Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Further Thoughts on Fourth Grade Forgiveness

...We are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

--Ephesians  4:25-32

Relationships are difficult.  Despite my hopes, other people don’t always think like I do.  They don’t always act the way I think they should.  They often shatter my expectations.  Sometimes that hurts.  Occasionally, it hurts badly, and the relationship is damaged or severed. The only future for damaged relationships is forgiveness.  
Forgiveness, however, is easier talked about than truly practiced.  Most of us find that it takes time.  As I said on Sunday: Forgiveness is a process, but it begins with a decision to lay the sword of our anger down.  It is a decision to be enslaved to rage no more.  Refusing to continue to concede power to those who have harmed us is the precursor to the freedom of forgiveness.  
None of that is possible without recognizing our own need for forgiveness and the great lengths to which our gracious God has gone to offer that gift to us.  When we grasp the depth of our brokenness and our need for grace, then we are more willing to extend grace to others.
Of course, we sometimes choose to not to forgive, to hold onto our grudges for dear life.  Bitterness takes root and chokes out joy.  Quickly, our relationships with God and others suffer as well.  As someone has said, “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”  Instead, the life slowly drains from us.  
Thankfully, God, in Christ, has given us the gift of forgiveness, which we then can share with each other.  Forgiveness is “letting go,” and it allows us to grow.
On Sunday, however, I mentioned that forgiveness is not the same as forgetting.  That is a common mistake, but forgiveness requires memory.  Amnesia is easier than forgiveness.  If I no longer remember that pain that has been inflicted on me, I no longer need to forgive.  Forgiveness is remembering the pain and choosing to let go and love.
But, there are other things that forgiveness is NOT.  Forgiveness is not saying that it’s okay.  Heather and I teach our children to forgive each other, but not to excuse wrongful behavior.  Spend any length of time around our house and you’ll likely hear a conversation between our children that goes something like this: “It’s not okay, Ellie/Drew.  But I forgive you.”  (In fact, that conversation seems to happen daily!)
Another thing forgiveness is NOT is reconciliation.  One of the most frequently asked questions Sunday afternoon was, “What about the person who repeatedly hurts you?”  My answer to that is that forgiveness is not optional for Christians.  Remember, Jesus commanded us to forgive “seventy times seven times.”  Ideally, that forgiveness would include reconciliation--a complete repairing of the relationship.  Sometimes, however, reconciliation cannot happen.  Though we must forgive, we don’t always have to put ourselves back in the position to be hurt again.  Some people/situations are so toxic that we must erect healthy boundaries.
One final note: I have heard some folks say, “Well, I’m not forgiving until ________ asks for forgiveness.”  Confession, apology, and contrition certainly make forgiveness easier.  But, they are not prerequisites.  Remember, nobody--not the disciples, Roman soldiers, Sanhedrin, Pontius Pilate, nobody--asked Jesus for forgiveness, and yet upon the Cross he was heard praying, “Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they are doing.”  
And, the Apostle Paul says, “Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ has forgiven you.” 

Trying to Leave the Fourth Grade Behind,
Pastor Michael Turner