You can’t forgive without loving. And I don’t mean sentimentality. I don’t mean mush. I mean having enough courage to stand up and say, ‘I forgive. I’m finished with it.’ – Maya Angelou
This is my birthday week, and along with reviewing all of the things that have gone right in my life, it is a perfect time to review the things that have gone wrong. By wrong I mean “those things that someone else has done to me which were unfair, undeserved, and uncalled for.” You know what I mean? You have those injustices in your life, too. It is time for the annual airing of grievances!
Before I get started guilting my perpetrators, it occurs to me that as a child of the One True King, I am called/invited/encouraged to offer forgiveness to those people who have wronged me. Actually, this is more of an expectation than an option. Forgiving is what Christians do, and we should excel at it! Forgiving others is a Christian core value, and that goes for contemporary and traditional churches alike. No card-carrying Christian gets around the call to forgive others. It is what we do. Hmmm… this presents a problem for me, as I had planned on a week of recalling all of the wrongs done to me.
I can either ignore the truth that forgiveness is what I have been recreated to do; choosing to be mad, resentful, self-righteous, and downright nasty to the people on my list, OR I can do my best to forgive them. But forgiveness – real forgiveness – is tough to do. So, maybe I’ll employ a strategy that I have found works best when I am not totally into something: I can fake it. I will fake my forgiveness of those who have done me wrong and treated me poorly. Heck! I will fake forgiveness to those who I know were just thinking about wronging me. I will fake forgiving everybody!
Here is how I will fake it (and you can too).
I will give forgiveness quickly and without thought to how I have been hurt by someone or something. Being wronged hurts me/us. Recognizing how deeply we are hurt is an important part of offering forgiveness. If we just keep the hurt on the surface, we can gloss over it and hug it out with someone. Then we can go on like nothing ever happened and our hearts are untarnished.
I will forgive without honest dialogue and discussion with those involved with the wrong. Since I am going to keep my feelings on the surface, it won’t be necessary for me to talk through the debacle. Just a quick “It’s okay. You are forgiven.” will do when someone says they are sorry. No need to express hurt, pain, disappointment, shame, surprise, etc. There is likely no need to try and understand why they did what they did to me. Besides, I bet they really aren’t sorry at all.
I will make forgiving a spiritual matter only. I must forgive because God wants me to forgive. But I don’t have to like that person anymore, and I can just pretend they don’t exist. That will teach them a lesson while keeping the peace at the same time. No need to make them human again by acknowledging that I know them. Let their isolation be their punishment. I will see them in heaven (I guess).
I will pretend to them that I am over what happened, but I will keep careful notes in my diary so I never forget. Not one detail. Daily I will review what happened and how they could have avoided being so terrible to me. Maybe they will feel so guilty that they will continually feel inadequate around me and routinely ask me if I still forgive them. I will say I do, but I don’t.
I will just act like I have never needed to be forgiven for anything. If I believe I am perfect, that must mean that I am perfect. Right? If I have lived without error, then it is totally up to me to judge others as falling short. Having been perfect throughout my life gives me the high ground when it comes to forgiving others. It almost makes me seem saintly (at least to myself) to forgive someone so bad, so low down, so sinful.
It seems that forgiving is tough, but faking forgiveness may be even tougher. Maybe I should reconsider my approach. Faking forgiveness likely will not help on any level. Forgiveness has to be full and free or not at all. Learning to forgive is not one of the important lessons we learn in life. It is likely the most important. Without forgiving others, we are willingly signing up to live in the darkest moments of life with no intention of moving on. We are stuck.
Forgiving others is not natural to us. It is learned and, unfortunately, it usually means that we have experienced deep hurt and pain at the hands of someone else. Only those wanting to live again will forgive the one who killed them with words or actions. Faking forgiveness is embracing a life that will daily feature the experience in life that has hurt us the most. Instead of faking forgiveness, follow the forgiving pattern of God in your life so that forgiving others is not a foreign concept but a favored response and thankful acknowledgment of God’s grace still working mightily in, for, and through you.
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 23“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18 – NRSV)
For September 14, 2014 / Proper 19