I sat in front of my dad, a nervous teenage girl. Having driven straight to his house from bible college, I came just to say two words. “I’m sorry.” It didn’t make sense. I had always felt like I was the one that was hurt when he left. But it didn’t have to make sense. It was right.
Someone had posed the following question in a class or chapel that exposed the condition of my heart. “Who have you not forgiven?” I found the surprising answer and was horrified to see the ugliness that was hidden there … kind of like the underside of an overturned rock when you find all of the dirt, pebbles, and bugs that lurk there. Do you know what I realized? I had been holding onto unforgiveness in my heart and, seeing it so vividly now, I realized that I was the one that needed to be forgiven. As much as any offense I felt, I had chosen bitterness.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Ephesians 4:31-32 (NIV)
I went on to explain this to my dad, explaining to him that I needed HIS forgiveness. He was gracious and accepted my apology. He also acknowledged my relative bravery. Maybe he had noticed my shaking hand or the tremor in my voice. It wasn’t comfortable. But I knew that I needed to voice it to him. Just as much as I knew that letting go of the badge of honor I had been holding onto would set us both free.
See, I was the third child of a broken family. My mom and dad didn’t really get along. I consider the fact that I was born even probably kind of miraculous. Dad left when I was one year old. I see now, as an adult, that it was the most gracious thing for all of us.
It, however, didn’t come without its challenges. What happens when you grow up without a dad in your house is hard to wrap up in one short essay. Needless to say, there are a lot of things you miss out on … from learning how to throw a ball, to hearing his voice every day, to warm arms holding you at bedtime. Though life, and especially God, has a way of filling in the blanks, it doesn’t mean those moments aren’t noticeably missed. Though I tried not to focus on what wasn’t there (especially because there was SO MUCH GOOD that filled in- like my mom’s love, sisters’ love, and God’s all-encompassing love), there was still a void that existed. A little wound that gradually healed over time because of all those other loves. Yet the tiny scar was there anyway, and most often, covered.
When the winds of life blew cold, I’d sometimes find myself bitterly reaching for what was missing. Exposed, the hurts would sneak in and get my attention. My hand would reach for it, count it, hold it, measure it. Like reaching for a rabbit’s foot in my pocket. “See! I was wronged. I was left. These scars, I paid for them!” The white fur of injustice bringing a sense of comfort. But only false comfort. And each time I counted them, I did pay. As they say, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
You probably know this feeling. We all have those hurts. We have them from our parents, whether they are divorced or not. We have them from loved ones. We have them from “less-than-loved-ones”. Like with my experience growing up in a “broken” home, most consequences occur unintentionally… a natural, unintended outcome of circumstances and decisions to which my dad and I were both bound.
Isn’t that how so much of life is, anyway? We’re bound together by decisions. Big or small, we can make mistakes that hurt each other on any given day. We’re constantly hurt and being hurt, even when we try desperately not to. (Ask a parent- it’s a most humbling pursuit that reminds us daily of our imperfections.)
So then the question is not, “Are we hurt, mistreated, neglected, or maligned?” The real question is, “Now what?”
When we’ve been wronged, do we pick up the rock of offense, strap it to our backs, and press on, carrying it with us? When we do, it only proves how much we need the very same forgiveness which we ourselves have withheld.
As God’s Word clearly states, forgive as we’ve been forgiven. Seventy times seven. Every time, endlessly.
Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
“No, not seven times,” Jesus replies, “but seventy times seven!”
Matthew 18: 21-22 (NLT)
That forgiveness, in effect, does not force good behaviors or an apology. It frees all involved, allowing for growth and another shot. Allowing all to move forward, untethered by tallies and unforgiveness, righteous indignation, short-sightedness, petty disagreements, or even the deepest of wounds. Forgiveness is freedom.
WHO do you need to forgive today? Can you forgive first? Instead of waiting for the apology, real mountain-moving love forgives first. It keeps NO record of wrong. No record!? Isn’t that just mind blowing?! Some of us spend at least a portion of our day recounting misjustices to each other (guilty!) This love keeps no record. We’re so accustomed to the tally sheets. That’s why forgiveness is so radical. Even if it can be justified, even if we have real wounds, or leftover scars, that prove that it happened. Real love lets it go.
Forgiveness is a pillar of our faith, to our hope in Christ. It’s the ultimate life-changing gift that we have been given from God. Walking around, holding onto bitterness or unforgiveness towards one another is not only selfish and misguided, it misses the highest mark of our calling.
We are called to love and loving means forgiving. Even when it hurts. Ask Jesus.
Paul wrote in Ephesians that Christ’s work of redemption is so that when He comes back he would have a church without spot or wrinkle. It seems impossible! We know it is wholly true though by how Jesus sacrificed himself for us. Yet is there still more that we could see demonstrated here on earth? Maybe if we walked in forgiveness more, many wrinkles would be smoothed, and countless spots would be erased. If we could cling more tightly to forgiveness than bitterness, maybe we could see more fully the redemptive work of Christ here on earth.
I think that we need to learn and practice loving how Jesus loved: unconditionally, keeping no record of wrong, lavishly, graciously. Loving our neighbors, loving our spouses, our families, our troubled friends, the mailman, and yes, even those who have hurt us, intentionally or not. Forgiving each other. Carrying nothing with us, including the sin of unforgiveness that weighs us down.
We have already been given the tools to bring God’s kingdom and God’s love to this earth. Forgiveness is one of them. Imagine if we used these tools and, drawing from HIS strength, REALLY loved like He does. We certainly wouldn’t be living in anger or making rebuttals in our defense. We would do things ONLY motivated by love. IMAGINE.
Forgiveness is an incredibly powerful gift. Let’s use it. Seventy times seven. As Christ loves us.