Tag Archives: forgiveness

Hands

Coming Together

(A six minute read – part of a year-long series on the Ministry of Reconciliation)

Reconciliation (noun) /ˌrek.ənˌsɪl.iˈeɪ.ʃən/: The process of making two opposite beliefs, ideas or situations agree.

It’s easy to pass this word off as only relevant for person-to-person conflict. Something done after a war, or a genocide, or when a business partnership goes bad. Perhaps it’s a January response to that ugly political discussion at the holiday dinner table.

Reconciliation is much more

Reconciliation is much, much bigger than that. It’s about charting new courses for ourselves. It’s about listening to one another. It’s about being willing to reserve judgment. It’s about wanting to be nice. It’s about healing. Ultimately, its about forgiveness. More on that in a moment.

The Bible says that, as a Christian, I’ve been given the ‘ministry of reconciliation.’ What is that? It means my purpose here is to bring love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control into all I do. Those are the tools in my tool-kit for building reconciliation among estranged parties.

The Biblical word for reconciliation in the Greek is katallagē (καταλλαγή), which means restoration to favor.

It comes from the root word katallassō (καταλλάσσω), which means to change mutually.

See the connection? Mutual change is an adjustment you and I make through compromise. It comes through listening and reserving judgment until we can both change. Only then, can we again favor one another.

What’s that about forgiveness?

If I’m in dispute with you I can’t reconcile with you until I forgive you. Forgive you for being a jerk. For having wrong ideas. For disagreeing with me. For whatever is on my list that gives me the self-righteous excuse to push you away, to stop listening, to stop caring about you.

Only through forgiveness can I become willing to return (repent) to a state of right relationship with you. Only then can I reconcile. Assuming you too are willing, of course. You just might have your own list and be enjoying the fruits of your own anger.

If that’s the case: Houston, we have a problem.

Easily dealt with

Fortunately, there’s an easy solution. Love. Easier said than done, I know, but it’s one of the tools in that tool-kit, remember?

Last week, I wrote about my friend Brian, who met love in the midst of a group of young people who talked him out of suicide. God’s love, expressed through them, radically changed his life.

That love reconciled Brian to God, from whom he’d been estranged his entire life. It also reconciled him to other people, whom he’d been blaming for his troubles. Finally, it reconciled him to himself.

He was living one way, met love, and now lives another.

I’m not saying that love without God in it can’t lead to some level of reconciliation. It can. But I don’t believe it transforms us, and it’s much harder for it to last. Reconciliation is God language. We can borrow it, but if He’s not in it, it’s not as powerful as when He is. His involvement gives it a capital letter, as it were.

Reconciliation happens everywhere

God is always all-in. He does nothing by half measures. If God is love, then He is always love, and is love all the time. He is not arbitrary. Sure, it’s easy to ask amid a pandemic, ‘Oh yeah? So where’s God in this?’

That’s a great question. In fact, that’s the right question. Because God always comes into evil situations – whether created by the devil directly, or by my own sin. When I look for Him – I can find a path to reconciliation.

God showed up in our neighborhood as Jesus Christ, to reconcile the world to Himself, no longer counting our sins against us – if we believe in Him.1 It’s pretty simple, really.

So He continues: reconciling all of creation to Himself. It’s happening all the time everywhere, whether we can see it or not.

Of course, we can work against it. If I come up and hit you in the nose, that’s not what you’d call a reconciling gesture. However, even in that stupid act and its aftermath, there is an opportunity for reconciliation to begin.

Physically, it’s obvious: the blood clots and then soon stops flowing; in a short time the pain and swelling recede; damaged tissue repairs itself; not too long after, it’s as though nothing happened.

On a heart level it’s a different matter. If I’m not willing to apologize profusely (and probably, have a pretty good excuse that you’ll accept!) you won’t begin to think about forgiving me. Thus, I stop that omnipresent reconciliation in its tracks. Or, if you think I’m offering a bogus excuse, or are insincere, you may also call a halt to the healing.

See? Even when it doesn’t happen, it’s still available. The potential remains. We just have to grab it, and it becomes real.

Looking ahead

Hang on to this idea that reconciliation is happening all the time, everywhere. Because we’ll explore that in the coming weeks. And I think you’ll be surprised to find out that it shows up in some seemingly unlikely places.

1. 2 Corinthians 5:19-21 (NLT) ‘For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.’

Definition courtesy of Cambridge Dictionary

Read the entire series

Santa's workshop

12 Step Christmas (Pt. 2)

This is an expanded version of material originally prepared for my memoir Masterpiece (A Love Story).

(A four-minute read – catch up with Part I)

In Part I, the burden of grudges, resentments and petty hatreds, the burden of unforgiveness, was likened to a Christmas shopper weighed down and unbalanced by too many bags of purchases. Shoulders, arms and hands, backpack, all pulled to earth by what is owned.

The burden is not light

So burdened, we can’t skip along, or stride purposefully. We aren’t even walking, really. Because of the mass we choose to carry, we’re trudging, perhaps even plodding, or slogging. It’s no easy way to travel. Why choose it as a lifestyle by refusing to forgive?

Is it any wonder we speak of personal baggage when describing this? Baggage is something we carry. It has our “stuff” in it. When we travel on an airliner, the size and weight of what we can carry is limited. Too much, and the plane would burst at the seams, or not be airworthy. An apt metaphor for us as we journey through life with this junk!

So here we are, resolutely and stolidly toting all our baggage, refusing to relinquish it. What’s inside? Remember, in the shopping metaphor, we spent an entire day spending good money as it were to invest in these things. If they were a good investment, they will increase in value. But how can a grudge increase in value?

It can’t. It has no value in the first place. And anything times zero equals zero.

This begs this question: at what point do we cut our losses and divest? Why is divestment beneficial? And what are the risks, if any?

A frightening prospect. Is it worth it?

Here’s the upside: divestiture makes our lives, and our hearts, lighter. Without carrying baggage, we can pay more attention to what’s in front of us. We can enjoy the moment for what it is, instead of being on a fearful hunt for obstacles. When we carry so much weight, the risk of a drop or a stumble is so great, there’s no opportunity to stop being on the defensive.

Our feet become so occupied they are useless for anything but preventing a fall to earth. Our hands are so occupied they are useless for any good work. Our minds and hearts are so occupied by concentrating on the burden, we can perceive nothing else.

Our internal world consists of what we consider, and the things we refuse to forgive can eventually grow into the only things we consider, trudging along in that state.

Over time, without forgiveness, life then becomes a balancing act, full of deliberate steps not toward anything joyful, but away from or around anything which could possibly be harmful or painful. Our lives become filled with lack, not abundance.

The trap is this: until we lay down our burdens, we can’t feel free and easy, not ever, not for one moment. We can pretend they’re not there, but the pretence itself only becomes more mass in the sack. And on it goes.

Caution: divestiture also hurts. Holding something tightly for too long makes it painful to unclench the muscles. The path of least resistance is to leave it alone. It also hurts to emotionally unclench, because it means admitting failure. The ego resists that.

From capture to release

I started my journey toward forgiveness with self-talk like this: “If you only knew what he did to me…” “What happened was unforgivable…” “She has to pay for this…” “I can never forgive.”

The things I tell myself over and over become the elephant in the room. Living with an elephant in the room is messy and smelly and claustrophobic, but I got used to it. Worse – I became blinded to its presence, just as I become so used to the unhealthy ‘weight’ I carried, I couldn’t imagine living without it.

But if the elephant disappears, how do we clean up its mess and use all the space that leaves? The beauty of true forgiveness is that the space immediately becomes empty and clean, the mess being removed by the act itself.

Christmas should be a season of forgiveness, and the miracle of my AA Christmas was that this freedom was very near. It was right on the other side of one simple act. Forgiving myself.

Jesus says if I have a heavy burden, I should go to Him and get rest. I take off the painfully heavy yoke of my unforgiveness and put on His yoke, which He says ‘is easy,’, adding, ‘My burden is light.’ *

Once I realized I could give this weight to God, I could accept that He forgave me. And I could then forgive others. Everything tumbled into place. I am light, and free, and I refuse to go back.

This is an expanded version of material originally prepared for my memoir Masterpiece (A Love Story).

* Matthew 12:29-30

Image: Public Domain, Jenny Nystrom via Wikimedia Commons

US Ballot

Love Your Enemies

(A six -minute read)

It was a couple days after the US election. A lot of us were grumbling (always about ‘the other side’ of course). I had a spirited (but respectful) back-and-forth with a friend who is a self-professed Donald Trump hater. He bristled at my idea that he pray for him.

He said, ‘I’ll join you in prayer for millions of traumatized Americans to help us all heal, but Trump is not on the list.’

I suggested to him that if I hate Donald Trump (or any other person for that matter), the hatred is of less consequence than the fact I am willing to allow myself to hate.

When I amass hatreds and resentments and harbor unforgiveness, I only hurt myself. Here’s what I told my friend:

One of the main things Jesus talked about during his time here on earth was how we rid ourselves of unforgiveness and bitterness – things that block us off from receiving God’s grace and peace. Only by doing that can we fully receive God’s forgiveness for our own shortcomings.

Has Donald Trump lied as my friend suggested? Of course he has! So have I! So have you! But there’s grace for that. When we catch ourselves doing it, we turn back to Jesus, say ‘sorry’ and know that we’re forgiven. Then we move on and try again. We don’t prove ourselves through our own actions. We let the Lord guide and correct us. Over time we get better.

As to praying for those we may despise, God was very clear on this. In the Old Testament the rule was ‘If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.’ In the New Testament Jesus said, ‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.’

The instruction is pretty clear. Pray for your enemies, don’t hate them. And that last bit, about the rain falling both on the righteous (those who love God) and the unrighteous (those who don’t) is a way of pointing out that God loves your enemies as much as He loves you. He wants Donald Trump to follow Him as much as he wants you or me. He plays no favorites. Let’s not forget that to some out there, you and I may be seen as the enemy!

You’ll find a longer discussion of forgiveness between Jesus and the disciples in Matthew 18. Peter asks Jesus how many times he has to forgive someone – seven times? Jesus says ’70 times seven’ (or 77 times, depending on your translation). The point is that Jesus is exaggerating for effect, to say we should always be ready to forgive. Why is this? Three reasons:

1. Because it releases the person who harmed us from any curse laid upon them for their sin.

2. In a practical way, it releases us from bitterness and resentment. It gives us freedom.

3. It sets things right in the spiritual realm.

Think about the Lord’s Prayer, where it says ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’ You can’t have one without the other.

That idea of setting things right spiritually may seem murky. Here’s a practical example. If someone robs me and takes my wallet, I’ll certainly file a police report. I want my wallet back and I want justice to be done. But I also pray for the thief and forgive him.

Here’s why: If the thief is caught and I get my wallet back that’s worldly justice and that’s good. But the thief, even if punished, is still a thief. His heart is not transformed. Only God can transform his heart and change him from being a thief. My prayer helps with that.

It’s the same thing that happened all those years ago when I prayed to God to transform my own heart, and he delivered me from a life of drunkenness. Before, I was one way; I was a new way afterwards. It was night and day. So who am I to deny this gift to anyone else?

If I don’t forgive the thief, whoever I perceive him to be, then my lack of forgiveness works against God’s ability to transform the thief’s heart. Prayer has power. We are born into a spiritual battle and live in one all our lives. If we pretend otherwise we are deluding ourselves.

Prayer is one of the most effective weapons we wield on this spiritual battlefield – not to bring down others, but to protect them and ourselves. Also, to release us from the burden of resentment and bitterness we take on as we we attempt to judge others.

Only God knows all the facts and only he knows what is in our hearts: yours, mine and Donald Trump’s for that matter. I’m content to leave any and all judgments up to Him – He’s designed for it. I’m not.

Since this began on a political note, I’ll close on one: In politics, someone wins, someone loses and then life goes on. God remains in charge. ‘He removes kings and sets up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who know understanding.’

And that’s a very reassuring piece of knowledge.

Photo by Salar Farji via Wikimedia Commons