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Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

Neuralizer1My 91 year old father-in-law suffers from dementia. Beneath his confusion, he’s still the kind, selfless soul he’s always been, a man whose polite manners and devotion to God are still evident even in his befuddled state. He’s unable to grasp that he lives in a care home. Most of the time, he thinks he’s on a ship, in a church, or waiting at a bus station. People walking past are characters in a TV show. But ask him about specific battles of WW2, or which heads of state were meeting to discuss a peace treaty, or what king ruled Great Britain in the 800s, and he can tell you real history in surprisingly accurate detail. I know–I have to Google most topics on my phone as he talks just to keep up–and he’s right.

His ability to remember history, whether it be World, American, or his own, is stronger the farther back we go. Present events are beyond his ability to grasp. Perhaps, as a form of blessing, his mind retains what it wants to remember and blocks out what it doesn’t.

I don’t know how dementia works. And I don’t know why we remember some things and forget others. In my case, this is usually to my dismay. I find it distressing that I can remember hurtful words, but can’t remember all the cute things my children said as toddlers. I’d prefer it the other way around.

We remember the bad so well (or maybe I’m the only one?). I suppose the biblical notion of forgiving AND forgetting is too foreign to our human nature. We are so good at remembering the mistakes of others—especially if those mistakes affected us.

But the Bible says that when God forgives, he also forgets.

Do you find that notion hard to grasp? As in, God, I’m really grateful that you’ve forgiven me, but you aren’t really going to forget about that, are you? You’re God, you know everything. How can you forget what I did? What she did? What he did?

In my upcoming novel, The Memoir of Johnny Devine, John wishes the infamy of his Hollywood years could disappear. Even more, he wishes people could forget his past and see him in a new light, the light of God’s redeeming grace. But getting people to completely forget each other’s mistakes isn’t easy. In fact, I don’t know if it’s possible.

If only those nifty memory neutralizers Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith used in Men In Black were available. (!)

If you’ve ever made a mistake, or worse, made a full-blown career of sin, and later repented to God, who forgives and forgets, how do you face people who will never forget? God can throw our sin into the sea of forgetfulness, so why can’t people?

We can’t. Period. Past mistakes linger like a permanent stain in our minds. John (and we) can’t do anything about those stains. But perhaps there is use for them. Perhaps the memory we can’t erase can serve a beautiful purpose.

Perhaps the light of Grace shines all the brighter when held against darkness.

Perhaps hope is far sweeter when offered to the truly hopeless.

Perhaps God’s likeness growing more evident in a once-ugly life is the most stunning beauty of all to behold.

Perhaps…if we can’t erase the stain, we can use it to stir compassion in our hearts for others and pray they find the same hope of forgiveness AND forgetfulness we have found.

Perhaps.

JDmemes7

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girl cage freeI find myself holding grudges, though I don’t mean to.

Okay, what that really means is that I know I shouldn’t, but that doesn’t stop me.

Do you have trouble holding grudges, either consciously or unconsciously? Does it matter whether or not harm was meant?

Should it matter?

How do we judge the actions and motives of others? Do we take circumstances outside our knowledge into account, such as the person’s background or current circumstances? Or do we, without hesitation, view every offense as an intentional injury? We are wired via human nature to hold others accountable. We feel it’s our right, even our duty. After all, people shouldn’t get away with doing that, not to us or anyone else.

In my upcoming novel, Like There’s No Tomorrow, the hero, Ian, faces his longstanding mortal hatred for a man who wronged and wounded him deeply. Ian can’t let go of his bitterness, and understandably. After all, he’s human. Humans are self-preserving. We are wired for survival. This is logical. We are logical.

But God is often not logical, and is, in fact, the God of Irony, as I have learned and am reminded again and again. A few examples:

  • But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matt 5:44)
  • Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse. (Rom 12:14)
  • Vengeance is mine. (not yours) (Rom 12:19)

God’s ways are too often incomprehensible, too often unnatural to our way of thinking. Perhaps unnatural because He is supernatural. To align ourselves with the supernatural (and God-illogical) requires an uncomfortable amount of surrender and blind faith.

In this above-mentioned story, Emily, the heroine, suggests that Ian try praying for the man who wronged him. After all, she says, what can it hurt?

Is it possible to be free from bitterness and feel only compassion for the one who hurt you?

I bared my soul over a similar situation in THIS POST. No, you’re right, it’s no coincidence that a real-life experience ended up in my novel. Art has an interesting way of imitating life (or is it the other way around?).

I hope you will get a chance to read the book and keep the miracle that inspired that part of the story in mind. If you do, I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts.

Q: Have you ever prayed for an enemy? If so, what happened?

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I recently read a quietly deep, beautifully written novel called Some Wildflower In My Heart (Bethany House Publishers, 1998) by Jamie Langston Turner. The story is told by Margaret, a deeply wounded woman who has spent decades closed off to love, relationships, and especially God. She ensures distance from others by being cold and unapproachable. Yet In spite of her brusque demeanor, she finds herself the recipient of the persistently kind, friendly attentions of a woman named Birdie with an inexhaustible capacity for love.

In the real world, anyone behaving like Margaret is sure to go to their grave friendless. But because one woman’s love for Jesus flows like an underground spring and touches everyone she meets, there may be hope for Margaret.

I try to imagine myself being persistently gracious and kind to someone who continually rejects the kindness. I can’t really see it. Could you? Would anyone you know continue to show acceptance and grace to someone continually cold and unresponsive?

What’s intriguing about this story is that it is told in Margaret’s point of view. If I were only able to observe Margaret’s outward behavior, I wouldn’t be interested in her story. But her thoughts tell a very different tale. What Margaret is only telling the reader is that she was inexplicably drawn to this kind woman. And that drawing rattled her. She tells how Birdie’s gentle, persistent love eventually broke past Margaret’s cold shell and brought warmth to the painful, neglected places in her heart.

After reading about Birdie, the phrase “Love keeps no record of wrongs” keeps coming to mind. I wonder if I could be anything like her, always quick to forgive the thoughtless words or deeds of others. Why don’t I simply turn the other cheek when someone is thoughtless or unkind?

Maybe it’s an accounting mentality. We are wired to keep accounts of what others have done. This is so typically human, isn’t it?

Please tell me it’s not just me.

Love keeps no record of wrongs.

Would Jesus go to God and complain about me behind my back? Would he criticize me for the mistakes I make (which are…ahem…numerous)? Avoid me when he sees me coming?

No. And not because I don’t deserve it.

Love keeps no record of wrongs.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails . . . And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:4-13

Faith, Hope, Love.

The Bible says that without faith, it’s impossible to please God. And humans need hope in order to thrive. But according to this scripture, the greatest of all life’s needs is love. This kind of love. The selfless, unfailing, “unoffendable” kind.

Can I really love this way? I mean, is it possible?

Maybe it helps to remember that since I am in Christ, there’s no “tally sheet” or file being kept on me. God keeps no record of my sins. Because of Christ in me, when God looks at me, he sees no offense, harbors no grudges.

Perhaps likewise, because of Christ at work both in me (his life-changing power) and for me (clothing me in his righteousness), I too can look at others and forget their offenses. Hold nothing over their heads. Give them a new clean slate every day.

The love of Christ keeps no record of wrongs. With his help, we can do it. And it seems only fair, since this—the way of grace—is how God (thank you, Jesus!) deals with our offensiveness.

Just my thoughts. What are yours?

Q: Do you desire the kind of love that keeps no record of wrongs?

 

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Last week, I shared the story of how my ability to forgive an offender required an uncomfortable lesson in praying for him. No. I don’t mean praying for an eighteen-wheeler to accidentally park on his head, but praying for good. Sincere, eternal good.

But forgiving one long-held grudge hasn’t made me a graduate of the school of forgiveness. Since we don’t live under a rock (or perhaps I should speak for myself), the offenses and frustrating behaviors of others will continue to affect our lives. From injuries that wound so deeply they leave twisted scars that forever alter us, to the feather-ruffling annoyances that pass soon enough, to those repeat offenses that scratch the skin just enough to draw little beads of blood, day after day.

Recognize any of those?

And yet, I know I’m not perfect. I may live in a fantasy world sometimes (it’s okay, I’m a novelist) but I’m not delusional. I am well aware that I have my moments. What polite name should we give them? Hiccups? Bad hair days? Stress?

It’s important for me to be honest about this stuff, because once in a while, my temptation to hold a grudge over an offense is coupled with a humbling reminder that I’m no one to judge. I am guilty of making mistakes. I sometimes act thoughtlessly. Speak critically.

Offend.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32) 

Just as.

Over the years, I’ve studied and pondered this line Jesus gave us in The Lord’s Prayer,

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors . . .”

I’ve found myself challenged by a little blink-and-you-miss-it two-letter word:

As.

What if that phrase “forgive us as we have forgiven” doesn’t mean while, as I’d always assumed, but in the same way? What if God were to only forgive me of my mistakes and sins in the same way and in the same measure that I forgive others?

“But some people are such jerks,” you mutter beneath your breath. (Don’t deny it, I heard you.) I completely agree! I have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness without being abused or disrespected or belittled. Or scammed. Cut off in traffic. Cheated. Lied about. Hurt.

I have the right to protect myself from harm.

I have rights!

But Jesus (if you’ve been around a bit, you knew a “But God” was coming) had rights too—full rights to the very throne of heaven as the Son of God, Prince of Peace, King of Kings. He had the right to be honored and revered and adored, to receive loyalty and total allegiance.

Yet he gave up those rights and walked resolutely through our decaying world of sin, pain, evil, suffering, abuse, offense—the worst those jerks we could throw down. Turning the other cheek. Enduring the scourging. Taking the nails. Because he had a single, unwavering purpose in mind.

Grace.

To demonstrate through both his life and his death the beauty of God’s immense, holy grace.

And I need that grace just as much as—

No. I was going to say “as much as the next person,” but who am I to judge?

A group of guys in John 8 were so offended at one woman’s sin that they gathered rocks intending to stone her to death. Justice was called for, according to the law, and they were prepared to deliver. Until Jesus interrupted them and said,

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Then, after he wrote something in the sand that sent each of her accusers running:

Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,”Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

I don’t know what Jesus wrote in the sand, but I do know I have no business throwing stones. Am I without sin? Maybe I’m not guilty of the same evil as the one offending me, but can I honestly stand with stone in hand ready to demand justice as though I have never been guilty of offending my gracious Lord?

The double barrels of Judgment and Justice that I aim at an offender could spin a one-eighty and aim their sights on me. I’d best not even pick it up. Besides, vigilante justice (bitterness, criticalness, grudge-holding) taken into my own hands never satisfies any laws; it just creates more sin.

It’s not easy, yet I must leave justice with God, in whose hands I find no grudge-holding, no stones for exacting justice, only the grace and mercy in Christ that I need.

. . . because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13)

Gracious Lord, please fill my hands to overflowing with your grace until there’s no room left for stones.

Which is harder: Forgiving the offenses of others, or admitting your own?

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A few years ago, I caught myself using the term “Step Dork” to describe an ex-stepdad.

If you think that’s bad, you should’ve heard some of the more colorful nicknames I’d coined for him during his reign in my life. But after I became a Christian, I worked hard to curb the toxic snark that had long flowed fluently from my tongue. The kind of stuff I’d learned from him, actually.

Poetic justice and all.

It wasn’t like I hadn’t forgiven the man. Jesus says to forgive, so, obedient young saint that I was, I did. (That muffled coughing sound you just heard was the chuckle of an older, wiser, grace-saved sinner.) Being the bigger person, I Let It Go. Of course, I never wanted to see his face again. Ever. Forgiving your enemies doesn’t mean you have to like them.

Because that’d be pushing it.

During his time in my life, I ricocheted between hating him and hating myself. Later, as a new Christian, I understood forgiveness to mean giving no more thought or credence to the guy who had shattered my already wobbly self-esteem. At “dismissal” forgiveness, I had succeeded. But, since I’d come so far, I figured I deserved to indulge in a little harmless sarcasm once in a while. It kept the memories from bubbling up.

And yet, using the term “Step-Dork” decades later made me realize I had neither forgiven nor forgotten. I still hated him. Any time his name came up, I responded with scathing remarks that trickled from my stagnant reservoir of bitterness. No matter what I professed in my well-meant but foundering attempts at obedience, anyone could see that I had not forgiven him at all.

The Spirit of Christ nudged me to do something about it. So I prayed for help and looked to God’s word for guidance. The Bible says to forgive as God forgives us. It says to not only forgive those who offend us, but also to pray for our enemies.

Fabulous.

So I began to pray for him. Things like, “Lord, I hope he’s not being a creep to anyone else now.” And, “Make him know how much he hurt me, how I needed a good dad and how he totally let me down.” Okay, maybe a checklist of his sins and all the ways he needed to change wasn’t exactly what God wanted from me, but I wasn’t about to ask God to bless him—that would be like rewarding evil. God surely didn’t expect me to pray blessings on someone who didn’t deserve them.

I kept bungling along, continuing to pray for him. “God, cure his alcoholism,” or “Heal whatever is inside that makes him such a bully.”

After a while, I felt the Lord nudging me to pray for something truly good for him, something significant, and more importantly, that my request be sincere.

Right. How could I sincerely want anything good for someone who had wounded me so deeply?

But God patiently reminded me it isn’t always about my wants. I needed to want what God wanted for him—what he wants for everyone who is lost and without him. Like me, the man was an immortal soul who would spend eternity somewhere. I needed to pray he would spend eternity with an amazing, loving God.

My eternity. My amazing, loving God.

It wasn’t easy at first, but I knew it was right. “Lord, please help him know your love, peace and forgiveness. Help him do whatever it takes to be right with you.” This became my regular prayer.

It wasn’t until later that I realized something in me had changed as a result of those prayers. When his name came up, no caustic wisecrack surfaced, no snarky remark burst from my lips. By praying sincerely for his soul, my heart had changed. My hate-tank was empty. The desire to verbally lash out and wound him had vanished.

Praying for my enemy gave me the ability to forgive him.

I’ve said I never want to see his face again. So what would I do if ran into him now?

I’d like to think I would ask him if he’s found God’s grace, and if he hasn’t, I’d ask him if I can share some of mine. Because I remember I’ve fallen prey to addiction, just as he has. We all battle the demons that aim for those particular weaknesses and footholds in each of our lives. We are all hopeless without Christ and in desperate need of God’s grace and help.

I don’t know if my prayers for him have been answered. What I do know is whether or not God changed him, praying for him changed me. All I feel for the man I had long held in contempt is compassion.

I believe praying sincerely for another eternal soul yields significant results, whether seen or unseen. At the very least, it draws us closer to the heart of God, from where his immeasurable love for each of us flows.

Question (which you don’t have to answer!): Do you ever catch yourself making bitter remarks about someone you thought you’d forgiven?

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