Forgiving in order to Heal Oneself
I recently came across the story of a family who had gone out together for a long, wonderful evening of fun. They had a fantastic meal at a fine restaurant in the city and then went to a wonderful performance at the theatre. It was a wonderful evening. As they knew it would be a late night, they had even secured an Uber driver to take them into the city and then back home after the show.
However, when they arrived home, they discovered that while they were gone into the city for their evening of fun, their home had been broken into and robbed. The house had been ransacked, lots of items taken and even more property destroyed. And many of the things taken or destroyed had not only monetary value, but deep sentimental value as well.
While everyone was in shock and upset about the violation of their home and the loss of possessions, the wife and mother of the family could not seem to let it any of it go and struggled to move on with life.
Her shock turn to anger and then fright. Her inner spring of security had been poisoned. For weeks, the break–in was never far from any of her conversations. She became suspicious of anyone she didn’t recognize and had trouble sleeping. Even after an alarm system and security lights were installed, she hated to leave her home, especially at night. She began missing outings with friends and even her kid’s evening activities. In essence she had become shackled to bad memories.
One evening, several weeks after the robbery, the theft was again the topic of family conversation. The lady’s teenage son, spoke up and said, “You know I think we should stop dwelling on what happened to us. We only lost things, but they are missing a lot more.”
The mother asked him what he meant.
He said, “Mom, obviously they are missing out on the joy found in the grace of God. If they weren’t missing this, they would never be doing these kind of things – you know breaking laws.”
The teen went on to suggest that he thought they should pray for the intruders.
Taking his advice, the woman began doing this. Slowly she realized the faithful wisdom that her teenage son had spoken. And over time she was able to forgive these thieves and move on with her life – though she still used the security alarm.
Some months later she told a group of friends at a “girls’ night out” dinner in the city that once she was able to forgive the thieves, her own sense of inner peace returned.
In Proverbs we read that “Love prospers when a fault is forgiven but dwelling on it separates close friends.”
Often the forgiveness given and received in this text is interpreted as a forgiveness between one person and another. The truth is that our inability to forgive can sometimes impact our relationships with people who had absolutely nothing to do with the actual transgression against us. Just like the woman who was punishing herself and her loved ones by her inability to move on from the wrong done to her and her family.
Lewis Benedictus Smedes was a renowned Christian author, ethicist, and theologian. He was professor of theology and ethics for twenty-five years at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.
One of his most famous quotes summarizes well the thoughts found in Proverbs, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
Additionally, forgiveness is one of the specific calls Jesus gave us to follow. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Friends, at the heart of love is forgiveness. Without forgiveness one is unable to keep loving when times get hard—which they always do. Instead, forgiveness allows us to keep loving and find the ability to move on in joy.
Rev. Dr. Smedes’s most popular book was Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don't Deserve. In it he wrote, “Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”
Friends, may we work to forgive others. May we pray for those who have hurt us. May we love even those who don’t love us. And may we forgive others who hurt and do so remembering each week we ask God to forgive us the same as we forgive others.