Sunday, August 30, 2009

Forgiveness? Are you sure?

So I put Seth into the nursery at church for the first time ever today. When he was a little baby, I would sling him  through my volunteer work and service, and lately, I've been letting him crawl around in the lobby while I try and watch the service on the screen (read: mean to watch the service, chase Seth down, then end up talking to friends who are volunteering that hour). Sometimes I take him into service, and he loves the music, but as soon as things quiet down he gets loud. Really loud. So we leave, and we watch on the screen again.

All of that is to say that I have not been able to pay any real attention to our Sunday morning lessons in a while. But this morning, I felt like it was time. Of course, we ran late. The parking spot we found was basically in an area of Timbuktu. Then our tags didn't print out the right way. Then I had to wait in a big line to get the tags reprinted and slap them on my kids back. And this was just for the big kids...Seth wasn't in the system since I'd never put him the nursery before. So I had to wait again and fill out an information card for my friend who already knew all about him. The music was already happening. Ava had to go to the bathroom, so I sent her there while I ran Jace to his class on the other side of the kids' wing. When I walked by the nursery I didn't see anyone I knew, and I almost gave up right then. Today was not the day to put him in. We were already late and the service would be half over by the time I got in there. There was no way I was going to explain his gear to someone who didn't know anything about him. I collected Ava from the bathroom and took her to her class. On my way back, I peeked into the nursery one more time...and thankfully, I saw the same worker who has been watching my kids since Ava was born.

I plunked my diaper bag down and she came to the gate and looked at me. "Are you just stopping here to chat? I know you're not leaving him." I said that I was, in fact, leaving him, that the kids were starting school the next week and it was going to be next to impossible to keep him healthy, so we might as well put him in. She was still slightly disbelieving as I walked her through his CIs and I don't think she thought I'd actually leave him until I passed him over the gate to her. He could have cared less.

By the time I got into service I was late. Really late. Super late. They were already doing communion. I found a seat and our pastor came up and said they were concluding a 4 or 5 week series on...wait for it...forgiveness. I had no idea (remember...hard to pay attention chasing a crawling baby and watching a screen). I don't know if I would have gone through all of that to make it to the service if I had known. I mean, I didn't need a lesson on forgiveness...I've already forgiven! It was really too bad, I thought, that John wasn't there. Now there's someone who could use a lesson on forgiveness, not me. It was almost pointless for me to be there. I mean, once you've forgiven someone, what is there to talk about?

Of course, it only took about two minutes for me to get that sinking feeling in my know the one, where you feel a little sheepish for thinking you know better than God. Saying you've forgiven and really forgiving are two very different things, and as our pastor made his way through several scriptures telling us why forgiveness is important, I realized that I have been all talk and not much action. I mean, I meant well. I have forgiven John on the surface, but not necessarily in practice. I thought I was doing a pretty good job. I tried not to throw what happened in our marriage in John's face, and when I did, I was justified, right? I mean, what was I supposed to do, just get over it?

Yeah, not so much. My pastor made his way down the list. Forgiveness is not about the offender, it's about the offended. Forgiveness prevents bitterness. Forgiveness closes the door to Satan. Forgiveness helps us understand God's forgiveness.

Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh. But I thought forgiveness was just about being the bigger person! I was benefiting John by forgiving him, that it was a sacrifice I was making. I mean, forgiving someone is about making them feel better, right?  But I still feel bitter, and weren't all the things that happened on the way to church proof that I was still open to attack? If I had really forgiven John, why didn't I feel better?

When I said that I forgave, I forgot to follow through. I forgot to let him off the hook. I said I forgave him, but I still brought up his transgressions, still thought about them, still kept a very clear record of exactly how he'd wronged me. I was doing it the wrong way. I thought that I could say once that I forgave him and then it would just be done.

What I've had to learn is that, like most anything else, forgiving someone is a process and a choice we make, many times more than once. It requires commitment each day to continue with the spirit of forgiveness through your actions as well as your words. I have to remind myself every day that this is a choice I've made for myself, to free myself from what has happened. Being bitter is not fun. Feeling terrible about myself is no good. Forgiving John is not just about John, it's about me. By forgiving him, I can free myself from all of  the negativity that comes along with our situation. It doesn't matter if he wants to be forgiven or not...I can't move past this until I can give him, and myself, total forgiveness for all the things that happened in our marriage.

To achieve total forgiveness, we need to be aware of what the offender has done and forgive it anyway.

We need to keep no record of wrongs, and refuse to take revenge, even when we're in the position to do so. Even if you really want to. I mean, not that anyone would want to. Very much.

We need to be merciful and gracious. Merciful means to show compassion, and gracious means to be pleasantly kind, even when either or both unwarranted.

We need to have an absence of bitterness and cease asking God why this has happened. The fact is, it happened, and that's it. Why can we do with what we have?

Forgiving yourself and moving forward.

These aren't all things I can just snap my fingers and do. But I can have good intentions and commit to forgiving, and do so every day, every time I start to feel  bitter or when I feel like I need to remind someone what I did right and what he did wrong. Many of the things on this list come with heart change, and there's nothing we can do to make them happen sooner. But truthfully, I think one of the most important and hardest things on that list is forgiving myself. As a woman, especially, I think we very commonly take blame for many things just to smooth things over, just to feel more in control. I mean, if it was my fault, I can fix it, right?

Truthfully, I still feel like I haven't forgiven myself for Eli's death or Seth's deafness. I have definitely not forgiven myself for my part in my marriage troubles. It's not something I can do right this second, but it's something I can work on. When I think of forgiveness as a process, it seems much more manageable.

But the best thing about total forgiveness, if we can get there, is that it gives us true insight into what an amazing God we have. He will forgive us anything, and it will be forgiven totally and completely. He won't go back on his word and throw our transgression at us when we least expect it. It will be cast into the deepest ocean, separated from us as far as the east is from the west. What a blessing...if we know first hand just how hard it is to do, and he offers it to us...shouldn't we extend that gift to others, and to ourselves? Forgiving a transgression does not mean failing to learn from it. It means we are giving up the guilt and the anger behind it. In the end, what is it doing for us anyway?

Does holding a grudge make you feel better? Does bringing up every little thing your significant other has done to upset you while you're having an unrelated argument ever actually help the situation? Is holding on to the bitterness left over from being hurt that time doing anything good for you?

It's not for me. I'm done feeling this way. I think it's worth it to commit to the process of forgiveness, even if it's only for my own benefit.

What about you? Do you have someone you could begin to forgive today?

(By the way, Seth did a great job in the nursery. I came to get him and found him fast asleep with a worker in a rocking chair. She told me to leave and come back later. =))
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