In Ephesians 4:32 it says “And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. These last words of the Epistle speak of forgiveness. In Luke 6:37 it is written, Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. This is also the major premise behind our most universal prayer “The Lord’s Prayer”. . .”Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” It is, if you will, a two way street.
When I was three I made my Grandma cry. I loved my grandma more than anyone. She was kind and so loving and she would let me brush her hair for hours. I would stay with her overnight and as a treat we would walk from her house downtown and go to Woolworth’s or Kresge’s and sit at the lunch counter where I would spin around in circles on the stools and have ham salad sandwiches and a coke. I thought it was the most delicious lunch in the world. After we ate she would let me peruse the toy section and pick out something small but so special to take home with me at the end of my stay. One day I picked out a new Cinderella coloring book and a brand new box of jumbo crayons. I was so thrilled. I was the youngest kid in our house and had never had my own crayons before. We walked back up the hill to grandma’s and I proceeded to color page after page of Cinderella scenes. . .grandma was busy cleaning and I got a little bored so I started coloring the leg of the chair next to me and then I decided the cushion of the chair would look really pretty red so I began to color it. . .all of a sudden the door opened and my grandma walked in and saw what I was doing and Wow!!!!! Was she upset! Never before had I ever made my grandma upset. . .she yelled a bit and grabbed those new crayons and coloring book and whisked them away from me and straight into the garbage. I was in shock. . .I had just made my grandma so angry that she hated me. Now I would never have a grandma to love me again. My life would never be the same. I kind of knew I shouldn’t have been coloring furniture but I really didn’t know it wouldn’t come out. Grandma stomped away and left me sitting there all alone and I felt like an orphan. I was positive she would never love me again and I sat in the middle of the floor and cried. A few minutes, seemed like an eternity, passed and my grandma re-appeared and calmly and quietly came over and sat down on the florr next to me and wrapped her arms around me and said “ I am sorry I yelled. I shouldn’t have gotten so angry. PLEASE FORGIVE ME”. I had never heard those words before and I realized at that moment that because she said that, she really loved me. She really was sorry for getting so upset and by asking me to forgive her she was also giving me the opportunity to show her in return how much I loved her. Forgiveness. . .it felt good.
When I was in high school I was lucky enough to still be dancing (ballet, toe, Jazz etc…) at a local dance studio that I had been at since I was very young. The dance master asked me if I would be willing to help teach ballet to the little beginners. I was thrilled and honored. At the time my parents were going through a rough time in their marriage and my mother was drinking too much and too often and self-medicating with prescription drugs in an effort , I assume, to cope. I went home and I was elated to be able to share my exciting news and arrived home that evening to find my mother already “goofy” as we kids called it. As you might guess I was very disappointed that she could not share in the excitement of my news. I wasn’t just disappointed . . .I was broken hearted. I was pretty grown-up for 16 and responsible at that age but not even close to being mature enough to understand that my anger actually should have transitioned to sadness and compassion at her being a victim of this illness and it should have converted quickly to forgiveness. I was too hurt. I could not understand. I was self-absorbed in my own self-pity and could not find a way to get to that understanding and forgiveness. A couple of days later I was spending some alone time with my father and I shared this story with him. Remember that the two of them were at war amongst themselves in their marriage at this time and yet he was able to sit down and explain to me that my mom needed some “lee-way” at that point and that she would eventually feel like being supportive of what was going on in my life but right then I needed to be the bigger person and set my feelings aside and ask God to help me “forgive” her. I was so impressed by my father’s ability to show his love for my mom even when they were not particularly “in love’ at that point. It truly shows that he held that “everlasting love” for her. The kind that solid marriage are made of. . .in January they will be married for 63 years.
Forgiveness. Is there any more comforting feeling? I think giving forgiveness is even more satisfying than getting it. It takes a lot of prayer and thought to arrive at the place deep inside that brings you the strength to resolve in your heart and mind the pain someone may have caused you. There have been times, especially after my divorce that I thought I would never be able to find that strength. But the bible tells us in Matthew 18:21 “Peter approaching the Lord asked him, Lord if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as Seven times?. . .Jesus answered I say to you, not seven times but seventy –seven times.” My first husband was a horrible sick alcoholic. He cheated on me throughout the nine years we were married, he sexually abused me, He physically abused me and eventually when my children began to be exposed to his vicious behavior, I left him. After the divorce he completely abandoned the children. They spent years begging and wishing and praying and waiting for him to come back and be a father to them but he never did. I then had the task of helping my children forgive their father for the pain he caused them. It took me over three years to find forgiveness for what he had done and it took my poor kids almost three times that long to search their souls and find the strength to forgive. That strength is divine strength and it is a gift but it can be a very difficult gift to use properly and as intended.
This is a very sensitive subject for me but I have shared this story before and found great grace in the telling of it so I will share with you what I perceived for many years to be my greatest sin. As I have mentioned there was a fair amount of turmoil in my home when I was growing up. When I was beginning my junior year in high school I met a boy who was three years older than I and very handsome and I thought he was the answer to all of my problems. . .we date all through that year of high school and toward the end of the school year, Just as I was looking forward to my senior year and graduating, my father announced we were moving to Peoria. I was devastated. I could not imagine leaving all of my friends at such a crucial time. I already had plans and dreams of that final year of high school. It was going to be the best year ever and my parents were taking me away from it. I would spend my most important year of school (at least that’s how I looked at it) in some mid-state town I had never heard of almost three hours away from everything that was so special to me and most importantly, away from my boyfriend. I was sick. I cried and pleaded and bargained and did everything I could to get my parents to let me finish my last year of school where I had grown up. I could live with my grandparents and I would get straight “A’s” and I would do ANYTHING if they would just not make me move. There was no talking them out of it. The decision had been made and I was going with them. I spent the summer in a daze and emotionally I was ruined. I was depressed and afraid and could not imagine a worse fate. I didn’t care anymore about rules or curfews or listening to what they thought. By the end of that very careless and reckless summer I found out I was pregnant. I was 17 and pregnant and I was ruining everyone’s life. . .not just my own. . .I was embarrassed and ashamed and more frightened than I had ever been in my life. I got married three weeks later because that is what you did back then and I spent the next nine years in that abusive marriage and I suffered in silence. I suffered in silence because I felt I deserved it. I did the right things, I was a good mom a dutiful wife but I always felt unworthy. . .I always felt un-holy because I didn’t understand forgiveness I did not know how to make it up to God. Since that mistake at 17 I spent years allowing myself to be punished in so many ways for what I had done. I endured psychological, physical, and much emotional trauma and abuse always feeling that I deserved what I was getting. I believed I had to pay for my sin. In my own mind I would never, ever be able to make this right with God. Yes, I went to confession. Yes, the Priest EVERTIME I confessed this sin tried to put my mind at ease and to assure me that I was worthy of proceeding on my path to heaven. What was lacking? I was shocked when a very wise priest finally told me my faith was lacking. Who was I to second guess the teachings of my faith regarding confession and reconciliation? God himself was offering forgiveness but I was oblivious to that and so lacking in my belief that I missed the fact that the Lord had forgiven me many, many years ago. One of the greatest blessings in my life was when God led me to my second husband Bill. He was kind and faith filled and understanding and so compassionate. He loved me and he loved my children and I didn’t know why God would bless me with such a gift but I knew that Bill was a true gift from God and I married him and loved him every single day for 21 years. It was not until my dear sweet Bill was diagnosed with terminal cancer that I was blessed with the ability to listen carefully to the voice of God in my heart and realized that this tragedy, the worst imaginable in my mind, was in fact NOT a punishment for my sin but in fact was simply the divine will of God. It took more than 30 years for this to finally sink in to my brain. Not understanding this or not comprehending this had nothing to do with God not forgiving me. God is an “all forgiving” God. This was only due to my own lack of knowledge of the deepest precepts of my faith. . .I was not able to forgive myself.
Matthew 6:14 and 15 says If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly father will forgive you but if you do not forgive others neither will your father forgive your transgressions. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. . . .the universal prayer. . .but once you have accomplished this remember that God has forgiven you and in union with God . . . you must forgive others, you must forgive yourself . . .it’s a THREE way street.