Lenten Meditation: Forgiveness Revisited

Several years ago, I met with a group of moms to explore one of our Lord's first words from the Cross: Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. Luke 23:34

As our discussion went on, we talked about the struggle we all have to forgive our offenders.  I shared a short section from a book that years ago had an incredible impact on me in the area of forgiveness.

I used to think that the struggle to forgive was itself sinful...as well as the horrible feelings I had in the whole thing.  But I've come to realize that the struggle and the feelings are all part of the human condition on this earth.  Perhaps they are rather temptations to the sin of unforgiveness.

Here are the five points that Lewis Smedes writes in his book Shame and Grace.  I pray these points will be helpful to you as well.

Consider forgiveness as a personal drama with five scenes [I love that Smedes doesn't express them as "steps" but rather as an unfolding "story"]:

Scene One:  We blame the [offender]. We hold him or her accountable.  If we do not hold people accountable for what they did to us, we will not forgive them.  We may indulge them, perhaps, as if it did not matter much, or we may excuse them, as if they could not help doing what they did.  But we will forgive them only if we hold them responsible for what they did to us.

Scene Two:  We surrender our right to get even. We take our natural right to a balanced account--a right to fairness, mind you, that is all, only what we deserve--we take it in our hands, look it over, consider its possibilities, and then surrender it [to the Lord, I might add].  We agree to live with the score untied.

Scene Three:  We revise our caricature of the person who [offended] us. When we taste our resentment, we roll it around our minds the way we roll a sour lozenge around on our tongues, and we taste it, our minds draw a caricature of our [offender].  We turn him into a monster who is what he did to us.  We see him; we feel him; we define his whole person in terms of how he [offended] us. However, as we move with the forgiving flow, we gradually change our monster back into the weak and faulty human being he is (or was), not all that different from ourselves.

Scene Four:  We revise our feelings As the frozen tundra of resentment melts, a tendril of compassion breaks through the crust.  Sorrow blends with anger.  Sympathy softens resentment.  We feel emerging in our consciousness a hesitant desire for the other person's welfare.

Scene Five:  We accept the person who [hurt us]. In the last scene of the drama, we offer our [offender] the grace that God has offered us.  We not only pardon him; we also accept him.  We take him back into our lives as a fellow member of the human race.  Chances are that we are not able to restore the special relationship we had before.  But if we cannot be reconciled, it will not be our resentment that prevents it.

Dear friends, may the Forgiving Christ so fill our vision and our lives that He lives His forgiving life through us...one "scene" at a time.

[Note:  The brackets represent where I changed the words shamer/shame to alternate words.]

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I later read an excellent sermon by Dr. Smedes, entitled "Five Things Everyone Should Know About Forgiving."

Here's a summary of the "five things":

1. Forgiving is the only way to be fair to yourself after someone hurts you unfairly. 2. Forgivers are not doormats; they do not have to tolerate the bad things that they forgive. 3. Forgivers are not fools; they forgive and heal themselves, but they do not have to go back for more  abuse. 4. We don’t have to wait until the other person repents before we forgive him or her and heal ourselves. 5. Forgiving is a journey. For us, it takes time, so be patient and don’t get discouraged if you backslide have to do it over again.