Perhaps I’ve lived a charmed life. Perhaps I’m the queen of denial. Perhaps I’ve been hard and soft wired to never play the victim, much less be one. You see, I think that I have been in the position of granting forgiveness much more often than needing to be forgiven. Ha! And if that’s not the ultimate confession of guilt and hubris, I don’t know what is.
I don’t mean that I’ve never apologized for anything, and it certainly doesn’t mean that I claim to have never harmed anyone, whether or not intentionally. All of that has been pretty obvious in my most recent portion of life. Becoming a parent required me to distinguish the deep healing nature of a clear, no-buts apology, from a pragmatic, obligatory tool, to keep things moving. Children tend to respond much more to intent and unvarnished emotion than to words or actions. In this, I have found them, my own included, to be much more astute than adults. And they may not be able to articulate it, but most of the time, they will call you out on it one way or another. If ignored, the harm is compounded for both, and can escalate outward, or worse, inward. It’s easy to see with children who have not yet mastered an ability to compartmentalize what they feel and what they do. I learned a lot about forgiveness from my child; however, that education may not have been enough to overcome a lifetime of conditioning.
My mom liked to tell me that, upon my arrival in our family, as a seven-month-old infant, I was already so “well-adjusted” and independent that my dad would marvel and say, “She could probably survive right now on the streets of Seoul.” There’s the hard-wiring. And they were Methodist ministers by vocation and inheritance, from the South and the Midwest, and children of The Depression, and so “stoic” is an understatement. There’s the soft-wiring, nature + nurture. In any case, I have always prided myself on my independence and ability to help bring peace to conflict – especially for others.
But I see the cost and the sin now. Defaulting to stoicism and humility has been my m.o., and after so long, I have become captive to it. At best, it is pseudo-martyrdom. At worst, it is selfishly protective and a fearful avoidance of sacred intimacy. It’s so much easier and safer to believe that the other deserves my forgiveness than to need to be forgiven. To deny forgiveness to another would be to expose my own pain and inadequacy. Yes, pride doth goeth before the fall. And the weight of my pride will surely force me to my knees to pray, “Please, Lord, set me free.”
Friends and members of our Christ Church family have prepared these daily reflections as a means for you to consider how forgiveness informs your faith walk during this holy season. They are a richly diverse group from many different geographies around our nation and globe, formed by a wide variety of traditions.