So, I’ve been thinking about forgiveness. Seems I am not so good at it…
The other day, my beautiful wife did something that I didn’t like. It hurt me and I let her know. Bless her, she gave it some thought and then came back to me and said sorry. Let’s just say my response to that was not my finest moment. I believe my words were along the lines of “I forgive you. But it’s a bit like a piece of paper – you crumple it up and then sorry is like trying to straighten it out… it might be flat, but it will never be smooth again”
Where does a guy get comments like that from? I still don’t know. So there I was watching her back as she left unhappily. And it hit me that I don’t know much about forgiveness. That’s not to say I haven’t read a stack on it, and even done it, most of the time. But there is a difference between forgiving someone when it suits you and forgiving them when it doesn’t – like when you still feel like enjoying the resentment and the feeling of revenge. If forgiveness was easy, it would mean nothing.
But forgiveness is not easy. It is a willing and disciplined denial of self – of our “right” to be right and – especially – a denial of our right to hold against someone else the fact that they are WRONG. A lack of forgiveness in this case, was nothing more than me giving in to the selfish desire to be “one-up” on someone else, whose actions have created an emotional debt between them and me. And forgiveness is the opposite – setting someone unconditionally free of their debt to me.
So there I was. Loving the feeling of being right. Pushing home my advantage. And for a few seconds, it felt good. But then it just felt horrible. Her apology was all she had to offer, an unconditional acceptance of responsibility for the pain caused, and a request for intimacy again.
I had forced her to take responsibility for the condition of MY heart, to take the blame for the fact that I chose to be hard hearted! But, honestly, since when is the condition of my heart the responsibility of someone else? This gentle, beautiful person has entrusted her heart into my hands. I was painting HER as the violent one, painting HER as the abuser of grace? The fact that my heart felt like a crumpled piece of paper was MY responsibility.
The question I had to ask, and answer for myself was “Do I want to stay like that?” Unlike a piece of paper, a human heart can be smoothed and straightened. Redeemed, I believe, is the technical term…
So I had some choices to make! Thank goodness I went to her and asked her for forgiveness. And thank goodness she is better at it than me.
With unconditional forgiveness the forgiven person is absolved of a debt, but the forgiver’s heart is freed! Freed of an unnatural violence of spirit that cheapens every vulnerable moment after that. Freed of a cycle of abuse and re-abuse. How can a person truly be vulnerable; truly feel alive when they take pleasure in nurturing hurt, take pleasure in binding up other people in emotional debts and deny themselves the opportunity to grow in grace? Who on earth nurtures hurt and calls it a good thing?
Choosing to forgive is about choosing to live free. It’s about being gracious when you have to dig for it. And the deeper you dig, the more precious the gift of grace.