I started this blog with the rather bold assertion that grace is always the best choice. When we’re hurt or offended or annoyed- our reaction should be grace. But this week I was challenged in that. What if the person who wronged you doesn’t seem to have learned their lesson? Wouldn’t forgiving them seem like condoning their behavior? When can you give up on them?
I had to think about it. There was a part of me that wondered if perhaps my whole idea was pretty naive. To offer endless forgiveness? That is a little extreme. But then I remembered how I came to this idea about grace and I was reminded why I still believe that grace matters.
The journey that led to the creation of this blog started, like many other stories, with a boy. A boy who rather unceremoniously dumped me at the end of last summer. He was the only guy I had ever dated and the end of the relationship sent me into a range of emotions that I had never had to deal with before.
Not only had I lost one of my best friends, but I was convinced it wasn’t supposed to end the way it did. I was devastated and I was angry. Angry for the broken promises and cancelled plans. Angry at myself for trusting him. Angry at him for letting me. And I felt so justified in my anger. After everything I did for him, all the times I had been there for him when he was going through a hard time, now here I was going through my darkest time and he was nowhere to be found.
Eventually my anger and anxiety got to the point where I was making myself physically sick. I was barely eating, dropping pounds that I frankly can’t afford to lose, when I finally began to really pray about it. It was the desperate kind of prayer of someone who has realized at last that she can’t do this on her own.
And that’s when things started to fall into place. Suddenly it seemed like everything I read, everything I heard in church, every song I sang all came back to the idea of grace. Grace that is greater than all my sin.
Faced with the boundless, perfect grace of God that I was enjoying, I saw the pettiness of my anger towards someone whose worst sin against me may have been carelessness. And I knew I had to forgive him.
Even this didn’t happen all at once. It was a process to let go of each and every one of the grievances that I was holding on to. And they didn’t leave without a fight.
But when I finally let go of them, it changed me. It revived me. I became once again the person that I was meant to be, instead of a bitter shadow of myself.
Up until now I’ve been vague about what led to my discovery (or rediscovery) of grace because I didn’t want to dwell on what happened in the past. And maybe there was the matter of pride. I wanted to share the wisdom that I gained from that experience without having to relive the messiness of how I got there. But I realized this week that this, too, is part of the story. It’s a part of my story that I would never give up because it lead me to understand this crucial part of my faith in a way that I hadn’t before.
I also learned that forgiveness is not ultimately something that we do for other people. The first reason we forgive is because God tells us to.
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)
Forgiveness is above all an act of faith. We hold onto anger because we think that we need to. Whether it’s because we want to assure ourselves that we won’t make the mistake of trusting that person again or to teach them a lesson by treating them the way we think they deserve, when we don’t forgive it’s because we think we’re in control. To let go and forgive means to trust that God is truly in control of the situation.
The second reason we forgive is because holding onto anger does nothing for us, as Christians or as people. It makes us feel terrible and it makes us treat others badly. When I failed to forgive, not only was I was making myself physically sick by holding onto anger, but what kind of Christian was I being? Was I showing love?
I think that if Jesus wanted us to make exceptions he would have included some escape clauses in the commandment to love our neighbors. But He didn’t say, “Love your neighbor.. unless your neighbor breaks your heart or is especially irritating.” He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)
Maybe it’s naive, even stupid, to live that way. But I would rather be a fool and trust God than the wisest person in the world and trust in myself.