Most every night a transformation happens right as our put our 20-month-old foster boy down to bed. Minutes after he is happily reading books with me and seconds after he is sweetly swaying in my arms as I sing to him, he transforms. The moment happens as I place him in his crib. He rolls over and, with big tears rolling down his fat cheeks, he wails. As I leave the room and close the door, he stands in the crib, looking at me with pleading eyes. “How could you abandon me?” his eyes ask.
The sun sets, the moon rises and sets, and the sun rises again. I open his door to find him sleeping. I turn off the sound machine and open the window shade. He hikes up his cute bottom in the air, rolls over, and pulls himself up and greets me with the biggest smile you’ve ever seen. I smile back and he giggles.
Fast forward several hours, and a couple sits on my couch in my office. He can’t move past the fact that she won’t make love to him. She can’t move past the fact she caught him watching porn.[i]
The claws of unforgiveness are sharp and relentless. How many times have I heard the words “I’ve forgiven him (or her), but…”? We deceive ourselves, thinking that we have forgiven, while the seeds of bitterness in our hearts reveal our unforgiveness. We think if we can just not think about it, or smooth it over, or just let time go by, then forgiveness will take its course without needing to really get messy. Our hearts deceive us. Unforgiveness remains.
In Jesus’ well-worn, but haunting prayer, he tells us to ask God to “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” You may have prayed the Lord’s Prayer so many times that the weight of that statement doesn’t hit you like an eighteen wheeler. It should. What a ridiculous prayer! Do I really want God to forgive me in the same way I forgive others? Do you? Every time we pray that phrase, we should be sobered and chastened.
What would it look like for you on judgment day if God forgave you the way you have forgiven others?
In the parable of the Unforgiving Servant[ii] Jesus brings this phrase of the Lord’s Prayer to life. He tells a story of a man who is called to settle an enormous debt that he can’t possibly pay. Faced with the threat of being sold into slavery, the man pleads that his debt be forgiven—and it is! But upon being released of his debt, he approached someone who owed him a modest debt and demanded payment, choking him out.
A mirror is placed in front of us. We are that man. Every act of unforgiveness is an act of denial of our own forgiveness. How do we learn to forgive, then? How do I forgive like our foster child? There are at least two ways I can learn from our little guy:
1. Our foster boy doesn’t stew on the perceived wrong. Sitting on grievances compounds them – move toward forgiveness as soon as you are able. Move toward the other person in conversation, don’t fill in the story where you don’t have the details. Don’t assume motives you don’t know. Don’t obsess over how you’ve been wronged. Deal with it as soon as possible.
2. Our foster boy is able to enjoy happy moments after sad moments. Don’t let your hurt from yesterday poison your today. How many blessings that God has for me have I tramped over unnoticed while licking my wounds? How many good meals have been rendered tasteless? How many sunsets have been missed as I wallowed? How many good relational moments have been spoiled by hurt from another relationship? Be present in the gifts God has for you even as you hurt.
What our foster boy can’t do yet is even more powerful than these two things: experience the releasing forgiveness of Jesus Christ. We have the ability to offer to others what Christ has first offered to us: forgiveness. And we have the ability to look at the one who has harmed us not with the eyes of one who is owed something, but rather with the eyes of Christ, who gave his life for them.
And that is even better than the forgiveness my little foster buddy offers me. That is the deep forgiveness of Christ.
Photo credit: Pixabay
[i] I’m not thinking of a specific couple here, but rather a representative couple of many who I have met with over the years.
[ii] Matthew 18:21-35