You don’t know how I’ve suffered.”
And you’re right.
Most of us don’t and never will.
And most of us won’t try to tell you to forgive – maybe because we know how tough it’s been for us to forgive others for much less grievous things.
So in the most tender and gentle way I can possibly think of – may I recount what people who’ve endured horrific things have said about forgiveness?
Louis Zamperini was tortured, tormented and beaten in a prisoner of war camp during World War II.
“I think the hardest thing in life is to forgive,” Louis said. “Hate is self-destructive. If you hate somebody, you’re not hurting the person you hate, you’re hurting yourself. It’s a healing, actually, it’s a real healing ... forgiveness.”
Corrie Ten Boom and her sister, Betsie, were sent to a concentration camp in World War II for hiding Jewish people during the Holocaust.
Betsie died a slow, terrible death in that horrible camp. The sisters’ kind, elderly father died in a prison. Corrie was released from the camp only due to a clerical error.
You’d think Corrie would have been bitter, but she was known for an encounter she had with a former guard after the war.
Corrie had just finished speaking at a church when the man, who’d since become a Christian, came up and sought her forgiveness. He extended his hand.
Terrible scenes from the camp replayed in Corrie’s mind.
But Corrie remembered God’s command to forgive. She also knew that the victims of Nazi brutality who could forgive their enemies were the ones who were able to rebuild their lives.
“Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids,” she later said.*
Coldness touched her heart, but Corrie knew forgiveness isn’t an emotion, but an act of the will. Asking God to help her, Corrie knew she could raise her hand (to shake the man’s) if the Lord could supply the feeling.
She mechanically raised her hand.
And as she did a current started in her shoulder, went down her arm and into their joined hands. Corrie was flooded with healing warmth and she told the man that she forgave him.
“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then,” she’d later write.
I’ve heard speakers say that forgiving someone doesn’t make what they did right – it just frees you.
Bible teacher and author Joyce Meyer, who was sexually, emotionally and verbally abused by her father for years, has talked about depending on the power of the Holy Spirit and seeking God for help in forgiving.
She’s credited with saying this: “Do yourself a favor and forgive … Do it as an act of faith and trust God to change and heal your emotions.
“Pray for your enemies and never say another unkind thing about them. It is the only way you can move past the pain and begin to heal.”
Joyce also said there are times when we’ll need to confront someone who’s hurt us – as she did her dad (with God’s help) years ago.
Although I’ve never been in same situations as Louis, Corrie or Joyce, I harbored unforgiveness toward people who’d hurt me. Due to the circumstances, I figured these situations would never be resolved.
But due to God’s grace during a tough time in my life, I came to a point where I wanted to try.
The situations were resolved in an amazing way. I was free from the ropes of anger, unforgiveness and grudges that had kept me tied up in a knot for years.
I guess you could say God dislodged the obstruction that had clogged my heart and blocked the flow of peace. I pray God helps me to recognize—and to keep me from becoming entangled in—the ropes of unforgiveness again.
While I’m glad I could unclog my wash tub, I’m so grateful to God for helping me to remove the blockage that had clogged my soul for so long.
And he didn’t even need a plunger or a hand snake to do it.
“I’m Still Learning to Forgive” by Corrie ten Boom. Reprinted by permission from Guideposts Magazine. Copyright © 1972 by Guideposts Associates, Inc., Carmel, New York 10512