A few days ago I wrote about forgiveness. I have continued to reflect on this. And, like so many other things, the more I consider it I realize how much I neither know about it nor practice it. I have read about it. I have thought about it. I’ve spent hours praying about it. Why does it seem so elusive? Why is it so hard for one person to offer forgiveness to another? Why do we even care?
A lot of years ago I was in a band. Ok, so I’ve been involved with a lot of bands over the years. But, this one in particular was my baby. I had always been a sideman following someone else’s lead. Not so with this one. I worked hard at it. I had great guys playing with me. And, we sounded pretty good, if I do say so myself. After several months I was approached by one of the guys and another person who was kind of an associate with us. They had decided that they were going to leave and put together a project of their own…sans me. I pretty much saw this as a coup. I was devastated. I had poured myself into this band and these guys were dismissing my work and ripping my heart out. Immediate anger, hurt and a desire to reciprocate. I decided to shun them. (Oh, wow, that’ll show ‘em.) It didn’t take long for me to realize that they were doing quite well while I was steeped in anger and bitterness. Hmmm…this payback stuff wasn’t working so well. I shared all of this with a friend and we found that at the root of what I was experiencing was unforgiveness. Oh, Crap! I couldn’t even blame those other guys for what I was feeling! Eventually, I arranged a sit-down with them and we talked and I was able to forgive them. Freedom! The bitterness began to melt away. Over time, we were again able to work together and today one of them is one of my closest friends.
This episode in my life revealed to me that relationships that are meaningful and important are the ones that can cause the most pain. I really don’t care about mere acquaintances. These people can say and do things to me that don’t affect me. I can simply ignore them and they’ll go away. Truly meaningful relationships, on the other hand, have an element of trust built into them that can easily be bruised. Trust defines our vulnerability. It determines how much of our heart we will expose to another person. Deeper trust means that we will bleed more profusely if that trust is violated.
In my reflection, I’ve discovered that I am one of those people who can be hurt easily. Part of that is because I really, really don’t tolerate rejection well. (And I want to be a writer? Sheesh!) The larger reason, though, is that although I try to keep a façade in place to protect me, (one dear friend said that I should wear a sign that says, “Hides Behind Humor”!), I do let people affect me. I want to trust. I want to be trusted. While I hold on to my desire to trust others, I, myself, am wholly untrustworthy. I know that, because there are times when I allow a thoughtless word to escape from my mouth that crushes someone I love. I am untrustworthy because I do things that seem good to me, but are deeply hurtful breaches of trust for others. And, I lie. I say that I trust others, when deep inside I really don’t. Maybe, this self-revelation will help me to understand my need for forgiveness and my need to forgive others.
So, why should we care about forgiveness? Throughout the Hebrew Bible God’s followers wrote about the forgiveness of God. The Psalms and Prophets are full of examples of God’s character as One who is patient and quick to forgive. (e.g. Ps. 65:3 & 86:5, Jer. 31:34.) But, it took God’s actions to prove it. It’s recorded that Jesus prayed for those who had beaten and crucified him. “Father, forgive them…” And, the Father did. The Good Creation and all of humanity were freed that day. Freed from the anger of God and from the chains that bound creation with bitterness and unforgiveness. We were set free from the old ‘eye for eye, tooth for tooth’ system of retribution. We were set free to forgive. It doesn’t matter whether we are wronged through the careless uttering of a single word in a meeting, or one of the greatest breaches of trust. We have the freedom to choose to forgive.