Friday, August 13, 2010

The Unforgiven

You know that red "STOP" button most treadmills have that you can push if you start going too fast, or lose your footing? Typically, the thing does not stop immediately, but rather slows quickly. In the last week or so I've been running along on my treadmill of life, feeling in the flow of God's will, feeling his overwhelming blessing on my life. You know, at that point where you feel like you could keep running forever . . . So many of my prayers have been ones of thankfulness and praise. (I admit that in times of struggle, thankfulness and praise come to mind embarrassingly less often.)

But then in the midst of this, someone hit the red STOP button on my treadmill and it wasn't a gradual slowdown. It was sudden, immediate. Almost threw me off the treadmill.

Someone in my life, who I have known for a long time, said something to me that hurt so deeply, I questioned who I am, where I've been, where I'm going. I don't quite understand why this person said the things that were said. The words seemed to come from a place of pain, somewhere that hurts. And, this is why the words said hurt me so much. You see, I hurt this person long ago. Thinking about the pain I caused makes my heart ache. But I said I was sorry and meant it with my whole being, I asked for forgiveness, and believed that I had been forgiven. Now I am wondering whether I was ever forgiven.

This made me think about how often I've heard myself and others counsel a potential forgiver to forgive so that the person who caused the pain or hurt stops taking up real estate in your heart, wasting mental time you don't have, and exerting power over you by allowing anger or shame or hurt to hang around in your head. In other words, it is good for your mental and emotional health for you to forgive. I have counseled many people I know in this way: forgive so you can heal; forgive so you can move forward and not allow the person who has hurt you to take up the little space you have; it will be beneficial to you, the forgiver, to forgive.

Today, for the first time, I think, I thought about the unforgiven -- the one our potential forgiver is considering whether to forgive. How is that person impacted by unforgiveness? And let us assume that this person is sorry, regrets the pain she caused. I know what it is to be that person. And, wow, is it a powerful and painful thing to know. Let me put it this way: for the first time in my life, I'm wondering which is worse: to be hurt? or to hurt someone and be unforgiven? I have been in both places; we all have, I suspect.

There is something about being hurt that at least allows you some control -- you can decide to move forward. You can turn your hurt over to God and over time let go of it. Not that this is easy . . . but the ability to heal is not tied to the will of anyone else.

But when you hurt someone and they don't forgive you, you never can quite move on it seems. They can exercise such power over you. Every time they see you or interact with you, they can hold over you the fact that you hurt them. You cannot make them forgive you. That is within their sole ability. You are at their mercy. It seems like they can hit the STOP button any time and, without notice, throw you off track.

Here is where the first lesson hit me:

The potential forgiver has power. This is something I knew already, but about which I was reminded. And, there are many places in the Bible that discuss forgiveness, obviously. God's forgiveness of our sins through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is fundamental. But what I began to think about is that forgiveness does not stand alone. Behind it, holding it up, allowing for it, is two other things, both in the eternal sense and in our everyday interactions with each other. These two things are MERCY and LOVE. God forgives because he is merciful and loving. When we forgive, we are demonstrating mercy and love.

Micah 6:8 says: "And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." God requires us to love mercy. If we love mercy, we would forgive. Ever wonder what Jesus meant exactly when he said "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you"? At the very least, it means forgive them. Forgive your enemies. As Jesus took his last breaths, he said "Father, forgive them . . ."

As a person who is unforgiven, I ask that you have mercy. That you love mercy. That you forgive. And, I beg that you would love your enemy. That you would forgive me.

But, if you will not forgive me, and this is the second lesson, know this: you will not have power over me. This is a harder lesson to really get, primarily because it is torture for the sorry-full unforgiven to remain unforgiven. It is to be denied mercy and love. It makes me go over and over all the pain I caused. I alphabetize it, enumerate it, breathe it. I wonder how I could have done differently, why I said certain things, why I did certain things. The amount of judgment I can bring down on myself is significant and it is heavy. It makes my eyes sag, my shoulders tense, my breath shorten. Thankfully, this is not a place God intends for us to be.

Romans 8:1 says "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death." I have never totally understood this verse until now.

God does not require me to second guess. He does not require me to judge myself or to go back over and over and over the things that I have done. Indeed, not even He second guesses or condemns once I have repented and asked for forgiveness. The condemnation of myself or that of my potential forgiver is a lie. There is no condemnation for me, for I am in Christ Jesus. Period.

The red STOP button has been disconnected and I'm back at full speed on the treadmill.


  1. You are amazing. Thank you for saying all that. Not just on your own behalf, but for the rest of us who likewise carry our own unique brand of guilt, and the weight of unforgiveness. Christ has set us free.

  2. I agree, you are truly amazing. To have taken your recent experience, analyzed it and written such a beautiful, heartfelt summary of your thoughts is beyond amazing. You do have the power--with you and with Christ.

  3. The condemnation, of both the forgiver and the forgiven, lies in their inability to "let go”. The forgiver can forgive and not, "let go". The forgiven can receive forgiveness and not, "let go". Salvation lies in the ability to "let go", or truly, forgiveness was never realized. There is no complex algorithm to the equation. Forgiveness from Christ is absolute, forgiveness from man is not. In either case, salvation results from repentance and the ability to “let go”. Through this, Christ gives us the power to forgive ourselves, even when others cannot.

  4. ...I failed to mention that I too find you to be truly amazing, for this, as well as entirely separate reasons.