Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?"
Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."
In the recent passing of writer, speaker, and advocate for human rights, Maya Angelou, our nation mourns. We have lost a voice which spoke with wisdom, compassion, and honesty. A voice which dared to utter the words of Jesus and not, for one moment, apologize for her belief. A writer who transcended race and cultural issues to speak to and inspire us all.
Facebook, on the day Ms. Angelou dies, is teeming with quotes, photos, and memories of this beloved woman. It is through one of these that I find the picture used above. It prompts me to write about a subject I haven't mentioned nearly enough here: The grave importance of and the absolute necessity for forgiveness.
If you attend a traditional church service, chances are the Lord's Prayer is a staple in your worship experience. "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." How many of us recite those words, following familiar ritual, but never take them to heart? My guess? Too many of us!
What can we do to up the ante? To learn to forgive as Jesus forgave us when we were yet sinners? (Romans 5:8)
From my own life experience, I share my take on the stages of forgiveness:
- Forgive? Heck, no! You hurt me in a way I didn't deserve! How dare you? Suffer the same suffering you place on me!
- Forget? Oh, I'll never forget your stab in the back and your false accusations against me. You hurt me beyond belief. I truly want to hurt you back!
- Forgive? Maybe, I need to understand where you're coming from. I need to understand why I'm reacting this way . . .
- Forget? No, I'll remember for a lifetime, but not with the same urgency and presence. It will all become a memory. Not a good one, but a memory nonetheless.
- Forgive? The Lord tells me I should forgive you. It's so hard! The pain lingers . . . I'm weary, frustrated, and confused . . .
- Forget? I wish I could take those memories and trash them, never to relive them again. You hurt me. You judged me unfairly. I know this in my heart. Do you know it in yours?
- Forgive? Jesus tells me to forgive others, including you, as He has forgiven me. It's so difficult. But, finally I pray that forgiveness of you will manifest in my heart.
- Forget? The memories are fading! Thanks be to God!
- Forgive? As it offers healing to others, it offers, in its gracious turn, healing for me.
To live an unforgiving life is to live outside the presence of Christ Jesus. He knows what we need to bring closure and peace to our troubled lives. He lived as one of us to experience all the roller coaster rides we encounter in this unpredictable, in-need-of-forgiveness journey we share.
He longs for us to live in His Spirit.
He wants us to forgive and forget . . .
Are you somewhere caught up in the stages of forgiveness and forgetting? May our Lord, Jesus, guide you every step of the way!
Prayer: Father God, You sent in all generosity and humility Your only Son, Christ Jesus, to die upon a cross for the forgiveness of our sins. Can we not find it in our hearts, souls, and minds to forgive others? When we are feeling hurt, filled with pride and self-righteousness, quell our impulses to be hateful. Substitute them with Your love. Help us to know that only through forgiveness will we find Your perfect peace. In Jesus' name, amen.