The Practice of Forgiving
Jesus said some very challenging things about forgiveness. “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15). That is a tough one. It ranks up there with loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us. These difficult sayings make it easier to talk, or think, or write about forgiving – anything to divert our attention from the actual practice of forgiving.
Forgiving is hard and I suppose that is one reason for the parable of the unmerciful servant which came after Peter asked: “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
“No, not seven times,” Jesus says, “but seventy times seven! (Matthew 18:21-22)
We are the kind of people who forgive and I, like you, am working on it. I’ve appreciated the novelist Ann Lamott’s advice from her book, Traveling Mercies, “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”
She also wrote, “Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back. You’re done. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to have lunch with the person.”
Another piece of Lamott’s advice stuck with me. She suggested that if we are just learning how to forgive then don’t start with Adolf Hitler. Start with something smaller – like the guy who cuts you off in traffic, or the neighbor whose dog wakes you up in the morning, or your kids.
Now, stop thinking about forgiveness, and go practice forgiving someone.
The Lord be with you,
Pastor of Teaching & Leadership