I was reading something about the power of forgiveness yesterday and how important it is to maintain healthy relationships. I found myself praying about it and it occurred to me, forgiveness is one of the key statements in the Lord’s Prayer. It says “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” When I’ve read that in the past I always thought it meant that we’re asking God to forgive us because we’re forgiving others.
Yesterday I realized that the word ‘as’ can really be looked at a second way here. It could also be taken to mean that we’re asking the Lord to forgive us in exactly the same manner that we forgive others. Uh oh…That sounds like an important distinction. What if that’s exactly what we’re saying?
Can you imagine how you would feel if you got up to the pearly gates someday and God refused to see you. You would go up to St. Peter and say “Hey, what gives?” St’ Peter’s response, “Ohh, it’s you. I’m sorry; I don’t think he’s going to see you. He never forgot the time that you denied your love for him to try and be cool in front of your friends. I think we’re going to need to send you “downstairs”. Boy that would suck wouldn’t it?
How good are you are forgiving others? I remember how I used to be. I was pathetic. I would get angry with someone and then hold a grudge at the drop of the hat. I remember how I felt. I used to think that I could forgive but I wasn’t going to forget. What I was really doing was hardening my heart against that situation in the future. By holding a grudge I was setting up an active defense mechanism against the situation. I didn’t want to get burned again.
I’m a sensitive person; I think we all realize that by now. It occurs to me that sensitive people are more likely to hold grudges than others. My thought process is that sensitive people are more likely to experience pain, or pain that is significant, as a result of peoples’ actions. As a result, they are the ones that feel compelled to build more effective and powerful defense mechanisms in order to prevent themselves from feeling that pain.
I think that sensitive people like me have a harder time forgiving others for the same reason that we’re more likely to hold grudges – it hurts more. To be sure, I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt less sensitive people as well, but I think it may be easier for less sensitive people them to forgive something and move on.
One interesting thing about forgiveness is that it’s not actually that difficult. It’s one of the few things in life that we can control ourselves. We can’t do anything to control what other people do or say or feel. You married people out there know that you can’t even control what your spouse says and feels, and that’s the person closest to you in the entire world. The only person that we have absolute control over, should we choose to use it, is ourselves. I think the hard part of forgiveness is the pain. When someone has done something that causes you pain it is easier to think that you should forgive them that it is to do it. The pain that they’ve caused can be very hard to get over.
Let’s think for a minute about how God feels when we sin. We are all his children. Doesn’t he feel the same pain that we feel when someone betrays us or degrades us or acts against us? The fact that he can handle all of the pain generated from a world like this is amazing. Even more amazing is the fact that he still has the desire to forgive us and allowed Jesus to be beaten, abused and killed for our sake so that our sins would be forgiven and so that we would have a doorway to him.
I wonder if we look petty in his eyes when we can’t forgive the sins of one person against us when he went out of his way to forgive the sins of all people. I know how bad things can hurt. I had so many things that I didn’t want to forgive. I remember nurturing those hateful feelings. I didn’t feel that the people who had hurt me deserved forgiveness. When I look back at myself 10 to 15 years ago I can see exactly what you reap with an unforgiving heart. You reap anger, loneliness and bitterness. These are the fruits growing on that tree of unforgiveness.
Over time I’m struck more and more by the fact that we only have one life to live, just one life. Some times that life is short, sometimes that life is long, but it inevitably ends. What a waste it is to spend years of that life eating the fruit from the tree of unforgiveness. If I found my life cut short when I’m 50 years old I would look back and see that a full 10% of my life had been wasted in a stew of negativity. It saddens me to think of it. It also saddens me to think of all of the people that had to deal with me during that time. Instead of sowing good things into their lives I was leeching their positive feelings and replacing them with my own negativity. What I was doing is the exact opposite of what I want to accomplish with my time on Earth.
I hope that you take some time for self-reflection during this Easter season. Our father in heaven made a personal sacrifice two-thousand years ago to forgive us and open a doorway to his side. Are you holding a grudge against someone today? Have you shaped your life to defend against the slings and arrows of the world like I did? I urge you to forgive the past, let it go. It’s time to discover who you are today without the bitterness and anger. It’s time to find out what life is like when you love the people around you instead of holding them at a distance. It’s time to embrace a life worth living. It’s time to forgive and be forgiven.