Flip this thing

Sometimes bad decisions make for great stories. While writing a book called When You Need A Good Laugh, I had a small accident that wasn’t very funny at all. And come to think of it, it wasn’t so small either. In fact, the doctor told me I had no business surviving, that my family should be planning a funeral and that the back of my head kind of looked like a cantaloupe. (Apparently he took Bedside Manners by correspondence.)

My friend Larry and I had been revving our way through the Rocky Mountains on a powerful ATV unit—something that outweighs humans ten to one. While easing our way down a steep embankment, Larry got confused, squeezed the front brake, and we flipped the thing (by which I do not mean we sold it for a profit).

While I was flying through the air with all the grace of a screaming stuntman, nothing slowed down like it does in the movies. When I landed there was blood spurting from a wound in my pointy head and I lay there in the dust, thinking I had bit The Big One.

Not much comes to mind when you’re pretty sure you’re dead. You think of your wife and kids. And you don’t consider embracing atheism.

Mortality creeps up on us all, but sometimes it lunges.

One week later when the buzzing sound left me, I was grateful to be alive. But everything hurt. My ribs were torn up so badly that a sneeze registered three points beyond giving birth. And when I began to reflect on Larry’s driving skills, bitterness began to eat at me, like rust on my first car.

On a Sunday, Larry called. Would I forgive him? Of course not, I thought. After all, there are benefits to holding onto anger and resentment. Insomnia. Sore toes from kicking immovable objects. Plus I wanted the poor guy to sweat a bit. Larry said it again. “I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.”

Perhaps it was the pain medication, but these were the words that poured from my mouth, taking me by surprise: “Hey, I’ve done so many dumb things too and people keep forgiving me. So yes. Absolutely. I forgive you.”

Something shifted deep inside. It was like a load slid from my shoulders and I did something I hadn’t done in a week. I started to laugh. Which wasn’t funny. It killed my ribs.

Life offers each of us plenty of opportunity to court bitterness. And to be honest, bitterness feels pretty good. The initial rush almost makes it worthwhile having enemies. But for every day you are bitter you lose twenty-four hours of joy. And soon you hear the sucking sound of laughter draining from your life. “Hey,” you say, “I’m angry Phil. It’s justified.” I’m sure it is. Anger says, “This is wrong, it needs to stop.” Bitterness says, “If the front wheel falls off his motorcycle, I’m gonna throw a party.”

There’s a cure for this joy sucker. Here it is. It’s from Ephesians 4:31-32: Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander... Instead, be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” I find that when I give in to bitterness I become the very thing I disdain. So I need to lay it down and give it up. Bitterness will clap you in irons, cement your frown and contradict the behavior God showed you.

It is impossible to remain bitter and honestly pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” When bitterness creeps up on me, I’m reminded that I follow a man whose first words amid blood, horror, and his hands nailed to a cross of wood were “Father, forgive.” To the degree we remember what Jesus has done for us—to that degree we can forgive.

We might have to forgive ourselves too. I’ve fallen off a stage before a live audience, forgotten a punch line on national television and dropped barbells on my nose (I’d rather not talk about it). Often we can’t forget, but we can always forgive. Forgiving ourselves can be the start of a new way to remember. It can change the memories of past failures into hope for the future. And it can free us up to laugh again.

I’m not eager to climb aboard an all terrain vehicle anytime soon, but when I do, I’ll likely go with my friend Larry. I think he’ll be more careful next time.

Phil Callaway is a popular author, speaker, and host of the popular radio program “Laugh Again.” Find out more at http://www.laughagain.org