Burning Bridges or Building a Future?
From the fruit of his mouth a man eats what is good, but the desire of the treacherous is for violence. Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin. (Proverbs 13:2-3)
The recent unraveling of Antonio Brown’s career illustrates the danger of burning bridges. Though he is one of the most talented receivers in all of football, Brown has managed to alienate three different teams and countless players, coaches, and fans over the past year. There has been a recurring pattern for Brown: breaking laws or team rules, publicly lashing out against the league when called on his behavior, offering insincere apologies when forced to, and then quickly resuming his verbal attacks on everyone around him.
What is so sad is that the vast majority of this is self-inflicted. With even a small show of contrition, he would have landed another multi-million dollar contract with a team, owing to his transcendent athletic ability. Instead, Brown has relentlessly antagonized others and so will likely never play professional football again.
Why so much hostility? Why burn his own career to the ground? According to Proverbs, the human heart can develop a preference for life-destroying conflict rather than life-affirming peace. This “treacherous” spirit takes greater delight in the momentary pleasure of flame-throwing one’s opponents than in the mutually beneficial work of reconciliation. To some degree, I think we can all relate to this desire for retaliation. For some wounds, the pain is so deep and the anger so intense that “violence” and “treachery” seem like the most logical responses.
But it is here that the good news about Jesus gives us a better way. When Jesus came, he taught and displayed a life of forgiveness that was unparalleled – forgiveness even for his enemies, for the very soldiers who impaled his hands and feet to the cross. Forgiveness is the only tool the human race has for defusing the cycle of violence and retaliation, for transforming hatred into love.
Forgiveness does two critical things: (a) acknowledges that a wrong, perhaps a terrible wrong, has been committed, and (b) releases the other person from the moral debt, from any vengeance that we might rightly inflict. And it is these things that Christ has offered to you and me for every one of our crimes against him.
As a result of this unparalleled gift from God – a mercy that has changed our destinies forever if we receive it – we should speak words of forgiveness to those in our own lives. Because we know that we continue to need forgiveness, we know that forgiveness alone can defuse the cycle of retaliation, and we know that God will give us the strength to forgive – then we have every motivation to follow Christ’s example (cf. Ephesians 4:31-32).
So today, remember that when we broke the commandments of God over and over again, as we all have, Jesus’ response was “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). And out of the peace that God has poured into your life, extend the same grace to others. It does not mean that you pretend that a wrong hasn’t occurred; it does not mean that forgiveness is easy; but it does mean that you won’t burn down your life or the lives of others, and build a better future instead.
Father, please help me not to burn bridges with others, even when my pain is deep and when retaliation seems better. Refresh me with your forgiveness today, and help me to speak life-giving words. In Christ’s Name, Amen.