Monday, November 28, 2011

I forgave you a long time ago...


"I forgave you a long time ago..."

I pray that I never forget those words as long as I live. They were a gift spoken by a friend I had hurt, unintentionally, by my words many months before. It had taken me some time to recognize the offense I had caused, some more time to accept that she had a reason to feel offended, some more time to stop building arguments in my defense, and some more time still before love won out and I worked up the courage to seek forgiveness. I dreaded her rejection. I feared this treasured relationship would be lost forever.

But instead of the rejection I feared, she gave me this gift. She not only forgave me, she loved me, and continued on as though the whole episode was barely worth mention, nothing but a little bump on the road to the continued sweet fellowship and mutual encouragement we had always shared. There are many things I may before have considered to be marks of true godliness, but I none can hold a candle to this:

"I forgave you a long time ago..."

The fear of being unforgiven looms large in my life. It is at the root of all the depression and fear I've ever experienced. I've lived much of my life in the sometimes-paralyzing fear that I will offend, and with the ultimate dread that I won't be forgiven when I do. Experience has given me good reason for this fear. I never set out to be offensive. On the contrary, I try my best to be kind. But no matter how hard I try to do right by my friends, I still manage to sin against them and cause them pain. I've proven myself very good at offending, and though at times I've pleaded with tears, I have had forgiveness withheld and relationships lost.

As a result, over the decades I developed ways of coping with this fear - ungodly ways. One of the first instincts of my mind is to get busy building a case against the one who feels offended, and a case in defense of myself. It is easy to make excuses for myself - I'm naturally inclined to be on my side. It is easy to blame my friend for taking offense when none was intended. It is always easy to divert blame, because we are all sinners. Since that ancient day when mankind fell, there has been as much blame to go around as there has been sin. As a fallen woman I've certainly spread my share of both sin and blame, but I've found that none of my blame-shifting can keep me from shuddering when I am reminded of the words of Christ: 
"...if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." Mt. 6:14-15
God's rejection is the deepest of all my fears; His forgiveness is my deepest need. My heart's greatest desire and hope for joy is to be loved and accepted by Him. This gets to the heart of why I finally became a Christian, and now that I am I find in myself this impossible yearning to be like Christ, to be loved by Him and to love like He does. But I also find that this soft and still-growing heart He has given me is at loggerheads with the survival instincts of my old, cold, defensive, hardhearted, and unforgiving self.

As I take this struggle to prayer, His Holy Spirit reminds me of the words of Scripture:
"For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive,
And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You." Ps. 86:5
"Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." Eph. 4:32

 "I forgave you a long time ago..."

God forgave me in Christ long, long ago....long before I had ever sinned...long before I even considered repenting...long before I was even born.  God's forgiveness is in Christ ready and waiting for me.
"...as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive." Col. 3:13b
And just how has the Lord forgiven me?  I sinned against Him in countless ways.  He absorbed my many offenses along with all the hurt and insult of them - the ones I've repented of, and all the rest: the ones I don't even remember, or recognize, or realize I've committed - and carried them to the cross where they died with Him.  He did all this to open the door of reconciliation with God, and there He stands waiting, even calling to me to come to Him...

"I forgave you a long time ago..."

So much like Christ, my friend had forgiveness ready and waiting for me when I came looking for it!  In bold living strokes she painted for me a portrait of God's love, more powerful than sin, tenderly welcoming the sinner who comes sorrowfully to Him. My friend gave me love; she gave me forgiveness; she gave me hope, she gave me the Gospel.

She held open for me the door of reconciliation. No realization has ever has such a profound effect on me.  God wants us to forgive others as He forgives us. Only when we do, can we truly get at the heart of what it means, really means, to be a Christian.
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." 2 Cor. 5:17-21
God is not counting our trespasses against us! He is holding open the door for reconciliation, and He is calling us to do the same. This is the person God is calling me to be. This is God's will for my life. By His grace I want nothing more than for now and evermore to be ready and eager to forgive, to admit when I've offended and be quick to apologize; to build no more cases and no more defenses; to rehearse no more wrongs and to hold no more grudges; to let nothing in my heart stand in the way of forgiveness; to put no stumbling block in the way of God's grace; to allow no root of bitterness to spring up; to forgive in advance those who cannot or will not forgive me; to be ready for relationship if ever they are; and to always share and never lose the freedom, joy, and peace with God that the gift of forgiveness has given me.

May I always be ready to say from the depth of my heart, "I forgave you a long time ago."

7 comments:

simplemann said...

Wow, timely post Laurie. I had a long open-heart surgery type discussion with a dear friend of mine just a few hours ago on this very topic. Forgiveness is probably one of the most gracious gifts we could ever give another person, but there truly are times when giving this gift requires a miracle in the heart of the "giver." When someone has been hurt deeply and/or repeatedly by another person, especially one who was supposed to love and protect them (a parent, a spouse, a pastor, or a teacher for example), following both the command and the example of our Lord Jesus can seem almost impossible. There are some sins that are easy to forgive. There are others that quite honestly require an act of God.
When it comes to the latter, forgiveness only occurs when you you can surrender and carry the pain (as well as the blame that an offender may justly deserve) to the cross of Christ. It is one thing to take your sins against someone else to the Lord and seek forgiveness. It is another entirely to take someone else's sins against *you* to Jesus and ask for forgiveness on their behalf. Yet, I think that in a very real sense, to do so is to experience a union with Christ and to really "give the Gospel" (as you so aptly put it) to someone else.

One more thing before I go... You mentioned that heart-shaking warning in Matthew 6:14-15. I think there is a flip-side passage that is equally as startling in John 20:23. The Matthew verse applies to "me" and my relationship with God. Here Jesus is telling "me" that I need to forgive others of their trespasses against me if I want to receive the forgiveness from God that I so desperately need. In John 20:23, Jesus says to those who have just received His Spirit and are being sent into the world, "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld." That, I think, is every bit as unsettling as the verse in Matthew... that my unwillingness to forgive someone else might not just cost me the forgiveness I so desperately need (Matthew 6), but potentially withhold the forgiveness someone else so desperately needs (John 20) is quite impacting.

Thanks for this post!

Blessings,
"Simple Mann"

Laurie M. said...

Thanks "Simple Mann". Having found myself in both places at many points in my life - the one offending/hurting and the one being offended/hurt, I agree with you wholeheartedly. It is especially difficult when the sin against you is in some way ongoing and even more-so if it is un-repented of. I find that recognition of my own sin and my own need for forgiveness helps me to forgive others. I have been a very great sinner in my life. I feel in my heart that I have no right to withhold from others what I have so freely been given. I, too, have been thinking some about that other unsettling verse in Matthew which you mention. Troubling indeed.

morganguyton said...

There's a way in which that realization was my final conversion to Christianity (I've had about four), when I understood that I didn't have to apologize every time I sinned for Jesus to forgive me but He simply forgave me and I could either accept it or not.

Laurie M. said...

Morgan, I understand quite well when you say "final conversion", having had a few myself. It is an important realization, the one you mention. He forgives me. I apologize anyway, when I realize what I've done that is. But so many sins and "attitudes" fall through the cracks of my notice. I'm so grateful he doesn't count them against me. My ongoing prayer and challenge now is to be that way toward others - not counting their sins against them. Thanks for stopping by!

Laurie M. said...

This morning I awoke with the exhortation of the Apostle John on my mind, so I'll add it to my previous thought: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Therefore I do continue to confess them as they become apparent to me. This keeps me ever aware and thankful of His ongoing work of sanctification in my life.

Carol said...

I just read your gracious words about the situation with the "Pearl Incident" and thought that you expressed yourself wonderfully. How very sad this situation is for all involved.

Laurie M. said...

Yes, Carol, it is incredibly sad. Thank you so much for taking the time to leave some kind words here.