Forgiving As You Have Been Forgiven
Years ago, I had a conflict with a church member and youth group volunteer who was spreading lies about me both in the church and in our community. When the truth came out, and she knew that she had been exposed, she never returned to the church.
For several months, I did my best to try to arrange meetings, sent her emails, called and left voice messages on her phone and even sent her a written letter pleading with her to speak with me so we could be reconciled. She never responded.
I eventually grew angry at her and stayed angry for a long time. She'd done a lot of damage to my ministry and had done her best to divide our church. Further, because of her unwillingness to work it out, the bad feelings between us simply festered.
I don't remember when exactly, but I eventually found myself feeling sorry for her. Because of her shame over being caught in a lie, she'd lost her church family, her community support, and the ministry she loved.
Bob Goff recently wrote, "Shame does that to us. It makes us leave safe places. It breaks the rhythms we've established with each other."
What I came to learn through that difficult season was that even though I wasn't able to be reconciled with my former church member (because reconciliation requires both parties to be all in), I could still forgive her.
I read this great essay today by Johann Christoph Arnold who said of forgiveness:
"Forgiving is not ignoring wrongdoing, but overcoming the evil inside of us and in our world with love...Christ wants us to use our hands, wounded as they may be, to extend his forgiveness to the world."
The question that each of us needs to ask ourselves is when we extend our own wounded hands will they be clenched in stubbornness or open in vulnerable love? Will we be able to offer forgiveness even when that forgiveness doesn't lead to reconciliation?
The Apostle Paul answers these questions in his letter to the church at Ephesus when he says:
"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other as Christ has forgiven you."May you find the strength to forgive today and every day after. May your hands be open and welcoming to those who are shamed. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.