First, some quotes:
- Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die. – Anne Lamott
- If you are suffering from a bad man’s injustice, forgive him lest there be two bad men. – Augustine
- There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness. – Josh Billings
- You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well – Lewis B. Smedes
- Forgiveness doesn’t make the other person right, it makes you free. – Stormie Omartian
Now a first-person testimony:
The first year of my marriage I was a jerk. I didn’t intend to be a jerk going in; in fact, most who know/knew me and read what I just said, will be shocked. That’s not the guy they knew, even up close!
It appears God was redeeming stuff out of me back then (still is, but I’m less of a jerk now, right honey? Honey?), and, if you’ve ever had stuff redeemed out of you, well, you know, it can get awfully ugly. Especially when it’s junk like anger, unforgiveness, judgment, shame, immaturity, bitterness, angst, and hyper-negative self-critique type of stuff.
The reason we celebrated our 32nd anniversary last summer is because Sandy is a ‘forgiver par excellence‘. Wasn’t it Ruth Graham who said “marriage is the happy union of two forgivers”? I believe it was. Two forgivers. Well, we definitely are blessed with ONE! Oh sure, I’ve had to forgive her on that rare occasion, but honestly, I’m not remembering that many times! I’m pretty sure that, were we Catholic, the Church would be looking to saint her, she’s that amazing.
Here’s the thing about forgiveness (perhaps I’m pretty knowledgeable on the matter because I’ve had to learn it the hard way), and why it’s vital you keep all accounts with others wiped clean. It’s so vital Jesus said don’t even bother with worship of the Almighty if there’s any grudge that has driven a wedge between you and another. Forget it. You can’t hardly even fake it! He said to get up from your pew during the singing or offering or sermon, slide by your congregants, create a stir if need be, turn heads, raise eyebrows, make people move, DO NOT PASS GO, and make it right, right away. Phone them, drive to their house, roust them from their church service…or find them in your own sanctuary and motion for them to meet you in the lobby.
Even if you’re not the offender!!!
Or, if you’re really daring (and aren’t we all?), hook your arm into theirs and accompany them down the aisle to the altar DURING WORSHIP. It’s that important!
Jesus said, not me.
If it were up to me, I’d say wait until Tuesday.
But I digress. Again, here’s the thing:
- Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling
- Forgiveness is not condoning the offense, but pardoning the offender
- Forgiveness requires loving the offender until you can love them apart from their actions
- Supernatural, sustaining forgiveness is possible only by grace, and that not of yourself
Imagine the worst. Or something close to the worst. Let’s just say you’re a young bride with a newborn. You’ve just shown your baby off to the ‘rents and your young, happy family is returning home via the interstate. Let’s say a car, like a missile, careens across the median at 97 miles an hour, drunk driver behind the wheel, and rockets itself head-on into your automobile. Young husband and newborn killed instantly. But, somehow, you survive.
How do you handle forgiveness then?
May I share words from the very mouth of one who lived this?
In her own words, Paula recounts:
“First, I made a commitment not to speak of this man unkindly, because words have power. Then I made a commitment not to think of him unkindly, because thoughts also generate power. Ultimately, I learned to pray for him, and finally I learned to let it be. But I never guessed that one day we’d meet.
“That moment came seven years following the accident…(At the time of the accident, my father filed a lawsuit against the state of Connecticut for their failure to provide a required metal safety barrier on the median strip that the driver had flown across at 97 mph.) Early in the trial I had asked the judge’s approval to speak privately with the driver when he testified, but the judge denied my request; it was simply not permissible to speak with a witness from the opposing side.
“Yet life arranged what the law could not. On the day when the drunk driver was scheduled to testify, I returned alone from the lunch recess and entered the darkened court room. I was about to sit at my lawyers table when I became aware that someone else was there. A man rose from a bench at the back of the room and moved toward me. Intuitively I knew he was the driver, and I could tell he had guessed my identity as well. The moment was charged with the full power not only of that recognition, but also of the destiny that had changed both our lives.
“No words were spoken. We stood two feet apart and simply looked at one another.
“The lecture room grew quiet…when I first looked at the driver, it was through my own eyes of righteous judgment. Then I suddenly stopped seeing in that way. A veil lifted, and I looked at this man directly, with nothing separating me from the raw glory of his being. For the first time in my life my sight was unimpeded, my comfortable lens having been stripped away. In that moment I saw the level of love that is possible in life; I saw how we might live. I also felt, viscerally, the cost of such a lens being removed. I felt the ego’s wail – then, freedom just on the other side.
“I knew it was the power of Christ…that drove that moment, responding to my heart’s willingness with the feeling of forgiveness I hadn’t been able to find on my own…”
(Paula D’Arcy, Seeking With All My Heart, pp103-4)
Could you do that?
Could even Paula?
Of course not!
Such is not of this earth. Such requires an act of the will that can only be carried to its full bloom by Hands of Another – who happened to know a thing or two about injustice and forgiveness.
Just tell Him you’re not able to do the unthinkable but you’re willing to enter into the unthinkable. You’re not able to carry it anymore. You want to be free. He knows.
God knows it’s the hardest thing you can’t afford not to do…that’s why He wants to do it through you. Just say “yes, Lord. Do me.”
And then watch as your own courtroom becomes a sanctuary of peace. Listen as “ego’s wail” dries into dust and blows away like chaff.
And breathe again.