I got into this “argument” with a friend recently. I can’t remember the details of what it was about, but the next day, I still was holding on to it. I sent her an apologetic text, and she texted me back something along the lines of, “Would you care to join me in the present?”
I think that’s the first time in my life I truly experienced the feeling of forgiveness. And it didn’t just come from her words signaling that she had let go and there were no hard feelings. Forgiveness was my choice more than it was hers. I could have continued to beat myself up for being wrong, looked for the lesson in whatever it was I had done, or justified myself. Or, I could let it be history, because that’s what it was.
As I was driving to church yesterday this Matthew West song History came on the radio, and I thought of how my friend chose to let history be history and how I chose to do the same.
It occurred to me that I can make that choice to live in the present even if those who are angry and resentful at me are not able to make that choice. When I make a mistake, some people will be able to show me grace and forgiveness, and some will not. My decision to forgive myself is independent of their decision to hold a grudge.
As we journey ever closer to the Christian remembrance of the cross and resurrection this Lenten season, we are reminded that when Christ chose the cross, He literally made every sin we could ever commit “history” in His sacrifice.
In John 12:31-33 Jesus says, “‘Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.’ He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.”
When He was lifted up on the cross, Jesus drew every sin that ever was and ever would be up there with Him and made it history. Every sinful choice you or I have ever made and ever will make was already forgiven over 2,000 years ago, and the human grudges and resentments I choose to hold onto are powerless over the crucifixion. Who do I think I am, that I can withhold forgiveness when God Himself already gave it? What makes me think I can sit in judgment? Is it because someone hasn’t seen the error of their ways and apologized? Perhaps I need to remember that God’s forgiveness was unconditional; He forgives us before we say we are sorry. I’m not much of a Bible quoter, but Romans 5:8 tells us, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” If God doesn’t need my apology in order to forgive me, why should I require your apology before I forgive you?
When I withhold forgiveness from you, I’m not holding anyone but myself bound by those chains of hurt, anger and resentment. And when I withhold forgiveness from myself, I am deliberately rejecting the sacrifice that was made for me on the cross. I’m choosing to separate myself from the God who loves me. I’m choosing hell. It is not God who condemns me to Hell, but I who condemn myself. Who am I to play God?
I used to frequent an online forum dedicated to healing broken marriages, and there was a woman who participated who called herself “New Every Day.” She was married to an alcoholic who sometimes lived in sobriety, and sometimes didn’t. Most people who haven’t loved an alcoholic would probably think she was nuts to stay with him – I know I did. Her screen name reflected her strategy for being able to live with the man she loved in spite of his disease. She lived in the moment. The mistakes of yesterday, both her own and his, she left in yesterday, and she chose to be new every day, and see him as new every day, too. Not that she lived with blinders on. She protected herself from harm by being financially self-supporting. She didn’t endure emotional abuse, instead removing herself from the situation if he was behaving in an unacceptable way. She cultivated a vibrant social and spiritual life outside of her marriage and surrounded herself with the support of friends who understood what she was going through so that she was not emotionally dependent on a man who was incapable of consistent emotional support. She lived forgiveness. Eventually, she chose to leave the relationship. She did not do so from a place of anger and resentment, but rather from a place of love. She loved herself too much to continue to stay in a partnership that wasn’t a partnership, and she loved him too much to continue to be his enabling soft place to land every time he hit bottom with his drinking.
Forgiveness is the only door to freedom.