The following is the full text of the July edition of my monthly column, Tea & Empathy, in the Redmond UMC Newsletter. Click here to go to the RUMC website to download the newsletter.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
-Luke 6: 36-37
These words are spoken by Jesus as he is teaching his followers about how they should behave. Throughout the gospels we find Jesus sharing similar messages forgiveness. Consistently the theme is, “your heavenly Father has forgiven you, thus you must also forgive others.” The Scriptures are pretty clear that we are to forgive one another, but we find that when we actually try to make this work in our lives, it’s not a simple or easy task.
It’s pretty easy to forgive someone who has apologized, made genuine amends, and made an effort to cease any wrongdoing. But what about when the person who has hurt or harmed us refuses to acknowledge wrongdoing? We may find it painfully difficult to “forgive and forget.” We may believe that we are doing something wrong if we just can’t “let it go.”
But complete forgiveness requires repentance (changing behavior) on the part of the one who harmed us. If they refuse to apologize or stop their harmful behavior, then we can find only an incomplete forgiveness. We must accept that we have no control over their actions and we cannot force them to change. In fact, I’d advise you not to “forgive and forget” because if they haven’t repented, you don’t want to put yourself in harm’s way again!
Complete forgiveness—which we could also describe as “reconciliation”—requires a holy conversation between the harmed and the harmer. It requires that the harmer listen closely to all that the harmed has to say. It requires that the harmer sincerely apologize, make amends, and repent. It requires that the two decide together how things will be different in the future.
If you are struggling because you are stuck in an incomplete forgiveness, please be gentle with yourself. You are doing the best you can. And if you have harmed someone, please don’t use the fact that you have access to the abundant forgiveness of our Heavenly Parent as an excuse not to do the painful work of repentance and reconciliation, here and now.
All of us have been on both sides of this equation. What a wonderful world it would be if all of us committed to true reconciliation when hurt has happened between people!Tags: community, forgiveness, guilt, mutuality, reconciliation