It’s that time again! Time to make our New Year’s resolutions! Every year, many of us contemplate where we’ve been and where we’re going, and what to do about it. We make our New Year’s resolutions with every best intention, but all too often the determination fades as enthusiasm wanes. As we head into a future of unknowns, we like to exchange some of our old habits for new, whether they be simple mundane issues of life or more serious life-changing alterations. Yet, there’s one resolution that’s always in vogue.
Not in the habit of making an annual list, I’ve been confronted over many years with seeking and extending forgiveness. Pressing on my heart were ways I had offended others. Regretting foolish words I’d said in younger days, I set about attempting to make amends with heart-felt apologies. Though apprehensive at how my messages would be perceived, writing them brought tears in admitting my wrongs, with relief for doing the right thing by apologizing. And then came joy and gratitude with the blessing of generous forgiving responses.
We’ve all been hurt and wounded by the words or actions of another. We can be so hard on each other in this world, intentionally or not. Once we’ve been hurt, it doesn’t take much to be wounded even deeper. And we hold onto those grudges. We have a right! I know… I’ve been there… coming from a dysfunctional family, a difficult thing to admit. Writing a poem for my Dad, removing all trace of negativity by wording it in positives, we were especially close with forgiving hearts during his last years. Forgiving my mother and making her a quilt brought us a closeness we’d never had before. I even got to hear both my parents echo my “I love you” at every encounter, words I’d not heard while growing up.
In the long run, grudges don’t do anyone any good… including, and especially, ourselves. They erode our joy from the inside. They take away our ability to see the blessings in someone else’s life. Sometimes we want revenge because of the pain we’ve allowed to fester. But, carrying a grudge for any length of time damages us, not the person we hold it against. They might not even know what they’ve done! Go to the person, explain the problem, and attempt to make amends.
We also feel a release as we forgive the offender even if they don’t apologize or realize that their actions were wrong and hurtful... even when no one else understands what really happened. Releasing the hurt through prayer allows God to take care of the situation. Our forgiveness of the offender’s injustice sets us free to love more fully… just as God loves us, because we sure aren’t perfect.
However, forgiveness does not always mean restoration of a prior relationship. We need to set appropriate boundaries of respect. Forgiving someone does not mean they are given an open door to resume their old ways... especially if they continue to lie or refuse to believe they did anything wrong. When you have tried repeatedly to reconcile and discuss the situation, and no conciliatory effort is shown to understand how they offended you, nor a willingness to apologize and truly make amends… it may be time to walk away, for trust and respect are earned. We can try to cover up our guilt with a façade of innocence, hiding our wrongs from others, but God knows the truth.
As Desmond Tutu wrote, “Forgiveness does not relieve someone of responsibility for what they have done. Forgiveness does not erase accountability. It is not about turning a blind eye or even turning the other cheek. It is not about letting someone off the hook or saying it is okay to do something monstrous. Forgiveness is simply about understanding that every one of us is both inherently good and inherently flawed. Within every hopeless situation and every seemingly hopeless person lies the possibility of transformation.”*
Tutu went on to say, “Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking; but, in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing.”**
As the old saying goes, hope springs eternal, and there is always hope that, in time, restoration will happen between you and another. For there is a much better path found in forgiveness… that of peace and joy. It happens when we each admit our errors, our faults, our sins… and apologize and seek forgiveness from the one we’ve offended, and from our Lord, as we live out the change in our heart. In this is found true peace… a joy-filled contentment that no one can take away.
The disciple Peter asked our Lord how many times he should forgive his brother who had sinned against him. Jesus replied that he should forgive “seventy times seven” - in other words, endlessly. (Matthew 18:22) That’s a tough one, isn’t it?! Yet, as C. S. Lewis wrote, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” Oh, how true!
The apostle Paul also reminds us to “…clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love [and] let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:12-14)
Forgiveness… it may be the last thing we want to do for someone who hurt us deeply… but, when we forgive, it leaves us feeling washed clean and ready for a new start. And, our heart is filled with a renewed sense of love to readily share with others. What a great resolution to start a new year!
I wish you a very Happy and Blessed New Year!
Linda A. Roorda
Hurts of the heart that abound in life
The pain inflicted, the soul that’s wounded
The careless words and endless strife
Erode our spirit and remove our joy.
Raging battlefield within our mind
Waging havoc amid destruction
Erecting walls with blinded eyes
That limit our world and destroy us inside.
Offender at times, tossing outward darts
Offended the next with indignation
We each share blame for wrongs committed
As we nurse our wounds or savor victory.
Then my soul pours out transgressions I’ve made
For You know my heart, my thoughts and my deeds
Nothing is hidden, repentant I am
As humbly I pray with face turned to You.
Your wisdom alone has pierced my heart
You’ve caused me to see the wrong of my ways
For within Your Word are Truths that shed light
As I walk this path that draws me to You.
To cleanse my soul, forgiveness I seek
To redeem the gift You’ve given for me
Your life on a cross that I might be free
The depth of Your love I cannot repay.
Then go and seek the one you’ve offended
Make right the path you both must walk
Follow the lead of our Lord above
Lay down your pride, release your burden.
Forgiveness like oil my soul You anoint
In comforting peace with mercy and grace
Your blessings of love now cover my heart
Redeemed am I, Your praises to sing.
For there is no peace like to that above
When forgiveness reigns in our tender hearts
Compassion to share as blessings abound
Bring heaven’s joy to shine brightly down.
04/09/14 – 08/03/14
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* Desmond Tutu, “The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World”
** Desmond Tutu, Greater Good Magazine, 10/01/04, “Truth and Reconciliation”