In ongoing celebration of my Jubilee year of 50 years in ministry and 70 years of life, I am sharing some of the words of my life. This one isn’t easy–it involves asking, receiving and giving.
So when our children were interviewed for a small radio bit on Steve and me, they were asked about something they had observed or learned from us. Michelle responded easily: “From my mom I learned how to ask for forgiveness.”
At first pass, I thought, “What a wonderful things for her to say.” As I thought about it, though, she was clearly implying, “My mom had to ask me for forgiveness many times.”
Which was true.
As a child I was stubborn and demanding, offending my sisters often. As a teen, I was pretty rebellious, distressing my parents often.
So when I heard the gospel and learned what Christ had suffered to pay for my sins, I was overwhelmed. I knew I had plenty to be forgiven for and could hardly believe that Jesus would do that for me.
Forgiveness became an important word in my life. I got lots of practice.
As I slowly moved forward, seeking to walk with God and become more Christlike, I made plenty of mistakes. When I became a parent, those opportunities multiplied.
As I raised my voice, or was too busy for one of my children, or disciplined unfairly, or in some other way hurt or wronged one of these treasures, I had to humble myself, admit I was wrong and ask for forgiveness.
This did not come easily. Who wants to say those words: “I was wrong. Or I sinned. Please forgive me.”
But I believe it is one of the most important things I do as a parent—to be honest and vulnerable with my children, to model the life Christ has called us to. Asking forgiveness is equally important in all our relationships—we must deal with the hurts and offenses that build walls between us and those we live with, live by, work with, worship with.
Hopfully that person will graciously grant our request and forgive us. There is a required humility in receiving that forgiveness—we may know we don’t deserve it, just as we don’t deserve the forgiveness purchased by Christ.
And there is the possibility that they will not forgive. Then we must extend grace to this person in his unwillingness to cancel the debt. It makes me sad when that happens, for reconciliation is foregone. But we have the peace that we have done as Jesus instructed.
Sometimes the places are reversed: We have been wronged. The one who has offended us hopefully comes asking for forgiveness. And then we can follow the model of our Savior on the cross, saying, “I forgive you.”
Yes, what they have done might have been terrible, and seemingly “unforgivable.” And there might be no repentance, no asking to be forgiven. They might never acknowledge the sin they have committed, the wrong they have done to us.
Yet still we forgive. We may have to forgive again—we don’t let go easily. Forgiving doesn’t excuse wrongs committed—consequences can still apply. Trust may not be restored. But mercy is given, even as Christ told Peter—70 times 7.
Henri Nouwen defines forgiveness as “love practiced among people who love poorly” He goes on: “…even as I have said [I forgive you]…I still wanted to hear the story that tells me I was right…I still wanted the satisfaction of receiving praise in return…for being so forgiving
“But God’s forgiveness is unconditional; it comes from a heart that does not demand anything for itself….It is this divine forgiveness that I have to practice in my daily life….it demands that I step over that wounded part of my heart that feels hurt and wronged, and that wants to stay in control and put a few conditions between me and one whom I am asked to forgive.”
And this word from Philip Yancey: “…forgiveness is an act of faith. By forgiving another, I am trusting that God is a better justice-maker than I am…I leave in God’s hands the scales that must balance justice and mercy…Though wrong does not disappear when I forgive, it loses its grip on me and is taken over by God, who knows what to do.”
What about you? Is there someone you need to forgive? Or ask for forgiveness?
C2014 Judy Douglass