That illusive forgiveness

If you have read any of my books, you know that a theme of reconciliation and forgiveness runs through each one. I don't plan this on purpose, but I discovered some time ago that this is the theme of my heart, and it makes its way into my work whether I look for it or not. Of course, not every character in every story seeks reconciliation and not every character lives a happily-ever-after life. But the opportunity is given to seek such a thing, to turn from choices that lead to bitterness, anger, and unresolved differences.

I wonder though, in the reading of stories with lessons of grace, do we see the world the same way as it may be portrayed in a book? How often as men and women do we seek to put aside anger and bitterness and truly forgive the wrongs done to us?

Both the Old and New Testaments are filled with verses about God's forgiveness, His willingness to reconcile with His wayward children, and redeem those who don't know Him. He went to the trouble of crafting the greatest love story of all to do just that -- to offer forgiveness to those who would believe His Word.

I know many of you who write to me do know Him. (I'm so glad!) But I also know from experience how easy it can be to trust God with our eternity but not our daily lives. To believe in Jesus but to live with an unforgiving spirit toward other people. Grudges have a way of sneaking up on us. They start innocently enough. We are hurt by something someone says or does and we walk away, keeping our hurt to ourselves. To speak of it to the offending party, after all, wouldn't do any good. The person may not even realize their words were so hurtful.

So we retreat...and stew. It's not easy to get over a thing quickly, and in truth, the bigger the offense, the longer the process of dealing with it. An outright betrayal can be far harder to overcome than a flippant remark said without thinking.

Some of us will vent our anger to another, or to several others. Some of us will just push it down and pretend nothing is wrong, never dealing with it or confessing it even to God. Others will journal it in a prayer. Still others will take it out in a work-out room or a sports game.

Whatever our process for dealing with hurt, the bigger question is - do we forgive? Do we take the anger to Jesus and honestly give to Him all that is in our hearts? (He already knows, so why not tell Him?)

In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus tells a parable about an unforgiving servant. Read it for yourself here. The gist of the parable is a servant whom the master forgave a huge debt, but then he turned around and would not forgive a fellow servant of a much smaller debt. (He had the fellow servant thrown into prison until the debt was paid.) This did not go over well with the people watching, and they told the master about this guy's actions. The master's response?

Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Jailers is sometimes interpreted torturers.)

If you have ever known a bitter, unforgiving person, you can quickly tell how unhappy, how miserable they are. After all, to be unforgiving is to be unloving and disobedient to God's commands. How can we have joy if we are holding such rebellion in our hearts? And I wonder, is that misery a kind of prison of its own? Is not the mental anguish of bitterness a kind of personal torture?

It's not easy to forgive a serious wrong. But sometimes hurts that are held onto grow bigger than they really were. And if we are not careful, we create a victim mentality that is too much about ourselves and our own pain becomes too big of a focus. Forgiveness seems like an impossibility, an illusive thing we just can't do.

But we can. And it's really not as hard as it sounds.

Because forgiveness is a choice. We who have accepted God's forgiveness for our own faults and sins know this. If God could have mercy and grace toward us, can we not extend it to those who sin against us?