For too many days now, I have had on my high priority list this task: Clear the clutter from office, including file drawers. And that’s as far as it gets, but in my defense I’ve come across some pretty cool reminders of things God has taught me over the past 10 years. I know it’s been 10 years because that’s about the time I started using my home office.
I pulled out a notebook yesterday where notes about forgiveness were stuffed inside. As I read, I wondered if anyone else would find consolation in learning what I learned. There are no dates on my notes – ever – but scripture is timeless, so does it really matter if I date the seasons of my life when God taught me something? Forgiveness is a tough one, so I won’t blame you if you abandon ship and move on today.
Maybe you have a better idea, but I think forgiveness is tough because it means somewhere along the line something went wrong. For those of us who like everyone’s little world to be perfect, it’s against our nature to believe that people can do wrong against other people. Get a grip. It happens. Last week, one of my friends asked me to pray for someone who was struggling with things in her life due to emotional abuse. She had shut herself off from her family until they admitted they were wrong and asked for forgiveness. Isn’t it interesting that of all the notes I read in my organizing frenzy was about forgiveness?
I don’t know the person my friend asked prayer for, but I know the prison she has created for herself by waiting for hurtful people to release her. Back in 1994, and yes, I do remember the year, a friend of mine suddenly told me she had put our friendship on trial and I failed. I was mortified and heartsick. I apologized for everything I could think of, but because I didn’t hit on the right ‘thing’ that I did to break our friendship, my friend cut me off any relationship with her. I’m still devastated and I still hurt, but even though she never forgave me, I had to forgive her.
You know Mark 11:25 tell us “Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you.” God has forgiven me because I asked him to and I know he won’t hold this against me. But to keep my relationship with my Father in Heaven, I had to forgive my friend because I found myself obsessing about my flaws, then about her flaws, and then I started planning different ways to walk through the office where we worked so I didn’t run into her. I was afraid she had gone to other mutual friends and ratted me out for things I didn’t even know I did. Do you see what was happening? Holding onto this offense became a weapon, and that’s not what God would want from me.
If you were to open my bible to Colossians 3:12-13 you would see purple highlighted text. My Bible translation is the NIV, but this gentle text is from the Contemporary English Version “God loves you and has chosen you as his own special people. So be gentle, kind, humble, meek, and patient. Put up with each other, and forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you.”
It’s painful to be wronged. Being victimized goes beyond an aching heart or tender feelings. To be lied to, or worse – lied about, to be exploited, to be deceived, to be publically criticized or ridiculed – these are fighting words, aren’t they. Anyone in this position has a right to put up their guard and refuse safe passage to anyone who tries to cross the line without apologizing first. That guard becomes a fence, becomes a wall becomes a blockade. And humanly speaking, you have reason and right to build it.
This is extreme, but do you remember Stephen from the New Testament? His reputation for his diligence in serving people was well known. In 1 Corinthians he was honored for doing all he could for God’s people, yet he was dragged out and stoned to death. Do you know what he said just before his last breath? You can read it in Acts 7:60 “Stephen fell to his knees and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” When he had said this, he died.” I’m thankful God has not asked me to be brutalized, the openly and without regret, forgive my offenders.
It’s getting close to the Easter season. A time when we remember how Jesus was sacrificed on the cross. We know it was his purpose decided before God sent him to Earth, but he gave us the perfect example of forgiveness. He was completely innocent of any wrong, but still he was mocked, beat, rejected, and tormented by his one Jewish people, Roman politicians, government officials, soldiers, and citizens of his country. And as he breathed his last, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
Forgiveness is hard. It means giving up your justification to be in the clear of any wrong doing. Forgiveness is difficult. I means rearranging all the negative feelings going on inside, letting down your guard, and pushing them beyond the point where they can return.
Forgiveness can set you free. In the case of my friend from the past, she passed away a few years ago, and I felt bad that we had never resolved whatever the dispute was, but I had long before forgiven myself and forgiven her.
Grudges and regret serve no purpose. You can try to talk out your grievances. You can ask to be forgiven of any part you have in discord. You can attempt to create peace where there’s conflict. But even if none of those efforts work out, you can live free of guilt because in your heart you have forgiven yourself and forgiven those who have wronged you. The result is in 2 Corinthians 13:11 “Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.”