“The earth is a forgiveness school,” Anne Lamott says.
A few years ago I sought out to major in forgiveness – to do a deep dive in all things forgiveness, as an enneagram 5 does on any topic of inquiry. I needed to learn forgiveness because I desperately needed to learn how to forgive my husband.
I remember the moment it hit me.
That, while I did need to find it in me to move toward forgiveness for my husband, he wasn’t the only one I needed to forgive.
When I began studying forgiveness, it didn’t take long at all for God to show me that I first needed to finally forgive the church. This realization hit me like a thousand bricks when it occurred to me that I had been harboring unforgiveness toward the big C church and the little c church – the church of my childhood – for years and years and years and my own unforgiveness had turned me into someone I no longer recognized. I had become a slave to my unforgiveness.
That became clear when, as I was studying forgiveness, I read these verses Hebrews 12:14-15 “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”
I was a bitter root.
Me… me! A bitter root.
It was so clear. I didn’t even need to argue with God when he held up that mirror.
And not only was I continuing to defile my own self with my unforgiveness, I was defiling everyone in my life. Including my family. Including my husband. Including our marriage.
My husband needed to own his decisions, his choices. The hurt he had caused.
And I too realized I had to take responsibility for the hurt I had caused. They were very different. But both required repentance. Both required forgiveness.
I want to pause for a moment and make note that I don’t see forgiveness as a one and done event, not for us anyways. The phrase, to forgive, after all, is an active present verb. It’s not past tense. It’s present. It’s ongoing. It’s a process.
And that’s what I want to say to those who may be thinking – but I’m not ready to forgive. I don’t know if anyone is ever ready to forgive. I do think that we can begin walking toward forgiveness without being ready to forgive. And that’s not for anyone other than for our own selves.
I also remember the very moment I recognized that choosing to forgive the church was starting to change me. It was liberating me. I was listening to a woman on a podcast who was truly experiencing and living out God’s calling in her life, she was exuding a pure joy as she shared about how God was moving and using her. And rather than rolling my eyes, defaulting to cynicism as I might have done in the past, I felt a spirit inside of me sharing in her joy, in her gratitude, her expectation…and her belief. I wasn’t triggered by the Christian-speak I had once grown weary with that sometimes would lead to anger and bitterness. I wasn’t jealous of an apparently pure and uncomplicated faith. I was…joyful. I recognized a shift in my heart. I recognized…fruit.
“Behold I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
Yes, God. I see what you’re doing now.
I tell you this story because I would like to see us do more forgiving and repenting in community.
Could you imagine? Public displays of forgiveness. Public displays of repentance? Could you imagine the undoing of our pride? Could you imagine the humility? Could you imagine how God would use that to change hearts? Could you imagine the collective healing?
If our unforgiveness is isolating us from a community, from a church, that is life-giving, then the person we are hurting most by refusing to walk through forgiveness is ourselves. And chances are – if we are hurting, we are probably hurting the people we love too.
I can’t take away your hurt. And choosing forgiveness will not erase your past, and it certainly won’t erase your pain – not immediately anyways – but it can and will begin healing it.
Friends: Find your fellow forgiveness school-mates. Take turns discipling. Take turns leading. Take turns resting. We weren’t meant to do it all or carry all the burdens alone, but y’all – we can do so much more, and do it healthy, when we’re in community with other healthy people. Forgiveness school should be a group project.
Forgiving the church and some of its leaders remains a daily spiritual practice for me. And yet, even though I am walking out in my forgiveness of the church, I will continue to insist the church be a more effective force of hope and peace and healing for the entire Body of Christ, not just a small fraction of it. Forgiveness does not mean I must ignore or become apathetic to institutional sin, or spiritual abuse. Forgiveness does not mean lack of accountability. I do believe that my forgiveness allows for me to be a healthier Christian who can be used by God in holding their church accountable for the things done that are not of God.
Consider who you need to forgive.
Consider how it might feel to forgive.
Ask Jesus to take the burden of unforgiveness from you.
Now let’s respond to a forgiving God who is kind and gentle with us, who makes all things new.
Lectio Divina is an ancient liturgical practice for praying the scriptures. It is a Latin phrase that means “sacred reading.” It is a way of praying and listening for the still, small voice of God speaking through gentle reading or listening of scripture. Lectio Divina has also been known as “listening with the ear of the heart.”
As you settle into a place of loving openness, in a posture or position to listen more deeply, I’m going to read from Psalm 140 three times. After each reading, there will be a moment of silence.
In this first reading from Psalm 140, listen for a word or a phrase that draws your attention.
In this second reading, consider how this passage touches your life today.
In this third reading of the scripture, consider if there is an invitation for you in this coming week.
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.
Blessed is the one
who trusts in the Lord,
who does not look to the proud,
to those who turn aside to false gods.
Many, Lord my God,
are the wonders you have done,
the things you planned for us.
None can compare with you;
were I to speak and tell of your deeds,
they would be too many to declare.
A terrible sinner, who hurt and abused his people
And yet, a man after your own heart
Draw us back back to you.
Set us free from our broken hearts, our jealous hearts, our bitter hearts
You have already released us from the burden of our sin
May you release us also from the burden of our unforgiveness
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