Thursday, April 23, 2015

When Forgiveness Takes Time

Whether we like it or not, whether it sounds spiritual or not, whether it is how we have understood sermons on forgiveness or not, the simple truth is that forgiveness is not always possible instantly.  

We are commanded to forgive as we have been forgiven. But that obedience is not necessarily a moment’s decision, a rapid release, a forgetting.

I have diligently spent many moments teaching my three children to cultivate the habit of forgiving one another. There is a sad lack of forgiveness in our world today, leading to many broken lives and relationships. 

However, as one who has suffered deep trauma and endeavored on the long mountain passage of penetrating forgiveness work,I have learned that there is a type of forgiveness, the kind that clangs with the noise of chains breaking loose and feet running free, that takes time.

We hurt each other and we cause pain. Some wounds are life-threatening to the pulse of our very being. Cruel words brand our souls and leave a holocaust number upon their tender skin, reminding us of irreparable loss. 

What is precious is stolen, and despair threatens to destroy hope. We lay upon our faces weak and unable to contemplate the mighty freedom act of forgiving the perpetrators.

But it is then that Christ comes. (At least that is what we think; He has been there all along but it is then that we perceive His presence). He comes quietly, gently, and tenderly. He sits with us in our ashes, and places our head upon His lap, waiting, nourishing, mending, binding wounds. Until we are stronger. Until we are ready.

When we are healed enough to stand, we rage. We lift our fists and ask the heavens, “Why?” We demand to know, “Where were You, God, when…?” He does not shrink from our angry questions. Instead, He answers them.

It is then that we see Him hanging on the cross, pointing to the one who hurt us, saying, “Father, forgive him.”

And we are stilled. For the moment.

The long journey to forgiveness is like a footpath through valleys and over mountains, wide at times and narrow at others. Level and smooth pathways followed by treacherously rugged passages. We all must stand up, and take the next step, and the next on this pathway. 

Forgiveness is work. It is not some mindless little assent to let it go. 

The instant forgiveness I train my six-year-old to extend to her big brother after he marks on her picture is only the smallest beginning to training the habit of forgiveness, the attitude of forgiveness, the perseverance of forgiveness that must be exercised on this life-long journey. Sin has marred our world, and some wounds cannot be instantly forgiven. And they certainly cannot be forgotten.

We are not God that we can forget. Oh, that we could!

However, we can take the hand of Jesus, the One who accomplished life-restoring Forgiveness, and follow Him as He works restoration in our own hurting hearts. 

I have often imagined my forgiveness journey as me on His back, Him carrying me, Forgiveness carrying me. His forgiveness carrying mine until I can walk on my own. 

It takes faith to climb on His back, to accept His work of forgiveness as a faith-promise of the forgiveness that is indeed possible in our own hearts as we trust Him. Maybe we can’t feel our forgiveness yet, but we can believe in His, and so we trust it and go with Him. 

And one day, we find we are standing, walking, running. Forgiveness has set us free. It is ours now.

God cares about our woundedness, and in His economy of forgiveness there is time enough for our healing. As we work out forgiveness step by step, He makes us stronger and restores our souls. We begin to feel lighter, and when we reach the mountain passes on this journey, we may be surprised to find our feet leaping upon the high places like a deer.

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.
-Habakkuk 3:17-19

Somehow, as we trek onward and upward with Christ as our guide (for surely He knows the way to true forgiveness; He himself forged it from the granite of human sin), our burdens grow lighter and our hearts expand with greater capacity for love and joy in the place where pain once lived.

Have you given yourself permission to take the time you need to forgive someone who has hurt you deeply? Share your insights into the forgiveness journey in the comment section below.

TWEETABLES

There is a type of forgivenessthe kind that clangs with the noise of chains breaking loose and feet running free, that takes time. (Click to Tweet)

Forgiveness is work. It is not some mindless little assent to let it go. (Click to Tweet)


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