Walking Down Forgiveness Lane

I realized this week that I have yet to forgive some people, maybe a bunch of people, maybe the whole church…

I think I need to talk a long walk down forgiveness lane.

Two things happened to bring up the bitterness churning below, out of sight, mostly out of mind.

I attended a retreat and met a parishioner from my former church, the one that let my husband go. We got to talking about the past, and the pain started to rise. It didn’t help that the retreat focused on those whiny Psalms (Those Whiny Psalms) and got me thinking again about my “enemies.”

Then we attended a funeral at the same church. We cared for the guy who died and his wife, so we showed up for them.  But it wasn’t easy to go back to this place of pain.

The guy principally responsible (in our minds) for my husband losing his job four years ago came up and shook my husband’s hand (oh, how godly we all acted…). I asked my husband after how he felt. “Like punching him in the nose,” he replied.

As for me, when the many former parishioners I ran into asked how we were doing, I refrained from saying what I felt inside: “Crappy (actually, I had another word in mind), thanks to you. My husband has been out of work four years. Do you even care??”

That night I cried myself to sleep wishing that just one person who’d hurt my husband or myself in the last 12 years of church life would apologize.

None have.

No bitterness here…

Next day I attended our small group where we listened to a sermon on Hebrews 9 and 10 which focused on the sacrifice to end all sacrifices (the animal ones that ultimately accomplished nothing): the sacrifice of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ.

The pastor said he is often asked why Jesus’ blood had to be shed to effect our forgiveness (a doctrine sadly under attack these days even within the evangelical church).

Why couldn’t God just have wiped the slate clean, removed our debt?

The pastor replied that all forgiveness is exceedingly painful.   If the bank forgives my debt, it absorbs the loss.  Jesus endured excruciating agony of soul and body to absorb my sins’ debt.

I realized then that I had yet to endure the hurt of forgiveness. I still wanted to inflict hurt. I still wanted payback.

I’ll have forgiven when I no longer desire others to pay the debt they owe, when I no longer need even an apology.

One time I went to a church that told us to write on a piece of paper the names of all the folks we still hadn’t forgiven. Then we were to rip up the paper in a single act of forgiveness.

Forgive me, but that is utter bull-crap.

No one forgives like that. Can’t be done.

Forgiveness is a long road.

Everytime I decide not to outwardly exact vengeance, I am on the road to forgiveness. Still, it’s a long road.

They say my husband and I left the church with grace. We tried hard not to slam the church to others and to keep our hurt to ourselves and close friends. We chose not to exact vengeance… outwardly.

Every time I choose to say kind things about that church, I am walking down forgiveness lane. But I am not there yet. It’s a long road.

Every time I hold my tongue or try to think of others as better than myself, I am walking down forgiveness lane. But it’s a long road.

If we didn’t TRY to act like we forgive, the road might be longer still.

Frankly, I don’t know when I’ll reach the end, where I’ve absorbed enough of the pain to free the other people – even the church itself – of an obligation to me.

The church was once my haven, but for the last 12 years, it’s pretty much been hell.  And I just about hate it for that.

I need to forgive.

How do I get to the end of forgiveness lane other than continuing my attempt to obey, to say the right things, to try and think the right things?

Honestly, I think there’s one huge thing I need.

I think I need to better undertsand how I have been forgiven.

I have to somehow draw on the power of the blood shed for me, almost swim in it, until I am so boyed, feel so loved, that I can do no less than to let go, finally endure the pain, and complete that walk down forgiveness lane. 

I actually think this newly discovered lack of forgiveness may be a large part of the troubles I’ve been having — the doubts, especially.

I think I need to repent of my unforgiveness.

Oh, Lord: Thanks for opening my heart’s eyes to the foaming cauldron of hatred, bitterness, and unforgiveness down in my soul. Thanks for showing my husband the same about himself. I get to this point where I think: what next? What do I do now? How do I move farther toward complete forgiveness? And I know that all I can do is ask You to do the next thing. So, do it. Even though it’s scary. Amen.

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10 thoughts on “Walking Down Forgiveness Lane

  1. Learning to forgive is one of those things we never grow too old for.
    Forgiving our families for the ways they’ve corrupted and maimed us.
    Forgiving our friends for the ways they let us down, and maybe led us into sinful paths.
    Forgiving our churches for how they treat us.

    In those moments of sanity I remember how I have corrupted and maimed my family, let down my friends …. etc.

    That is when the cross becomes more dear…. there’s some heavy stuff on there.

  2. Oh, about heart change. I don’t know. I like the Elvis Costello line from one of the songs on the Brutal Youth album (don’t recall the title),

    “Don’t try to touch my heart,
    It’s blacker than you think.
    Don’t try to read my mind,
    Because it’s full of disappearing ink.”

    Seriously, my true answer to your question is “I don’t know.”

  3. Hello Longing & Husband,

    Funny, I’ve got a supervisor I refuse to consider my boss.

    Anyway, one of the things I’ve taken from the Joseph cycle is that bit at the end where Joseph’s brothers lie to him and say something like, “Our father, before he died, told us to tell you to take care of us.” C’mon, Joseph was not dummy, and he knew what lousy people his siblings were. His response to them indicates that he had a plan of forgiveness worked out, “I’ll see to it that you, your wives, your little ones will be protected and cared for.” Or something to that effect.

    I cannot tell you how much imaginary blood I’ve spilled or vitriol splashed rehearsing in my mind’s eye scenarios revenge, vindication, and so forth. What I get from Joseph is I can make a decision at those times to imagine an interaction wherein I do my enemy some good.

    Not long ago, a woman I despise at work was using carpet cleaner and a scrub-brush to clean stains from our facility’s main hallway (visitors from another region were scheduled that day, and she wished to impress them). She wore a low-cut blouse, and her aging, pendulous breasts were flopping about. Instead of saying to her, “Um, would you mind covering those up? It’s a little unseemly,” I said, “Here, let me do that – I’m dressed for it (on a Friday I wore jeans and a T-shirt). I still despise the woman, but when I had the opportunity to humiliate her, I was able to do something decent, instead. That’s got to be from God. I’m not that nice.

    Another thing I take away from the Sermon on the Mount is that implicit in Jesus’ teaching is the fact that their mistreatment of us is God’s way of bringing them to our attention for prayer, and our prayer for and blessing of them is God’s means of meting out blessing to them.

    So forgiveness is the one area where I can be most meaningfully Christlike. Don’t ever believe the morons who say Western Christians aren’t persecuted for their faith. It takes different forms here.

    Finally, I try to understand the evident truth of the self-evident truth that there’s probably more to the people I hate then what I hate about them.

    Just as love is not a feeling, so forgiveness isn’t about believing or telling nice lies about people we know to be evil. Hatred isn’t necessarily about a feeling, either, but about what we do or fail to do. Like love.

    Now I’m rambling.

    Pax,

    Chris

  4. I think we can all provide examples of when we’ve failed or succeeded at this enigmatic exercise called “forgiveness.” It’s a beautifully complex thing that is virtually impossible yet entirely commanded. There are lots of little quips and sayings that can help in theory, but you seem very intelligent and I bet you know them all.

    To me, the bottom line is treating it like a command from God and trusting Him to deal with it. It comes down to either trusting or not trusting God. He says He’ll take care of it and He says to let it go. If we don’t let it go, we’re not truly trusting Him. That’s how I look at it, and it helps a little. But it’s still excruciating. I mean, we’re not talking about forgiving someone for stealing your parking place… You’re right; it’s a long road.

  5. God makes me pray for the bastards, asking him to do for them exactly the sorts of things I want him to do for me, to act thoroughly in their lives leaving nothing undone, and while doing so, to act in lovingkindness and mercy. It’s the only way I can find any peace when I’m ate up with rage, bitterness, and hatred.

    It’s the only way I can be bitter but not twisted. I have to acknowledge that there’s a painful connection between me and them, but God intends it for good, and to accept that connection.

    Excrement, the only reason I even think about my enemies is because they’ve come to my attention by being my enemies. This is the truth I’ve applied (sometimes with more success than other) to my life from the stuff I’ve found in the OT Joseph cycle and Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. I take comfort in the likely fact that what Jesus told his hearers to do, he’d likely been doing himself since childhood, and probably illustrated his remarks with examples from his own life.

    Heck, I even made a youth group lesson from what I’ve learned about forgiveness but a lot of times fail to practice. God keeps populating my circumstances with people who irk the scat out of me so I can have lots of practice.

    Thanks for telling us the truth of your life,

    Chris

    Longing: Chris — I was in a foul mood doing work I have no desire to do (I finally capitulated to do a waste-of-time project for my board chariman who I refuse to call my boss, tho technically he is), then I read your comment. My husband, shocked to hear me laugh, came to take a gander, too. Loved the various scatalogical references. Shocked to read b(*&(tard! But, frankly, that is often how I feel. Now I know I am no saint and, long before now, I saw my role in some of these situations. But, here’s my question, posed for all to see your response. In praying for your enemies, do you see your heart turn (away from the bitterness)? And how?

  6. True forgiveness may be the hardest thing God asks us to do. It’s one thing to be willing to sacrifice for those that are kind for us, it’s entirely different when they actively try to harm us.

    Thanks for your honesty. I always find it encouraging when Christians actually talk about their struggles. You can’t be following God and not have problems and troubles in your life.

  7. What is hardest about being hurt by the church is the deep rooted belief that it is part of God. Therefore, it can almost feel unnatural to be mad at a church, pastor or deacon… because you are some how mad at God.

    When my wife and I went through the process of stepping out of organized ministry, it solidified the disconnect that was already occurring while I was still on staff. We were different and that didn’t fit. We were rejected because of who we became in God and yet it felt like God was rejecting us.

    Once we were able to make the distinction that the organized religious establishment wasn’t God (something we knew in our head, but not in our heart), the level of emotion began to lessen.

    It ended up being people who were rejecting people. Beliefs that were rejecting beliefs. And whether God was pleased or not, He wasn’t rejecting us and we weren’t rejecting Him.

    Two years removed from full-time ministry, it was the best thing and forgiveness has become easier. Last thought. Forgiveness doesn’t mean agreeing either. I think the Organized Religious Establishment stands to face great judgment, but that is their choice and this is ours.

    May God bless them. But that doesn’t mean we have to obey, agree or condone what they do.

    Thanks for visiting my blog!

    Longing: Thank YOU for stopping by. Piggybacking on what you said: I think my doubts came, in part, because I had seen God via the church and the church had turned on me. I realize now (and it’s discussed in my “doubt” series) that the only true measure of God is His visible expression in Jesus Christ. I have to continually return to the cross in order to recalibrate…

  8. L,

    It’s been almost a year since my church went through the same exercise of forgiveness that you described. When members of my church got up to participate, I thought it actually turned out to be of help, people were confronting their “enemies” with face to face confessions etc;.

    During this time, I had put myself through about 6 months of spiritual and mental torture. I say myself because regardless of what transgressions (true or not) that I perceived, the simple fact is that I was allowing the pain by holding onto the associated hurts. At the time, forgiveness seemed way more difficult than to actually give grace.

    The concept of God extending His grace to me though I don’t deserve it is what helped me to understand, why I had to forgive. What I did was to take God’s grace as it applied to myself, then ask the question:

    How is it that you expect to call yourself a Christian, a child of God,a new creation, yet you do not extend the same grace that God has extended to you?”

    True enough, forgiveness is not an easy road. One doesn’t wake one day saying “All’s forgiven” then “magically” get over the pain that accompanies the offense, nor forgets.

    I will say however that looking back over the past year, it’s gotten easier day by day as I’ve submitted to the Lord, crucifying my flesh moment by moment. Everyday isn’t peachy, but their not the pits either, even when Satan tries to get me with a mental jab (reminder).

    Anywho… I wish you the best in conquering this struggle.

    2nd Corinthians 5:17
    Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.

    Grace… and peace be with you. 😉

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