Following up on the prior story about forgiveness, I had lots of comments on Facebook, and one was that church people are some of the greatest offenders of God’s command to love your neighbor as yourself. I don’t think that’s necessarily true – it’s just that we expect better out of people who are claiming to want to be Christlike. When someone who is in the world hurts us, we aren’t surprised really, just disappointed. When someone in the church hurts us, it’s twice the level of pain and betrayal. We just expect more. The truth is, being a follower of Christ means that we sure aren’t perfect, only forgiven, but it also means that if we have a relationship with Christ, He will convict us until we do right by our brother or sister (at least in my experience)!
I think so many of these things can just be worked out with good communication. “Sorry” goes such a long way! My kids used to have to call and apologize if they had been bad at church for the Sunday School teacher, or acted out in a boy scout meeting or 4-H outing. They hated it, hated it, hated it! They’d beg to just be able to write a “sorry” note. Nope, sorry notes are too easy – that requires no face-to-face remorse and consequence of how your actions affected another person. I would make them either go to the person or at least talk to them on the phone. They would start out strong, but by the end of the phone call, they would be crying, feeling the shame of having done something that required a “sorry” call. It usually only took one for a particular situation, and the behavior got adjusted. I pray it gave them the experience in saying they were sorry so that they still do it in their adult lives. Grudges can be broken down, walls torn down, hurt feelings erased, all in those set of words” “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you.” It is truly amazing.
I can remember one time when I was a single mother and working in court in Charleston, and it just seemed like the kids were late and dilatory every morning, and it would make me late. The court reporter cannot be late – it’s not like there’s a way to just “sneak in.” The judge would be late opening their case load, and it was just not acceptable. One morning, someone had lost their lunch or their book or their backpack or some avoidable crisis, and by the time we left the house, I had been yelling and the kids were crying, and we’re driving down the road to the school, me feeling the stress of putting my job in jeopardy by my continual flying in the door last minute, and the kids were in the back seat crying, both of them. I looked in the rearview mirror and I see their miserable faces, crying because all I’ve done all morning is yell, and I began to cry too. I pulled the car over, got out and walked back to the back seat, bent down and look at these children who are now cowering, thinking I’m going to yell some more or whip them or something awful, and I said, “Please forgive me, I’ve been terrible this morning, I’m so sorry – can we start this day over?”
Just thinking about it now makes me ashamed and sorry, tears rolling down my face as I type. They looked at me, not expecting those words to come out, and both of them shook their heads, little red faces bobbing up and down, and I prayed over us, our family, that we would be better and I told Jesus I was sorry and asked him to please help me be a better parent. We all dried our tears, hugged each other, drove on to school and I dropped off two children in a much better frame of mind than had I thrown them out the door after a morning of screaming. And yes, I was late for work – but thank God, my judge, Lyne Ranson, had forgiveness to give also that day.
This issue of forgiveness is serious business to God. He has made that plain in scripture, having some of the most plainspoken verses laying out His plan for forgiveness and the nonnegotiable nature of it. Ephesians 4:32 commands us: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Have any of you ever had the “seventy times seven” used against you? Don’t you hate that one? Sort of kidding, of course….but I know when I was in marriage counseling and the Pastor was using that one with me, and I didn’t want to forgive – I was JUSTIFIED! Why should I forgive? The Bible was giving me my out in my marriage – I had grounds, biblical grounds! Don’t go using those verses on me – I had other verses to counteract them! Help us, Lord. It is only through scripture and only through grace and mercy that we as humans can forgive anywhere near seven times seven, much less seventy times seven! It does not come naturally.
Someone stopped me on the street about a year ago and said, “You know, you talk like God talks to you, like He really says things to you – how exactly does that happen? Because I’ve been asking God to tell me something, and I’m not hearing anything!” We discussed their situation a little, and God HAD been talking to them, through His Word, but the message wasn’t getting through as the seeker didn’t want the word that God was sending. Is that you? It has been me, I’m sure. I wonder how many times God has tried to talk to me and couldn’t get through my walls or through my standoffishness or my “I know best” attitude.
There have been probably four or five times that God has spoken to me in a voice so loud it could not be ignored, a voice I could hear as if it was spoken out loud, an unmistakable voice, not a whisper or a “could it be.” One of those times, one of the strongest times, had to do with forgiveness. I was praying at the altar one night, a Sunday night, and had been having some trouble with a family member. Every time this person showed up, there was a scene of some sort, a huge ordeal in the making. I dreaded when they would come, I guarded myself against the onslaught, and I usually was not disappointed. This time I was praying was after a particularly ugly visit, and I was pouring out my heart, “Oh, God, you know I cannot take this anymore, they do this and this and this and this and I don’t deserve it and when will it stop and I’m so sick of it and I ought to tell them this and I’m gonna do that”…..I’m sure none of you have ever been as ugly as I was, or feeling so abused and righteous.
Right in the middle of my tirade, God says, “Get up.” I’m just plowing on, and I hear it again: “GET UP.” I’m thinking I can’t be hearing right, because why in the world would God tell me to get up when I’m praying to Him? Isn’t that what I’m supposed to be doing? It doesn’t stop but it gets louder. “GET UP. GET UP. GET UP!!!” I begin to get silent, begin to wonder why God doesn’t want to hear from me, and I hear, “When you have forgiven them, come back and talk to me. Until then, don’t bother.” Wow. I don’t know that I’ve ever had such a blow. The God of the Universe telling me to get out of His presence, I am not welcome there, He cannot stand to see my face.
I made myself stand up, I walked back to my seat, filled with shame and regret and still anger, righteous anger. He must not understand all I’ve been going through, somehow God must have been busy when some of this was happening to me and He missed a piece of it. I went home heavy-hearted, the first time in my life God had turned me away, had turned His face from me. I wish I could say here I instantly laid it all down, instantly put my anger aside and forgave the unforgiveable, but it just didn’t work that way for me. It probably took me two days to work through the fact that I was never going to get an apology, that my forgiveness needed to be based on my relationship with God, not my relationship with any other person, and apologies are unnecessary for forgiveness to be extended. The scripture tells us in Mark 11:25, “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” He isn’t kidding. And it’s paired with the most severe of all: Matthew 6:14-15: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Oh, to not have God’s forgiveness – I couldn’t bear it.
The reality is, I cannot live without the presence of God in my life, and there is no person, no anger, no grudge, no slight or no wrong that is worth it to me to lose that relationship, so I’ve learned that forgiveness without apology gets easier every time you do it – it’s almost like I can see Jesus smiling at me when I offer forgiveness, saying, “See, I told you you could do it! I paid the price, I set the example, and the more you forgive, the closer to heaven you come.”
I ask you today, do you need the miracle of forgiveness from someone? Do you need to offer the miracle of forgiveness to someone? Are you going to make them work for it, or are you going to give it freely, as Jesus gave to those in the crowd the day he was crucified, saying, “Father, they know not what they do.” Are you holding on to grudges against family members, church people, co-workers, spouses? Don’t you want to be free of it? You can be, you truly can be! Lay it down, give it up, get on the phone and say you’re sorry, or just offer forgiveness to those who don’t deserve it. If you need to, write a sorry note or a forgiveness note – or say nothing at all to anyone, but clear it up between you and God. It will be like throwing a huge weight off your back, and it will free you to be all that God has for you, without limits, without excuses. Do it today!
P.S. And if I have ever offended you, please forgive me – and feel free to message me so that we can clear it up between ourselves. I would never want to be a stumbling block to anyone, to hurt rather than help, and would be honored if you would share with me any actions of mine that have ever hurt you.
My name is Teresa Evans. I am a wife to Tom, a retired Circuit Judge, and I am a court reporter by trade, a mother by God's grace and a lover of Jesus Christ. I've grown up in a family blessed with many miracles, and have received multiple miracles myself.