Brothers and sisters:
Put on, as God’s chosen ones,
holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another,
if one has a grievance against another;
as the Lord has forgiven you,
so must you also do.
And over all these put on love,
that is, the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of Christ control your hearts,
the peace into which you were also called in one body.
And be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,
as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another,
singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
with gratitude in your hearts to God.
And whatever you do,
in word or in deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Over the course of the last year, my parish church has become increasingly liberal (not that it was ever conservative). In the requests for prayers after the priest’s homily, there is much talk of “social justice” — praying for “justice” this and “justice” that. Never once are we asked to pray for the murder of innocent unborn. Never once are we asked to pray for forgiveness or even for God’s mercy.
The streets of America reflect that self-righteous demand for “justice,” with endless and often violent protests hectoring about “justice” for Trayvon, for Michael Brown, for Eric Larson. Their “justice” turns out to be more about revenge than about what is right.
Researchers again and again have found that forgiveness is not just good for the recipient, it is also good for our own physical, mental and spiritual health.
The best definition of “forgive” I know is to refrain from wishing ill to the person who has hurt you, but instead wish him/her well. Don’t nurse the grievance and let it fester inside you.
But to forgive doesn’t mean to forget, for if we forget, we are simply setting ourselves up for a repeat of the offense. Nor does forgiving means we must approve of the offender or the offending act. Nor does forgiving means we must continue the relationship because sometimes the offense enables you to clearly see who that person really is. As a result, you simply no longer desire to be in his/her company.
Psychologist Everett Worthington has developed some techniques that prove useful. One of them is the two-chairs technique. Someone with a grievance sits in Chair A and addresses a real but absent offender sitting in Chair B, telling him how he feels. The subject is then asked to move to Chair B and respond as the offender might. Sitting in the offender’s place to explain why they acted as they did, the offended subjects are forced to think “outside the box,” to put themselves in the other’s place, perhaps seeing for the first time circumstances they had previously overlooked. This can open the way for seeing both sides of the story, and, eventually, to forgiveness.
How forgiving are you? There’s a 33-question quiz you can take to find out. Click here.
You may be surprised by the result. (Like you, I struggle with feelings of being hurt by others, with anger, with forgiveness. I was quite stunned that my quiz result was way on the far right end of “More forgiving.” I can only attribute that to God’s grace and infinite mercy.)
May the Peace and Love of Jesus Christ, our Lord, be with you,