I heard someone say recently that “the best way to pause your spiritual maturity is to not forgive someone.” If you asked me what I believe about spiritual maturity, I would tell you forgiveness is the foundation of our faith. We, sinners undeserving, found forgiveness in Christ; we are therefore to forgive freely, as Christ forgives us. Not just forgive – forgive as He forgives us, from the heart, not just from the lips (Col 3:13, Eph 4:32, Mt 18:35).
And yet, if you have lived on planet earth for more than 5 minutes, then you know – this is hard. This is hard because we live in a fallen world, we hurt each other, and sometimes, people don’t do the right things. Just as often, we don’t do the right things to others. It has been this way since Eve and her fruit salad of doom, and it will continue until our Lord comes back. I suspect it’s why we’re told how to forgive: because we have to. Life in community and life on earth requires it.
I have wrestled with anger and its accompanying resentment and unforgiveness more often than I would like to admit. It has been a long road, re-wiring neural pathways from planet-melting rage to “I am suffering or hurting or angry, and I need to go to my Father about it, and then I need to seek reconciliation.” I put off the old, I put on the new, little by little, day by day. If you are seeking to grow in Christ and to be formed into His image in maturity and wholeness, this is just part of the package. To forgive is synonymous with the bearing the name “Christian.” To not forgive is to deny your very nature.
Do you ever think about why Christ forgave us? Was it because we didn’t really mean “it,” whatever your brand of “it” is? Was it because we had good intentions underneath, or could otherwise explain away our behavior or justify our hearts? Was it because underneath it all, we’re good people, or we deserve it?
Nah. 35 seconds of honest self-reflection bring those excuses to an end. In turn, that can’t be our basis for forgiving another.
He forgave us because He loved us, and He loves us still. We love Him because He first loved us, and we are able to love and forgive others because He did it for us (and “them”!) first.
Now, I can write those words in a matter of moments, but the process isn’t always that quick. Sometimes it is – sometimes. Proverbs 19:11 tells us that good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is our glory to overlook an offense. Many times, things just aren’t worth getting our hackles up about. We can get offended, get over it, and move on.
But for the real grief in life, the real harm or wounds, the real sins against us and ours against others, He has given us a way to move forward. It can be slow and arduous, but it really is the only way forward. We are to go to each other, to be frank about the sin, to be generous in the mercy, to offer or receive repentance, and to forgive – and this all by the power of God’s Spirit in us. Admittedly, this is much easier to do when we first reflect on His forgiveness of our sin, because sometimes we will have to forgive and then do it right over again. 7 times a day, if necessary. 70×70 if necessary. Sometimes, it will be.
I have found myself there; praying for help to forgive something, choosing to forgive something, journaling that I am choosing and praying for help to forgive something, then I go about my morning making tea, and I have to repeat the process again before the kettle has even finished boiling. It is hard. It can feel exhausting. Burdens we aren’t supposed to carry often will.
To quote my best buddy Clive: “The problem of forgiveness begins with the one percent of guilt that is left over [after excusing away what can be excused]…To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life – to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son – How can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night ‘Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.’ We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves.” (C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, edits mine).
I take great comfort in knowing that men and women far holier than I will ever be have wrestled with this. Forgiveness is hard and that’s okay. It can be hard, and we can still do it anyway. Because truthfully, the body of Christ depends on it – a body is only as healthy as its members. Our spiritual growth isn’t just about us; nothing ever is in this life. Get help if you need it. Seek the endless riches of grace in prayer, seek comfort and counsel from a friend (not the kind where everything you did is right and everything the other person did is wrong – seek wise counsel, a spiritual mentor), seek professional counseling if it’s warranted – whatever you need to do, it is worth it, for God’s glory, for the sake of love and unity, and for your freedom and joy. I’m right there with you, and so are every one of your brothers and sisters in Christ.
See you ‘round the tea kettle.