Monday, June 16, 2008
This final segment of the Baggage series on unforgiveness made it tough to actually watch the faces of some folks sitting in the auditorium. I can watch people drop their heads as the subject unfolds. Forgiveness is dicey. Sometimes I’ve gone through the forgiveness process (both asking and offering it) and the cancer in my soul seems to slip into remission.
But something triggers a memory and pain sears my psyche as the cancer flares up again. I inexplicably remember when I hurt someone, or the act that hurt me. Forgiveness is slippery on either side of the hill.
David Augsberger paints a classic story in his book, “Caring Enough to Forgive”. A friend divulges:
“‘I called home to see how my father was recovering from his heart attack only to discover that my mother was now in the hospital. At first they wouldn’t tell me what was wrong; finally my sister let it out that she was in the psychiatric ward after taking an overdose. ‘We didn’t call you or tell you because you don’t care about the family anymore, you’re too good for us now.’
“‘I have never been cut so deeply in my life. I didn’t sleep for two nights. My sister doesn’t know I’ve been sending a fourth of my paycheck home each month to help cover the expenses for Dad’s hospitalization. She doesn’t know how often I call home, so what she said is not just unfair, it’s really untrue.
“‘I prayed about it a lot, all night, in fact. I decided I’d never say another word about this to her. After all, she’s been carrying quite a load at home. I’ll just forgive her.’”
“One-way forgiving seems generous, thoughtful and sacrificial. It’s generous, but not truly genuine. It’s thoughtful but not thorough. It’s self-sacrificial, but the sacrifice is seldom sufficient to restore the relationship.
“. . . Any view of forgiveness that focuses primarily on getting release fro one’s own conscience (‘It’s obviously not my problem, I’ve forgiven him’), escape from guilt (It’s clearly his attitude that separates us, I’m forgiving’), freedom from responsibility (‘There’s nothing more I can do than what I’ve done, he’s forgiven’), is too easy, too cheap. The goal is community restored, not private perfection maintained.
“When ‘forgiveness’ ends open relationships, leaves people estranged, don’t rush to it, it’s not forgiveness; it’s a face-saving, self-saving, time-saving escape.”
I would like to have spent more time on the weekend talking about the actual process of forgiveness. I’m an old guy; sheer life-experience as an old-guy-pastor gives you lots of opportunities to ask for forgiveness for everything from things said in a message (the power of the microphone is, uh, intoxicating sometimes) to difficult interactions with a large church staff. I should be an expert at this.
Like Augsberger, I’m suspicious of quick forgivers. I don’t think they’re really in touch with their anger or pain. I think they’re just in “religious mode”. But don’t wait too long either. Don’t let anger fester into bitterness. Pray seriously. Ask God to help you with the timing. But do it. Forgiving a deep wound is like the layers of an onion—you forgive and peel off a layer. Later on, you discover something a little deeper, and forgiveness is experienced at a greater depth. It’s not really repeating as much as it is deepening.
But no matter what your level of expertise is, it still doesn’t make it easy.
It makes sense why Christian writer Philip Yancey would write, “The only thing harder than forgiveness is the alternative.”
Hope you were able to drop some baggage.