Years ago I was talking with a friend I’ll call Mary, who had been “done dirt” by a neighbor. I can’t even remember what the offense was, but I remember Mary’s response. Mary was angry and had completely cut off the relationship with her offending neighbor. She was not allowing her children to go down the street to play with her neighbor’s children. When she was forced into a public encounter she treated the offending neighbor with cold civility. Still Mary was weary of the wall that had grown between them. She said it me, “If only my neighbor would say ‘I’m sorry,’ I would forgive her. I’m a sucker for an apology.”
Forgiveness is at the heart of Christian faith. The forgiveness of God is gracious, unconditional and enduring. God forgives us because it is in God’s nature to forgive. It is from this forgiving heart that we are called to forgive. God asks us to forgive because it is good for us and it is good for those who need our forgiveness. My friend Mary, above, was suffering under the weight of her self-imposed grudge. Her sense of personal tranquility was constantly troubled by this outstanding debt. Her hackles were raised every time she entered the public arena where her offensive neighbor might be present. Even her children were suffering because of her anger. How much easier her life might have been if she could have found it in her heart to simply forgive with or without the apology.
Forgiveness is as much for us as for the another with whom we are angry. Nursing anger or offense takes a lot of energy that can better be expended in acts of compassion or love. Jesus knew forgiveness was essential to the spiritual life. At the center of his prayer is this petition. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Jesus knew that forgiveness was a circle. We are forgiven by God which provides a shower of relief allowing us to forgive others which provides a shower of relief so we can accept God’s forgiveness of us which provides a shower of relief…. You get the idea. Receiving the forgiveness of God and the forgiving others are all intertwined. We know that it begins with God’s forgiveness of us, but we can sure tangle up this forgiveness circle when we get stuck in a grudge.
Take a moment today and ask yourself who you need to forgive. Then do it. Stop trying to exact payment for some debt you believe the other owes you. Just remember the many things God has forgiven you and let go of your anger and see if you don’t feel that shower of relief. Jesus knew we would be better, more whole and more holy if we could only forgive as God has forgiven us.
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