For the last couple of weeks I have been working quite intently on a talk I will be giving at the Shalom program that I am a part of in Duluth at St. Scholastica. The title of the talk is “Forgiveness, reunion and inner healing.” In my reflection I have come to several surprises. First of all, I am so thankful for the grace of God in my life, allowing me to live a “lifestyle of forgiveness.” I never fully realized what a gift this has been in my life. It has not always been easy. But God in his mercy has given me grace to be a “forgiving” person. Secondly, I have learned some new things about forgiveness that I never fully comprehend in the past. I regret this being true. Thirdly, I realize more then ever how any people I have known over the years who do not live in the freedom of forgiveness.
In this post I want to mention two new insights I have gained as I reflected on my own journey of forgiveness. First, I have not been truly honest with myself about the anger I have felt when I have been wronged. But now I realize that before I can truly forgive I have to admit the depth of my hurt. Lewis Smedes ( his books have helped me a lot) observes, “Getting us to be egocentric is the job pain is supposed to do. We need to be on top of our pain before we can get ourselves to do some good to the person who causes it.” I need to say to myself, “that hurt and I am angry.” Then I forgive. Secondly, forgiveness is the fairest thing I can do for myself. Why? I have two choice: forgive or seek vengeance – wanting to get even. But I can never bring closure to vengeance. The offended and offender never weigh pain on the same scale. One will always be behind in the exchange of pain. Only forgiveness gives any future fairness a chance. “Forgiving is the only way for the victim to stop the grinding wheel of unfairness to him or herself. It is the only way to move beyond the lingering pains of the past a person will not allow to die. It is the only way to escape the unfairness of bondage to a bad past.” (Smedes). This is possible because I acknowledge the pain and the injustice and then turn it over to God. I let go of the person and my pain.
I am impressed with the realization that there are so many people who live unhappy lives because they have not forgiven the offenses of the past. In not forgiving, a person is chained as it were to the past. They cannot let it go. They chew on their hurt and stoke it with anger. The past is a sore that just will not go away. This clouds the future. With the pain of the past in one’s life, there is little hope for a bright future. The ability to live in the present moment is lost . As a result many live unhappy lives because of unforgiveness. The present can not be fully enjoyed because of the chains of the past and the dark clouds of the future. Forgiveness releases a person into freedom. As Smedes said, “You set a prisoner free, but you discover that the real prisoner was yourself.”
I know that I will always be tested in the area of forgiveness. But I can say that as of today I live in the freedom of forgiveness. It has not been easy. There has been some real pain. At times I have not wanted to give up the pain, wanting rather to nurse my wounds in self-pity. But the more I have been able to let go and forgive the more freedom I have had in personal relationships. I call it living with a “lifestyle of forgiveness.” There are people in my life that I have to continually forgive. God gives me grace to “keep on keeping on.” I pray also for grace when I am “ambushed” in the future. I pray that each man who is reading this post, will be committed to a “lifestyle of forgiving.” You will have to face some real pain at times. Pain that comes from a wounded heart. But the freedom that is given when we live in forgiveness by God’s grace is a wonderful gift.