Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
This is one of those verses that can send you sprawling. When we want to soak in our pride, our rights, they way we deserve (or don’t deserve) to be treated…when we saturate ourselves in offense with others…when we let the pain of rejection or hurt or another’s selfishness choke out the joy and peace from our hearts. So many times in my life I hear the still, small whisper of God reminding me to forgive the way I have been forgiven. And because I have been forgiven for some pretty nasty stuff, there is really no argument against what He is asking me to do.
Is it hard to forgive others, especially when they aren’t sorry? Uhm…yes! Is it hard to give others grace when you are just plain “graced out” with them? For sure. But then we come back to Jesus, God’s unlimited grace and mercy in the flesh. There is no measurement…no last chance with Him. We keep screwing up…our hearts hopefully are convicted…and God pours out His grace in our lives through Jesus. Truly, we are mad in our pride if we give ourselves permission to receive this amazing love and grace from Creator and yet we arch our backs and stiffen our necks in releasing it into the lives of others. Many times I believe we have so much trouble with this because we haven’t truly encountered grace and mercy. Maybe we humbled ourselves before God a long time ago and He wants us to live freely, but we insist on paying a penance He has not asked of us. So, because we will not accept that the grace of God means freedom when our hearts have truly surrendered to Him, we stay seemingly locked in a cell where the doors are wide open.
As I sat on my porch this morning loving the crisp weather, I read the verse above. You know what struck me anew this morning? God isn’t telling us to be ready to forgive if someone offends or hurts or wrongs us. It is part of a command in how He expects us to live…and part of that command is limitless forgiveness. I was struck by the sheer assumption in this short verse. We are going to be wronged by others. We are going to be hurt, disappointed and likely offended by others. It is absolutely going to happen. And not just by people we think lack character or don’t care for us..no! We are going to be hurt and wronged many times over by the very people closest to us! The ones we know do love us! The ones we trust! So often, we are caught off guard and become stuck in behavior patterns with others. We do not know how to adequately cope with the behaviors of others and many times we are in such deep relationship with them we can’t run and so we hide or we hate. We can get really deep about it…assess the “whys” in the behaviors of others, try to understand, confront and deal with them. Not bad things! But you know what? I kinda see in this verse this morning that regardless of the “whys” God is clearly telling us how to cope with our offenses, disappointments and hurts…forgive. And when we balk (because we all do) He ties it down tight for us by saying…the way I have forgiven you. And a hush falls over the crowd…
See, I know about my junk. I know about my issues and my “whys” and I believe being willing to see the why in others helps us to a degree because we recognize ourselves…we know the whys in our lives. Why we developed certain habits…why we guard our hearts or why we grasp desperately for love. We know all about our whys. So, when we are reminded everyone has a why it may help us with compassion. But knowing the why or even having someone who hurts or wrongs us acknowledge their behavior isn’t what God commands us to do. He just says forgive.
I can honestly say I know a little bit about the glass-chewing experience of forgiving. I know the sting…the bite…the bile that rises in your throat as you let go. But in the midst of some pivotal moments of my life God gave me what I needed to obey Him. And the fruit I have seen grow and tasted from the act of limitless forgiveness convinced me thoroughly. Do I always forgive quickly and the way God has forgiven me? No, I am a continual work in progress. I have, however, experienced the freedom in forgiving…whether I am asked for it…whether someone can ever even acknowledge they wronged me…whether or not I get to experience the prideful pleasure of being “right.” I have tasted, from time to time, the sweet freedom found in letting God unlock my own heart and release the weight of offense I can so easily carry.
And you know what else? In the midst of my own belly aching and proclamations of what isn’t right or fair, God in His humor, goodness and truth always finds a way to remind me that I am not just the wounded…I am a wounder, as well.