For the month of September, I’m taking some time to look at some phrases or idioms you may have heard you grandparents say. These little nuggets of wisdom have been passed down to us, but do what do we really know about them?
I’ve often heard people say this: it’s time to “Bury the Hatchet”. I knew it meant to let something go and forgive, but was surprised to know that “bury the hatchet” was quite literally, a ceremony performed by Native American tribes after peace was declared. When the two tribes decided to settle their differences and live in harmony, the chief of each tribe buried a war hatchet in the ground to signify their agreement.
It's a custom they used with others as well. In fact, ceremonies for “burying the hatchet” are on record between Native Americans and the US Government in Massachusetts, South Carolina, Montana, and Texas. And here's a fun one. At the "Return Day" festival in Georgetown Delaware, which occurs after each Election Day, a "burying of the hatchet" ceremony is performed by the Sussex County chairs of the Democratic and Republican parties. The ceremony symbolizes the two parties making peace after the election and moving on.
What does bury the hatchet mean to you? If you were forced to think about this phrase, what relationship is in need of a hatchet burying ceremony? What bitterness has been affecting your every day, residing in your heart that you need to send an eviction notice? Is there someone you need to forgive? Is there someone you need to seek out and ask for forgiveness?
I love the imagery of burying the hatchet. You’re making it so you can’t easily pick back up your weapon. It’s buried, underground and forgotten.
If we’re honest, sometimes our bitterness isn’t toward a person. It’s God. Why didn’t He protect me? Why did He allow that to happen? Where has He been? If you’re in that place, you’re not alone. If you have trouble singing to God with your whole heart because something, a little hiccup of bitterness is holding you back, stop and do business with God. David taught us it’s okay to ask God tough questions.
Look at Psalm 13:
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.
He’s angry. He feels forgotten and alone. He can hear his enemies laughing at his defeat. Then he turns. He says, “But…I trust in your unfailing love.” He tells God how he feels, but he comes back to what he knows is true. If this Psalm ended in the the place of despair, it would only be a part of the story. God has proven time and time again that he is faithful. He’s also a big enough God to handle our feelings.
Once it’s out in the open, lay the hatchet down. Get out a shovel and bury it. He will draw near to you. Remember, burying the hatchet doesn’t leave you defenseless. It makes you free. Free to love with our fear, free to grow, free from the bitterness that threatens to harden your heart. That bitterness makes you live in a place of clenched teeth, fisted hands, and constant tension.
Release it with every shovel-full of dirt you lay on top of that hatchet. You were never made to hold the hatchet in the first place. Deuteronomy 3:22 says, “Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you.”
And once your hatchet is buried, plant a flower over it or a tree. Maybe plant grass so you don’t remember where it’s buried. That way, you’ll never feel the temptation to go back and dig it up.
I don’t know what hatchets you need to bury today. Maybe you’ve already done this and you’re in a place where you can share your story with others. Forgiveness isn’t a display of weakness. It doesn’t make you a doormat. It’s courageous and it makes you free.