“Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen
We all know the feeling. The one that lurks around the dark corners of the heart and threatens to choke. It’s obscene, yet like the Great Deceiver masquerades as an Angel of Light. It beckons and says ‘cling to me, to this hard thing in you, for it will make you strong.’ It promises to forge a path to freedom only to encircle with chains. It’s insidious just like the sin which weaves all through us. And the only way to be free of this darkness is to walk this path of forgiveness. But how? It just seems utterly impossible.
When I comb through the pages of my life story I see the ugly places. I see where the hardness rooted deep within. For me it was the mother I loved deeply. Yet I hated how her sadness and unmet expectations bound me to living my life to bring her happiness. It was the friend who broke my heart when he couldn’t give me the love I craved. It was the teammate, the leader, the sister in Christ who seemed to never really ‘see’ me. The slights added up and stuffed the love channels of my heart until I could barely breathe.
How can we truly ever forgive? Especially, I have found, when the other doesn’t ask for forgiveness or believe they ever wronged us. At the end of the day, it’s like a very deep pit which can bury alive. When the hot, hard breaths begin, we cry out for Life.
Have you been there dear friend? Are you there now? How are you responding? Are you shoving it all back down and motoring on in busyness? Are you languishing and nursing the hurt? Are you waiting for the chance to retaliate? Do you really even know what is going on inside? It is my prayer that, through reading this, we will all begin to see where we lack forgiveness and then, how we can forgive.
“To forgive another person from the heart is an act of liberation.” -Henri J.M. Nouwen
It is important to see that forgiveness is ultimately a promise. It is a journey Home. It is a path we learn to walk which leads to the wholeness and the freedom we so deeply crave. The need to forgive and be forgiven is also something which defines our humanity. To be human is to hurt and be hurt. The alienation which is a part of the Fall touches us all and drives us apart from one another and from God. It is learning forgiveness which brings us back together.
And the power to forgive can only come through the Gospel.
Every summer I worked at the English Camp for our ministry in Hungary, I would meditate on Philippians 2:1-11. I knew the Enemy would be hard at work seeking to divide our team as we presented the Gospel to hundreds of students. It was transforming as I worked my way through each part of the passage.
Here are some of the parts which most stayed with me and relate to forgiveness: (passages paraphrased as I remember them)
‘If you have any encouragement in Christ’ (v.1) This whole learning process of becoming small, laying down our rights, looking into our own hearts on the path to unity, happens because of the encouragement of Christ in our lives. It’s a gentle pleading. ‘Will you walk this way because of what Jesus has given you?’ The beauty of this can melt our hearts and put us well on our way.
‘If you have any comfort from love’ (v.1) Has Christ’s love ever comforted us when we messed up or were hurt? We can no more deny this journey of forgiveness than we can His love for us.
‘Then make my joy complete by having the same love, being of one mind and of one accord.’(v.2) Paul’s joy being complete is a small reflection of God’s joy as we come together in one mind and one accord. So, as we long for God’s joy, we must long for forgiveness which brings reconciliation and unity.
‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourself’ (v.3) Wow, is this ever hard! Yet it’s because of the encouragement and comfort we receive from Christ that we can do this. And too, this verse is calling our hearts to pause and ask ‘where is my selfish ambition or vain conceit’? A lack of forgiveness has an ugly root found in the decaying flesh of who we once were. The person that is dying but is not yet dead. It’s the self that longs for status, approval and to be the center of everything.
‘Let this mind be yours that was in Christ Jesus’ (v.5) Now it’s like that ‘Jesus take the wheel’ moment. “Ok, YOU show me how it’s done, because this is impossible.’
‘Who being the very nature God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant’ (v.6-7) Wham! It always hits me. This one we look to left all of the glory of eternity, of God, to become nothing. And in his life, every single person hurt him. Whether it was the slighting of unending patronizing or the drama of hammering the nails into his hands and feet upon the cross. And yet, He forgave them all. And so much more, his entire life, death and resurrection was for the forgiveness of all. The unending betrayal of God himself was forgiven as far as the east is from the west.
‘And being found in human likeness, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.’ (v.7b-8) I am always amazed to really stop and think how Jesus had to learn obedience. The perfect life he lived was one of continually submitting his will to the Father’s, of learning to forgive. It is a great encouragement offered to us. As we follow him in the path of forgiveness, he is intimate with all of its details.
Do you see the beauty, friends? Forgiveness is what causes the contours of our hearts to become shaped like Jesus’ very own. It is a groaning, birthing process where new life is formed. Yet it is a dying way too where we let go of what cannot remain. And it is a road we all must follow as we journey Home.
I don’t want to seem like I am glibly speaking these things to you. My own road to forgiveness has been long and arduous. Yet by God’s grace, we can all be closer to perfect forgiveness today, than we were yesterday.
As I finish this post, I feel this urgency to speak it plain and clear. There are wounds, I can see them open and gaping. They are tearing apart families, teams and organizations. Only forgiveness will heal. Only the journey of a thousand miles we must begin with a single step. And it will only come through the supernatural reality of the God who took on flesh, embracing us and leading us to healing, wholeness and Home.