Please welcome Redbud Writer Dorothy Greco as a guest writer on Kindling today. I love what she has to say about forgiveness.
True confession: I was venting, maybe even railing, yesterday during the time I had set aside to be still and try to connect with God. Due to some unfortunate and protracted circumstances, I feel backed against a concrete wall with no visible form of egress. And I’ve been in this position for too many months to count.
As I was detailing my complaints and the impossibility of the situation to God, I lofted a simple question in his general direction, “What do you want me to do?” God’s response? “Forgive them.” (For those of you who don’t buy the possibility of connecting to God in this way, I realize that sharing this dialogue may damage my credibility. Hold off on coming to any negative conclusions until you read through to the end. Then, feel free.)
In the gospel of Matthew, Peter inquires of Jesus, “How many times shall I forgive my brother or sister when they sin against me? Seven time?” I’m certain that Peter assumed others would find him quite magnanimous for his suggestion. Jesus multiplies Peter’s figure by 70. A shocking number given its application.
My husband and I have been married for more than 20 years now. I don’t think we would have lasted more than two if we did not admit our mistakes and forgive each other. We tend to be quick to do so, fully understanding that delays potentially widen the chasm between us. Over the course of these 20+ years, we have probably each wronged and forgiven one another at least 490 times.
It’s really not that remarkable because we always (well mostly always) admit when we have failed one another and ask each other for the gift of forgiveness. Given the current mess, I find myself wondering, did Jesus leave any loopholes for situations where the one who wrongs me fails to see or admit their mistakes?
The process of forgiving someone does not deny that an offense was perpetrated, even though that’s how modernity most often views it. Many years ago, I had an assignment to photograph a top executive. His assistant repeatedly communicated, “You will only have 15 minutes with him. You have to be completely ready when he walks in the door.” Being the obedient type, I was ready and promptly waited for more than an hour. He waltzed in and breezily said, “Sorry for being late.”
Normally, when we find ourselves in such predicaments, we try to make the offender feel better by saying, “That’s OK,” even though normally it isn’t OK. Since he had inconvenienced me, I sincerely responded, “I forgive you.” Dead silence. Then he narrowed his eyes and nearly hissed, “Who gave you the power to forgive me?” I balked. Was he inviting a theological debate or asking a rhetorical question? I ventured in and humbly explained that I believed Jesus gives us authority to extend forgiveness when someone hurts or wounds us. And then I apologized if my beliefs offended him – he was Jewish after all. He softened and miraculously, the shoot went well.
By dropping the charges against those who have sinned against us, we are not excusing their actions, minimizing the damages, or as many fear, opening ourselves up to further mistreatment. We actually go on the offensive, spiritually speaking, when we choose to cancel the offender’s debt particularly when the other refuses to see that their actions or words have stung, or in some cases, drawn blood.
Un-forgiveness is like a land mine. The anger, frustration, hurt, and confusion all serve as explosives packed tightly together with a short fuse. One false move and we all blow. (It’s messy but does have moments of carnal satisfaction!) I’m not proud to admit that I sometimes find excuses for not forgiving. I feel somehow justified because, after all, THEY wronged me! Jesus doesn’t seem to share my perspective. In his economy, holding onto wrongs ultimately leads to death via bitterness, health issues1, and fractured relationships. Not great options.
Conversely, forgiveness disarms the mines. Forgiveness lifts us above the fray and permits us to gain objectivity and sometimes, even empathy for the one who has wounded us. In light of this, I would be a fool to resist God’s directive. Perhaps the suggestion to forgive was his way of dropping a ladder over the concrete walls that have become my prison. Though it would be infinitely more satisfying to have the ones who wounded me at the top of the wall, extending their hands to help me over, I can’t wait for them. Hand over hand, I’m climbing out.
Dorothy Greco is an extraordinary photographer who also writes. She lives with her husband and three sons outside Boston. You can see more of her beautiful work at http://www.dorothygrecophotography.com/
1 According to an article in the January 2004 issue of Harvard Women’s Health Watch, forgiving those who hurt you can improve your mental and physical wellbeing. http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/power_of_forgiveness and from the Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/forgiveness/MH00131
Photo by Dorothy Greco