Saturday, April 14, 2012

Forgive as Christ Forgave You

I don't think about forgiveness very often.  I am an oldest child, and we tend to be a little self-absorbed.  We think we're so important that everything bad that happens must be our fault.  As a result of this tremendous responsibility, I tend to be a little melancholy.  After all, I live under the false belief that I am at least partially to blame for most of the world's problems.  It's a heavy burden.

When I experience conflict, I assume I did something wrong.  After a while though, after I have spent far too much time focusing on conflicts and feeling so guilty I cannot pray or laugh or engage in anything productive, I see the complexity of problems in interpersonal relationships and realize that while I share some of the responsibility, the other person does too.

At that point, I get mad.  How could that person insinuate that the situation is all my fault?

And then I assess what I have learned and move on emotionally.  Hence, forgiveness is largely a moot point.

The friendship is usually shot at that point anyway.  At least that's what I tell myself.  Conversations about conflict are awkward.  There's always a chance of misunderstanding, that the other person and I won't behave civilly.  There might be yelling or accusations.  It could get bloody.  Metaphorically speaking.

At any rate, what I don't think about doesn't bother me.

It should.  Deep inside, I collect wounds that that produce pain at the most inopportune times.  I don't see the wounds, but there are scars that influence the way I respond to new situations with new people.  Or people from the past.  That's when I realize that I haven't fully embraced forgiveness.

I remember the first time I read Colossians 3:13-14.  Okay, this wasn't actually the first time I had read this verse.  It's just the first time I actually saw the words:
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  
At the time I was dealing with a situation, a long-term situation, a situation I couldn't just walk away from.  Hurts from the past came flooding back, and I couldn't turn off my anger and self-righteousness.  How could this person continue to treat me like this?  It was wrong!  And the person didn't even see a problem.

Paul's words--God's words--jumped off the page.

I can't, God.  It's not right.  This person is wrong.  This person has been wrong for years.  How can I forgive?  This person doesn't deserve forgiveness.  
"Forgive as I forgave you."
I did not--I do not--deserve forgiveness.  I do not deserve grace.  I do not deserve your love.  I do not deserve mercy.  
I know that, Father, but this person has wounded me deeply.  And it's not going to stop. 
I journaled this internal conversation, and even as I wrote the words on the page, I knew I would no doubt rebel against God again.  And again.  And he still forgives me.
It's hard, God.
How do we forgive unconditionally?  How do we forgive when the offending party doesn't even acknowledge his or her part in an offense?  Paul offers advice in the next verse:
In addition to compassion, kindness, gentleness, humility, and patience, put on love, which binds all these virtues together in perfect unity.  Love.
Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  These are not my words, by the way.  These are Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 13.

I have walked away from dear relationships because of misunderstandings and assumed offenses.  I have lost ministry partners because I feared messy confrontation.  In the emotion of the moment, I forget how dear that friend is, I forget what that friendship means to me.

I am not the only one who does this kind of thing.  I see it all the time.  Way too often.
We don't take the time to talk to each other.  Listen to each other.  See the situation from someone else's perspective.

We think we know.  We think we see all sides.
But we don't.

Why is it we don't know how to talk to each other about the things that make us mad?
Why don't we care enough to fight for each other?

Maybe we hold unforgiveness as a self-protective measure.
Maybe it's pride.
Maybe it's shame.
Maybe it's fear.

I don't know, but life is too short, and good friends are hard to come by.

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