Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Forgiveness is a Gift

Forgiveness is a Gift

Christmas is a time of giving and receiving gifts. How about giving the gift of forgiveness to someone who has hurt you this Christmas? The gift will not only heal their heart, but it will also bring healing to your heart. Forgiveness is truly a gift to be shared, but it takes practice to learn how to share this gift.

When our children were very small, I remember how difficult it was for me to accept the idea of forgiveness on a practical level.  It goes both ways, we forgive, and we ask to be forgiven.  Our family was having breakfast when my toddler son spilled his milk.  I reacted by scolding him, and he immediately started crying.  I went to the kitchen to get him some more milk and in the process spilled a whole lot more milk than he did.  My first thought was to quietly clean it up and not say anything, but I knew that wouldn’t be right.  As hard as it was, I returned with the milk and apologized to my son and the family.  That act of forgiveness healed his little heart and taught me this is the only way I would be able to teach my family about forgiveness.  I would have to be the first to ask for forgiveness when I did wrong.

Apologizing to people is one of the ways we open the door to forgiveness.  No matter what it takes, we have to forgive, even those who won’t forgive us.  The benefits of forgiveness are wonderful, but the consequences of not forgiving are devastating.  How many marriages could have been saved from divorce if both or even one of the spouses had learned to say these simple words, “I’m sorry.”  Dick Keys writes insightfully about our difficulty of offering apologies:

Apologies are never easy, but apologies for resentment are among the most difficult. This is because the same pride that drives us into resentment blocks our retreat from it. Think of the difference between the ways a squirrel and a cat climb a tree. The squirrel has the equivalent of your thumb on the back of its front paws which enables it to scamper down a tree as easily and neatly as it goes up it. The cat, on the other hand, has only claws on the front of its paws.  It can climb up a tree very nicely, but it is a great indignity for a cat to come down. It must come down backwards, usually very slowly, twisting and clutching at the bark, looking over one shoulder.  A cat might climb to the top of a tree and the fire department comes to carry it down on a ladder.  In our rush into anger at high speed and with great ease and there we sit in the high branches, with the reminder, ‘Anger lodges in the bosom of fools’ (Eccl. 7-9).  To get rid of resentment can be an awkward and humiliating experience.  Like the cat, we too would rather wait until someone hears our howling and sympathizes with us, and helps to carry us down from our perch with gentleness and dignity. In short, we wait for the other person to apologize to us.[i]

Getting past the hurts others have done to us is vital to seeing our future.  Unless we are able to forgive and allow God’s forgiveness to heal our broken hearts, we will never see the future God has for us.  One time when ordering Chinese food, I received a fortune cookie that read: “Time heals all wounds.”  How often have we heard this refrain, but it is simply not true.  Time alone is not enough to heal our deepest wounds, only God can do that though the gift of forgiveness.

[i] Dick Keyes, Beyond Identity, (Great Britain, Paternoster Press: 1998), 211.

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