There’s an old apocryphal story from Spain that tells of a father and son who had become estranged. The son ran away, and the father set off to find him. He searched for months to no avail. Finally, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in a Madrid newspaper. The ad read:
Dear Paco, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Father.
On Saturday, dozens of Pacos showed up, looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers.
In Jesus, we meet our one true, loving Father, who not only forgives us, but runs to us, with arms wide open. There’s nothing we can do to make Him loves us more. There’s nothing we can do to make Him love us less. His forgiveness of us is complete and eternal, thanks to the finished work of Jesus at Calvary.
Yet, the forgiven often find themselves unsure or unable to forgive others. We’ve received this immeasurable wealth of forgiveness, but find it hard to spare a dime of it on someone else who has hurt or offended us.
Sometimes, we aren’t even aware that we are harboring unforgiveness.
Five years ago, I was on a five-day sabbatical that I spent in silence at a monastery. The first two nights, I didn’t sleep well. I was restless, tossing and turning. Nightmares plagued me. I was exhausted by day three.
That afternoon, I had finished praying the Sext, the midafternoon office, with the monks. As I was making my way back to my cabin, my thoughts drifted toward an individual, who had been very significant in my life for many years. This is a person I saw almost daily and loved dearly. As their face came to mind, a torrent of anger suddenly burst up out of me, along with a string of words that I won’t print here. To say that I was shocked would be an understatement. The whole thing felt so primal and almost involuntary, like vomiting a bad meal that gave you food poisoning.
In the aftermath, as the wave of rage passed, I was ashamed that I had said the F word, cursing someone I loved. In that moment of shame, the Spirit made it clear to me. Over the years, there were some habitual behaviors in this person’s life that had deeply wounded me. I had excused the behavior. The hurt I had buried deep in the basement of my soul, hidden behind a false wall. The combination of the three days of silence and prayer mixed with the physical exhaustion had caused that wall to crumble. In that moment, the years of hurt I had buried and all the unforgiveness I had harbored came pouring out.
Right then I knew I needed to say the F-word: Forgive.
Over the next hours, into the evening, through prayer and journaling, I revisited those wounds and wept. By God’s grace, I was able to pass on what had been given to me in limitless measure: Forgiveness.
I literally felt 100lbs lighter. I slept like a baby that night. My soul was free.
But the work of forgiveness had only begun. Over the coming months, I found myself needing to forgive that person again, as they continued in the toxic behavior. But because I was forgiving immediately, it cleared up my perspective to see I needed to change how I was relating to this person. My relationship with that person changed because forgiving empowered me to lovingly and directly address the behavior. Furthermore, instead of surrendering to a false martyrdom that turned me into a welcome mat for the inappropriate behavior, I began to erect healthy boundaries. Eventually, because the person wasn’t willing to change, I phased out of that relationship.
It was one the most life-giving moves Jesus ever led me through.
The next five weeks, we’re inviting everyone to experience the freedom that only the forgiveness can bring. We’ll address the myths about what forgiveness is that keep us from forgiving. Myths like, “Forgive and forget.” What!? How do you forget childhood abuse, a devastating divorce, or a rape? Trying to forget is not forgiveness, that’s insanity. We’ll take a clear look at what forgiveness is and what it is not. Furthermore, we’ll dig into the deep soul work that makes forgiveness of any wound possible.