I’ve been thinking, a lot lately, about forgiveness. As believers, we all know that we should forgive others as God has forgiven us. Most of us have that head knowledge, as they say.
But down in the gut, where it really counts, I know that I can harbor grudges and justify my anger to myself, turning a deaf ear to that still small voice that would yank me back in line.
And I think I can recount a story that is vague enough NOT to target anyone specifically.
Many years ago, I maintained a ‘justifiable anger’ toward a lady who was a very public Christian. I don’t mean she was false, it’s just that everybody knew her stand on faith and most people respected her for taking that stand. To boot, she was just such a nice person. Always smiling. Always a soft word. In short, most people, Christian and otherwise, were drawn to her warmth and genuine love.
Except for one little thing. She disliked me. Actually, I think she hated me. I don’t know. What I DO know is that whenever it was just her and me, a different person emerged. Several times, I had to work with her and it was, well, horrible. Several times, I needed something that she could give me OR I’d have to manufacture myself, meaning lots and lots of free time spent on the task. And each time, her help was, um, not forthcoming. And when I’d ask and she’d say no, she’d shoot me a knowing, smirky smile.
No one else was witness and when we were in a group, of course, she warmed the room with her love. Smiles all round.
HM. I usually did a private burn and worked without her aid. Or anyone else’s sympathy. And, because she was a believer, punishing me for whatever, I decided that I was justified in my anger. I mean, she should know better, right?
The day came when she was going to be honored at a small, but not too small, program. I was included in the invitation. I made up my mind that I would not attend. No big deal, right? I mean, my absence would be noticed but no one but she would ever know my motivation. And even if she didn’t notice, I was striking back and lashing out and it felt good. Power to this people!
As I dressed for my day and looked in the mirror, fresh from my decision, I remember smiling (was that a smirk?), satisfied that in at least this manner, I could let her know what I thought of her.
Then, well, then God showed up. I was driving to work when a 5 minute devotional program came on the Moody station. Hosted by a specific gentleman, I had always found his voice annoying so I stretched forth my index finger to turn him off. Until…
“Here’s the thing about holding a grudge.”
Now, you’d expect, wouldn’t you, that he’d light into that forgive as you have been forgiven thing? But no, instead he spent 4 of his 5 minutes talking about how bad, physically and emotionally, it is for a person to maintain anger toward someone else.
“When you nurse a grudge, that person’s face is in front of you all of the time.”
“It makes your stomach tense and can give you a headache.”
“It serves no purpose, if you think you are getting back at the person.”
“It serves no purpose if you think you’re teaching someone a lesson.”
“It poisons your free time and invades your dreams.”
"It blocks your prayers."
There were other points but these stay with me to today.
THEN, he slipped in the ‘forgive as you have been forgiven.’By that time, however, I had pulled the car over and needed to have a little time with my Father, right there by the side of the road. I confessed (like it was news to Him) and asked His forgiveness.
Then, I forgave this woman.
Now, that is the strange part. She didn’t ask for forgiveness. It’s possible, but I doubt it, that she did not know she had offended me. It’s not like I could go to her and tell her I forgave her. In this case, it would have been for show and it would have been futile.
But I forgave her and guess what? The weigh came off my shoulders. I went to the program, congratulated her (no smirk on either face), and had a good time.
When I reflect on some of the things that others endure, I realize that this woman’s slights were slight. No one has ever hurt my physically or emotionally. If that were the case, would God want me to forgive such a person? I believe He would. I might need some help to work through it, but forgiveness is always the best plan.
It’s His plan and He set the example. Only through forgiveness can we be restored. Only by forgiving, can we shed that weight.
As for the object of my lesson, our paths have taken different turns but I will run into this woman from time to time. Are we buddies? I would have to say, No. Do we greet each other warmly, as Christian sisters should? I would have to say, Yes.
And how great is that? You don’t want to have to avoid certain boulevards in Heaven, now do you?
We had occasion to exercise our sense of grace recently when a person asked us to forgive him. It was hard to ask. It was easy to forgive. God’s grace has taught us that.