I’ve had a couple of conversations about forgiveness recently – that is not so far back that I can’t recall them.
I was sitting across from a friend a month or more ago talking about church stuff when he mentioned the trouble he was having forgiving a man he felt had done him wrong. He told me he wasn’t sure he could do it. He talked about how one of his grandparents had taught him by example how to hold grudges for the long haul. He admitted that the offense he was hanging onto was pretty trivial, but he couldn’t seem to let it go.
We talked a bit, but made little progress. I talked about how miserable the years were that I spent holding onto the anger I felt against the man who had molested me. I told him how freeing it was to forgive that major offense. I urged him to quit waiting for an apology and forgive.
“I don’t think I can,” was his reply. I looked at him and said the only thing that came to mind in that moment: “Have fun.” Not very compassionate, I’ll admit. But I was done. I’d said everything I could to convince my dear friend that forgiveness was freeing. I’d argued this point and that. What more could I say? What more could I do? He was, as far as I could tell, unwilling to budge. (I’m sure there will be a time when we talk again.)
The second conversation about forgiveness took place just a week or so ago. Sitting next to a friend in the front seat of my van, I heard yet another confession.
“Something you said last Sunday opened up an old wound. I still struggle to forgive someone who hurt me deeply a year or two back. I’m angry at how they treated me. I’m angry at how they treated my best friend. I know I need to forgive, but it’s hard.”
We talked for fifteen or twenty minutes. I brought up the words of Jesus that had helped me forgive my abuser. He’s pretty clear on this matter, you know. Not a lot of wiggle room in what he says.
I spoke honestly to my friend. “I didn’t feel like forgiving the guy who molested me. I didn’t want to let it go, but I knew I had to. I made the choice to forgive. Forgiveness is a choice. It’s not really an ‘I can’t’, but an ‘I won’t.’ When God made that clear to me, I made the decision to let go of the anger I held in my heart over the sinful things done against me. I forgave and found freedom in Christ. It took some time, but I don’t feel angry any more. I hope to stand before God’s throne with my abuser and praise our Savior together forever.”
My friend was equally honest. “I’m not sure I can picture myself in Heaven with them yet.” I totally understood. “Forgive anyway,” was my advice. “Choose to forgive. The feelings will come later.”
The subject shifted shortly after that. Enough had been said. It was time to move on.
Thinking about these two conversations, I realized that there are probably dozens of you with whom I could have a “let it go” talk.
Some of you have been divorced. Nasty things are often said and done when couples break up. In some cases the nasty things were happening years before the end came. They were the cause of the divorce. Have you forgiven those offenses? Harboring bitterness against an ex is pretty common. Do we need to talk?
Some of you are married to a man or woman you’re occasionally tempted to dump. Even the best of marriages have their moments of frustration and anger and discontent. Husbands are idiots from time to time. Wives are nags once in awhile. Are there issues you haven’t resolved with your spouse? Open wounds tend to fester if they’re not dealt with quickly. Can we talk about the way to healing?
Some of you have the dumbest parents on Planet Earth. They’ve said things to you that really hurt. They’ve belittled you in front of your friends. They’ve griped about this and that. You’re having trouble respecting them, aren’t you? You hate them – at least that’s what it feels like. Want freedom from those feelings of rage?
Some of you are wondering how much boarding school costs. Your children are just plain evil. They push your button every morning. Their words in the evening are always barbed, angry, hateful. They won’t obey. They can’t be controlled. You want to forgive, but you can’t. Not after what they said last week. Need help?
Some of you have been put through hell by people you thought you could trust. It was a church youth worker who violated me. Was it your alcoholic dad who beat you mercilessly? Was it your judgmental grandpa who told you you’d never amount to much? Folks are hurt by close friends and trusted coworkers all the time. What about you? Do the hurts of the past still hurt? There’s hope for you. Let’s have that talk…tomorrow.
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