Where we wrestle with the sublime, mysterious, powerful and often frustrating paradox of God's necessary grace.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Forgiveness, blood, and 93 cents worth of grace.

Dr. J and I spoke this morning and she asked me how I was doing with my brother's ex-communication of me from his view of the family.

I explained it was an unusual situation for me to be in because it's never happened to me before, so I guessed I was doing as well as could be expected. One thing I quickly learned: I have to stop myself from re-reading his comments and email to me or I'll quickly grow furious and want to deck him for the hateful things he's said about me. This is my limitation, not his or anyone else's. It's my inability to let the situation go to God.

So, I take a deep breath whenever I see my thoughts and feelings head that way and forgive him all over again.

When I lived in Texas, I worked almost two years to forgive a woman who hurt me deeply. There were days I had to go to God six, seven, eight times a day or more and forgive her all over again, because I had embraced bitterness toward her yet again. The good news is as time passed, so did the depth of pain and bitterness I felt toward her. Now? I never think of her unless I'm writing about forgiveness and bitterness, and even then there's no emotional trigger in saying her name or thinking about her actions toward me. I've seen, close-up and in ugly detail in others and--worse--in myself what bitterness and unforgiveness can do to a person. It's toxic beyond belief, it destroys everything it touches; it imprisons, then defiles, then kills. It's the spiritual equivalent of nerve gas.

So yeah, I choose to forgive my brother again. I'll probably have to do it again in 15 minutes, and maybe again in 15 more minutes, and so on.

Here's what I know about forgiveness: To forgive is not to forget. It does not excuse what happened, nor does it mean the forgiver has to "play nice" and shake hands with whomever he or she forgives. Forgiving has not a damn thing to do with being "nice." You can forgive someone and still act like a sonofabitch to him or her because forgiveness is all about the forgiver giving up the right of retribution, of revenge, against the target of his forgiveness. Forgiveness is you surrendering your right to get even, giving away your right to blood.

I see forgiveness is a primal thing, powerful and transforming. It's not this namby-pamby, Pollyanna "kiss and make up" our culture has morphed it into. It costs us to practice it fully and honestly and that's appropriate. If someone casually tosses off an "Oh, I forgive you!" just as he would a "Thanks for dinner," then IMHO it's not forgiveness. True forgiveness should cost a little blood, I think.

For forgiveness to be forgiveness, there has to be a chance it won't be anything at all--that the forgiver will decide *not* to forgive that moment, that day.

So that's where grace comes in. God must give us the grace to forgive, to forgive once, twice, three times, four, five, six, eight, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 times, 500, 1,000 or even more! Without the influence of God in our world, real forgiveness would be an unknown, I think.

Time's gotten away from me, so I'll end here and continue with the 93 cents of grace later. Thank you for reading this.


Mama said...

I once heard what I thought was a great definition of forgiveness: It's when you stop punishing someone for what they did.

That means punishing them in person and also punishing their reputation before others, as in telling others what they did with the intent of letting the others know just how rotten the offender was to you.

To use a big-time buzzword, that was really convicting to me. As you said, it requires the work of God on your heart.

You are right, though - it's not the same as forgetting. It's also not the same as putting yourself back in their path to be hurt again.

Anonymous said...

I think true forgiveness comes when you stop letting that person, or that person's words control your actions, thoughts or life.
When you no longer feel you have to forgive him...then he is forgiven.

KenWritez said...

Mama: You're right. Forgiveness doesn't mean putting youself back in the path of the forgivee. Sometimes it's the better decision not to walk into the airplane propeller.

Pru, I agree. (So does Lindsey, FWIW.) I bow to your wisdom ;)