While out shopping over the holidays, I ran into someone from a former congregation of mine. She spoke about the turmoil gripping her congregation at that time because of a tainted leader. My heart grew heavy with sorrow from hearing the story she told. Essentially, the turmoil was caused because a leader egregiously offended a member of the congregation and then went on a smear campaign against that person to certain groups within the congregation. When the leaders’ actions against this person became known to the whole congregation, many others became offended by the leader’s behavior and treatment of this person. The leader was then called upon to give an account of his behavior, to apologize for his treatment of the wronged member and to ask for forgiveness from the whole congregation.
The sister who told me this tale was of the opinion that the leader was not repentant because he did not ask for forgiveness. He expected to be forgiven because of who he was and because he was addressing Christians.
I am aware that there are believers who think the “Christian” thing to do is forgive even when they aren’t asked by the offender to forgive them. But really, think about it, where does the relationship go from there? Yes, we can forgive an unrepentant person, but how does that improve their spiritual walk? In my experience, it doesn’t. What we can do with the unrepentant and all others is hand them and the burden, offenses included, received from the relationship with them over to Jesus. That is what we are instructed to do. Doing so, in the minimum, improves the spiritual walk of the offended party because we learn through these difficulties to depend more and more on Jesus.
In the same way, when I cause an offense, I seek guidance from my Lord on how to mend the breach. How do I rectify this situation? I lay my burden of guilt down at Jesus’s feet and ask His guidance on the action(s) I need to take to make my relationship right. With this process, I have learned to acknowledge offenses I have caused in my relationships; apologize for them and ask how I can make amends.
Here, I must admit, I am very quick to apologize for almost anything, but it is very rare that I ask if I am forgiven.
Forgiveness is not just a word; it is a function of astounding grace. It is not something that we can offer or receive lightly. We really can’t give grace at all. We receive grace from God. We receive our ability to forgive from God. And all that we receive is channeled through us.
A short while ago, I posted a piece titled Expect. Expectancy. Expectation. on my get up & walk, ride or fly blog. In this post, I wrote about how I have come full circle in regards to expectations – of myself and for others. At the beginning of my spiritual journey, I desperately wanted to shed myself of other people’s expectations of me. A couple of years later, I also realized I had to shed myself of my expectations of other people. Now I’m at a point where I am able to appreciate and accept responsibility for some of the expectations people have of me based on the natural progression of our relationship. And I am okay embracing the expectations of me that are formed in the space of a relationship with the person I’m interacting with.
However, throughout my brief study of expectations, I’ve noticed that what makes them so difficult to deal with is the innate arrogance associated with them. When we “expect” something of someone, we are basically assuming their actions, behavior, interactions and reactions will line up with our personal worldview.
When our own view of the world is accommodated to the exclusion of other people’s’ views, it sort of naturally follows that the needs of others in our lives will be neglected. One need in particular is the need to know that when an offense has been caused that both the offended party and the offender desire a reconciliation on some level. That is where the offender’s acknowledgement and repentance of the offense comes in. These are two crucial steps the offender needs to take in order to resolve (reconcile) the breach in the relationship.
Over the holidays, I had a conversation with an uncle who violently abused me in my childhood. This was my second conversation with him in twenty-four years. The last time I saw him was twelve Christmases ago, at which time I asked him why he had done what he did to me. His response: I thought I would get away with it. I didn’t think you would say anything.
I had initiated that conversation as the offended (shattered) party. I wanted an explanation. I wanted his sorrow. I wanted him to be REPENTANT. I wanted him to assure me that he had changed. Deep down, I wanted my uncle back (I’ve never admitted that before). Instead, I walked away from that conversation feeling even more offended and with more anger than before we had spoken.
A few weeks ago, as we gathered for my grandmother’s final days in this world, he followed me into a family sitting room at the hospital and he initiated a conversation. He literally started off by acknowledging the horrible violence he inflicted upon me and the impact it has had on the whole family. He apologized for his actions and assured me that not one day has gone by that he hasn’t been reminded of his despicable acts. He looked at me and said, “I hope that one day, you will find it in your heart to forgive me.”
I looked at him and smiled a very slight smile and said, “You were forgiven years ago. Perhaps I should have made an effort to let you know. I hold no grudge against you, nor do I have any animosity for you. I hope one day you’re able to forgive yourself.”
I walked away from this second conversation feeling as if God had blessed me beyond my ability to understand. The difference between the two conversations was when my uncle took responsibility for his actions, he was able to RECEIVE the forgiveness that was there for him all along. We were both blessed in that exchange.
We can only forgive because God first forgave us. It is His grace we are operating in. yet it is still a process. A process of healing. A process of renewing trust. A process of mending fractures. A process of rebuilding the relationship.
We are responsible for being willing vessels of God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness. When our hearts are open to Him, His Spirit can operate through us in breathtaking ways. We exhibit our willingness to yield to God by offering Him our hurts, pains, confusion, disillusionment and disappointments. We give Jesus our offenses. We give Jesus our guilt. We ask God to operate in our relationships. We allow His Holy Spirit to have His way by correcting us, healing us, guiding us and helping us to reconcile and restore our relationships.
I just want to say to you today: Check yourself. Check your relationships. Check your desire to reconcile, restore, and to rebuild. After your self-evaluation, ask yourself if you are truly asking to be forgiven for any offense you may have caused or are you simply sitting back and expecting forgiveness to roll over you? And keep in mind, if you’re sitting back expecting forgiveness to look a certain way, to feel a certain way or to sound a certain way, then you’re stuck in your own worldview and you’re probably missing out on receiving something that could bless you beyond your imagination. Don’t miss out on true fruit from your relationships: enlightenment and growth through the unending cycle of love and forgiveness. Be blessed and go out and be a blessing. God has asked it of you and He is expecting you to comply.