Or at least I hope that I can say them over my lifetime.
I’m still in self-reflection mode from last year. I know. I should be done by now. I’m not. Sorry to disappoint. Two phrases deal with people and the other deals with God.
“I want to like him/her.” I was asked this past year what I thought about a mutual acquaintance. Honestly, everything I had heard about the person was less than desirable. But the truth of the matter is that perception is not always reality. It rarely is. I heard these words come out of my mouth and couldn’t believe that I had said them. I want to like that person. Regardless of whether or not I have reason to do so, I always want to be open to the Holy Spirit giving me the desire to show God’s love when it’s least reasonable. There’s a subtle nuance here. We can’t always get along with everyone. But we can always desire to get along with everyone. Maybe that’s shooting for the moon or something. It certainly doesn’t come natural to anyone. I suppose that’s why it has to be a point of supernatural surrender.
“There’s a lot you can learn underneath the bus.“ I heard this phrase on some podcast in the last six months. Don’t ask me which one – I can’t remember. But that phrase stuck with me. People will throw you under the bus with little reservation. And the image here is that others who get thrown under the bus often write their words of wisdom on the underside. And there’s a lot to learn there. Sometimes it helps to stay there for a while and reflect. But as you tell your story under the bus, others will tell you theirs. And you’d be amazed at how similar they are sometimes. I’m not a fan of betrayal, hurt, pain, or broken relationships…but I’m beginning to figure out that there are few ways faster to learn about people and about life. It’s like going from dial-up to a T1. Everyone has been under the bus before. And there’s a lot to learn there.
“Either way you and I are still good.” Our church has spent a tremendous amount of time talking about prayer this past year. We’ve shared joy over answered prayers and disappointment with unanswered ones. Somewhere along the way, I started praying this phrase to God…and it’s been my anchor in a few situations. Often times, we don’t start praying for things until they get serious. There are all sorts of reasons for this…I’ll let you figure those out. But whether I start praying early or late, adding this phrase makes all the difference for me personally. Now, people love to pull the ol’ “if it be thy will” out of the hat when they know things could very well be disastrous. As if we’re hedging our bet in some way. But those are not the words of intimate friendship with God. They are the words of someone who doesn’t want to be disappointed. So, now I pray this phrase: “God please heal, help, protect, rescue this that or the other…but either way you and I are still good.” I believe he can do all those things…you aren’t gonna be able to convince me otherwise. But regardless of the outcome, our relationship remains. No matter what happens, God is still my best friend.
So, there you go. I invite you to say these phrases with me in the coming year. Particularly that last one…
I heard an illustration concerning forgiveness by Miroslav Volf a few years ago that deeply impacted me. At that time in my life, I was wrestling with exactly what forgiveness meant and how I could forgive in a more complete way. The tired rhetoric of “just forgive and forget” or “you better forgive or God won’t forgive you” really rubbed me the wrong way. Comments like that seemed “cheap.” It dismissed the individual’s pain from the incident and seemed condone the perpetrator’s acts. His illustration helped me tremendously with this so I wanted to share it with you.
Volf says forgiveness is like a present. It is given as a gift to another. People are happy to take the gift of forgiveness…but they have to open the box in order to receive it fully. On the inside of the box is the accusation of wrong-doing. In order to take the gift of forgiveness, the offender must take the responsibility for the fact that his or her decision crushed the heart of another. Forgiveness is not only a gift – it’s a scathing indictment.
Similarly, receiving forgiveness requires us to admit that we need to be forgiven. Obviously this is true with the gift of the cross. We receive forgiveness from Christ after we admit that we need that forgiveness. And that’s usually the hardest part. Though we are happy to do this with Jesus, what about with each other? That was my question. How do I grant forgiveness without giving the impression that I condone the betrayal? That’s when I begin to understand that forgiveness happens in stages – it’s a process. A Christian needs to extend forgiveness to others, but that doesn’t mean their forgiveness will be fully received, simply because of the indictment it contains.
So, what we find mostly among people is partial forgiveness. The victim has forgiven but the accused refuses blame. Or the accused qualifies their actions were necessary for some greater good – something more important than the victim’s betrayal. Or the accused dies before forgiveness can be extended to them. Or though a perpetrator desires forgiveness, the victim refuses to grant it. In all these cases, partial reconciliation is a best case scenario. Forgiveness remains in a partial state of completion. Sometimes things stay that way until the end of time – when both people can see forgiveness in the light of heaven.
So what are you saying? I’m saying that forgiveness takes time. Forgiveness should occur when both people are ready. Forgiveness is not a cheap out for either party – the accused is not let off the hook and the victim doesn’t sweep their feelings under a rug of “Christianese.” True forgiveness is more than a concession to what we were taught in Sunday school – it is about making things right. Accepting forgiveness requires the accused to take the time to regain the trust of the betrayed – that long arduous journey is part of forgiveness. Because of this, forgiveness in our fallen world happens in shades of completion. We should be patient with others as they come to terms with the cost of forgiveness.
If you receive the forgiveness of another, make sure you are willing to accept what’s inside the box…
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