Forgiveness is a challenge (understatement of the year). During a particular season of my life where I was deeply struggling with events in my past, I realized how the brokenness of my childhood caused me to carry into adulthood a lot of shame, distrust and bitterness…not great qualities on which to build a healthy and fulfilling life. As I wrestled with the incredibly negative effects of these feelings there came a picture:
I was standing on a sidewalk that ran along a canal. Floating in the canal was a barge covered with garbage, human waste, rotten food and all manner of refuse. It was so putrid that steam rose from it. A large nautical rope was tied to the barge, with the other end tied around my neck. I could walk up and down the canal, in essence pulling the putrid barge behind, which gave a false sense of freedom. But I could not walk away from the barge. I purposed to clean it up; I promised I would. I felt God so gently tell me that I could not clean it up, I needed to take the rope from around my neck. What seemed a logical and simple piece of advice was very difficult for me. The barge was my stuff – wrong things done against me and wrong things I had done…my identity really. Finally though, I carefully pulled the noose from around my neck and slowly walked away across the green rolling hills ahead of me. I made the decision to forgive my grandfather for the abuse, to allow God’s grace to handle my shame, brokenness and sin, and to believe that I could walk in freedom.
Forgiveness. Letting go of the right to pay back for hurt done to me. Forgiveness can feel like proclaiming that the offense was not a big deal or that the offender should get off the hook. Nothing in that feels like justice. And that is not how God works. When we forgive we simply pass the offense into his capable hands – the perfect balance of justice and mercy. Whatever the situation, be it an intentional harmful offense like abuse or a scratch on my thin skin because I wasn’t asked to a party, forgiveness is the only option that results in real life.
Whatever it is that you carry against others, yourself or God, let it go. Forgive. Unforgiveness gives an offender the ability to hurt and control your life even years after the offense. My grandfather died when I was 17 but I didn’t choose to forgive until I was in my 30’s. I regret that I gave him the power to intrude on my marriage. Is there someone you need to forgive? Is there someone from whom you could ask forgiveness? It’s a great day to clear the air in your life. Take the rope from your neck and walk free. You are worth it…truly.
It has been my experience that forgiveness can be understood as a three-stage process: God’s forgiveness of us, our acceptance of that forgiveness, and our extending forgiveness to others. It seems to me that any shortcuts or editing of this process can cripple us and get us stuck.
The very first people were a couple named Adam and Eve. They hung out with God in a perfect garden. God told them they could have ANYTHING in the garden except this ONE tree. So, like us, they picked a ripe ol’ apple or orange or kumquat from the ‘forbidden tree’ and ate it. God told the nation of Israel not to worship any other god but Him or there’d be judgment. So they made idols. God told…God told…God told… and people did it anyway. But God never gave up on His prized creation – people. And from animal skins to animal sacrifices He always made a way to be in relationship with broken people. Ultimately, God’s need for both justice and mercy brought Him to a cross outside of Jerusalem. Forgiveness was a necessity if there was to be relationship, and forgiveness had to be something other than God winking at or ignoring sin. God’s offer of forgiveness to us came at a great price: God became human, a man named Jesus, took upon himself the guilt of every sin you or I have ever committed…or will ever commit. God, in Christ, chose to bear the weight and penalty of all sin so that forgiveness, righteousness and eternal life might be offered to humankind.
Forgiveness is a gift offered and we are asked to receive it. Let’s say I were to offer you a check for a million dollars (don’t get excited…purely hypothetical). The check is made out in your name, signed by me and backed by the funds to make it valid. I could stand there with the check in hand extended to you, but if you don’t take it you will never enjoy the amazing benefits of the money. This is a picture of what happens to us in terms of forgiveness. God extends forgiveness to us because of Jesus. The check, as it were, is made out to you, signed by God, with all of the resources to make it valid. It is extended to you and to me. What we do in response to that offer determines whether or not we will enjoy all of the benefits of this extreme forgiveness and the life and freedom that result. God offers forgiveness and we must choose to accept it by believing in Him and trusting our life to Him. In essence we say, “I am definitely in need of forgiveness, I ask for your forgiveness, God, and I choose to accept the grace and freedom you offer.” He takes the rope from around our neck and removes the barge.
The third facet of forgiveness comes with the challenge for us to forgive others. Without receiving forgiveness from God, I don’t think I can forgive myself or anyone else. If I feel responsible and accountable for every wrong I’ve committed then I’ll certainly expect others to own their guilt and offenses, too. It’s a terrible cycle isn’t it. But it works both ways. I have found that my willingness (even hesitant willingness) to forgive others helps me continue to grow in forgiveness toward myself – and I am desperately in need of that ongoing strength to live in freedom from guilt and shame.
Forgive. It really is so vitally important for us if we want to live a life of peace, freedom and joy. In fact, forgiveness – of ourselves and others – is an absolute necessity if we are to live the life for which we were created and to fulfill God’s best plan for our individual lives.
The barge in this snapshot was truly hideous, odiferous, debilitating and restrictive. Most everything on the barge was a fact, not the product of my imagination or self-loathing. But real or not, nothing on that barge was bigger or stronger than God’s forgiveness. All it took was the choice to remove the rope from my neck, trust God with all of that wretched “stuff” and move on toward life. It was hard for so many reasons. It was worth it for so many more.
It has been a process to walk in forgiveness and grace but I have never gone back to the canal…or to what it represents. I may not know how to live fully in freedom but I’m learning. I pray the same for you.
Psalm 86:5 O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help.
Col 3:12-13 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you so you must forgive others.
Eph 1:7He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.
Eph 4:32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
Matthew 5:23-24 So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice.
Matthew 6:9-13Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. 10 May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today the food we need, 12and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. 13 And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.