August 31

4 Listen, God; we are despised! Turn their insults to us back on their heads and make them like plunder in a captive land. 5 Don’t forgive their iniquity or blot out their sins from your sight. They have thrown insults at the builders! 6 We continued to build the wall. All of it was joined together, and it reached half of its intended height because the people were eager to work. Nehemiah 4:4-6, CEB

 

When we’re processing productively, and not ruminating, it might look something like this. We don’t take another person’s inventory for them. We don’t speculate about thoughts, feelings, motivations, or intentions. The harm is already done anyway, so what do these things matter? Harm is harm whether it was intended or not. Forgiveness isn’t about understanding or, making sense of, another person’s internal process. So, we do the hard work of giving up knowing the unknowable and commit ourselves to what actually matters: learning to grow and move forward in spite of evil done to us in the past.

We let go and move on not by forgetting or ignoring the past but by consciously trying to live out our way of seeing. Nobody can take that from us. People can harm us physically, emotionally, psychologically, and whatever else. They can take many things from us. But they cannot pull us away from our way of seeing. In fact, if we stop living out our certain way of seeing because of something someone has done to us then we have truly given them all the power they could ever want and more. By staying committed to our way of seeing and trying to find the grace and mercy to forgive then we have stopped the cycle of violence and allowed God to shine in the midst of darkness.

We need to break the cycle. There’s too much revenge and tit-for-tat thinking in this world. It’s creating more problems than we can number. Why keep contributing to the mess? Let’s do the hard work of going first and setting an example.

 


August 30

4 Listen, God; we are despised! Turn their insults to us back on their heads and make them like plunder in a captive land. 5 Don’t forgive their iniquity or blot out their sins from your sight. They have thrown insults at the builders! 6 We continued to build the wall. All of it was joined together, and it reached half of its intended height because the people were eager to work. Nehemiah 4:4-6, CEB

 

Sometimes it can be helpful to have moments of anger and/or frustration, as we see in these verses. The difficulty comes when these things become habitual. When we make it too much of a daily practice we enter into “rumination” territory. Rumination is when we sort of cycle through the same repeated patterns of negative thoughts over and over again without ever really breaking the cycle. The longer we stay in the cycle, the harder it is to get out.

There’s a difference between ruminating on something and simply taking the proper time to process an event. Everyone needs time to process. Rumination starts when processing starts to turn into obsessing. There’s a threshold we cross where our processing is no longer helpful and, instead, just feels like ceaselessly bashing the offender. I had a friend once tell me, “You’ve got one more week to talk about that situation. After that, you’ve got to move on.” I had taken too long. Processing turned into rumination. My close friends could see that and forced me to see it as well.

Ruminating doesn’t help us. It just holds us back and keeps us stuck in the mud. If you’re not sure you can tell the difference between processing and ruminating then just ask the people you’re processing/ruminating with. If they’re good friends then they’ll set you straight.


August 29

4 Listen, God; we are despised! Turn their insults to us back on their heads and make them like plunder in a captive land. 5 Don’t forgive their iniquity or blot out their sins from your sight. They have thrown insults at the builders! 6 We continued to build the wall. All of it was joined together, and it reached half of its intended height because the people were eager to work. Nehemiah 4:4-6, CEB

We’re striving to get to a place where we can make a conscious choice to our offenders. Well, in actuality, we’d like to be able to extend grace to everyone. In the process of forgiveness, though, it’s a particular type of grace we’re extending. It’s a grace that has strings-attached. I don’t mean strings in the sense of “obligation”, forgiveness doesn’t oblige the offender to do anything. I mean that the grace isn’t cheap, and it doesn’t come without some kind of accountability (even if the offender is completely unaware of this fact).

Forgiveness is an act that, by definition, draws attention to harm done. Forgiveness does not let the offender off the hook. It puts the offender on the hook. It takes the darkness of the offense and puts it in the light. It is exposed. When you forgive, you are acknowledging before God that your offender committed an offense. And then, you’re acknowledging that even though an offense occurred, you’re not going to continue to hold it against them. You’re not ignoring the wrong done. You’re not giving them a “pass”. You’re acknowledging there is nothing about the offense that indicates they’ve earned or deserved forgiveness. You’re forgiving because you’re called to imitate God in extending gifts of grace and mercy. Your offender will benefit from your faith, but not because the wrong is not important, not because it needs to be ignored, and not because they deserve to benefit. They benefit because God is in the business of extending grace and mercy because that’s how things change and we get the opportunity to participate in that mission, even if it hurts.

Justice isn’t ours to give out. We can’t make these people pay. We don’t even know what a “just” punishment might look like. But we also don’t have to pretend like we haven’t been harmed. We don’t have to make excuses. We don’t have to “forget”. We can acknowledge the offensiveness while, at the same time, we dare to believe that offenses aren’t the only things in this world that matter.

We want the hope that comes from knowing that our own offensiveness won’t get the last say in our lives. Let’s at least try (emphasis on try) to make sure that other people’s offensiveness doesn’t get the last say in theirs.


August 28

4 Listen, God; we are despised! Turn their insults to us back on their heads and make them like plunder in a captive land. 5 Don’t forgive their iniquity or blot out their sins from your sight. They have thrown insults at the builders! 6 We continued to build the wall. All of it was joined together, and it reached half of its intended height because the people were eager to work. Nehemiah 4:4-6, CEB

 

We see prayers like this all over the Bible and, a lot of times, the people who are praying in this way are admirable, respectable, upright people. It’s kind of weird to think that “good” people can pray prayers where they’re asking God to smite someone else. Surely that’s wrong, right? Sort of. It’s okay to ask God to do anything as long as you can live with the fact that He might not do it (and trust that He knows what He’s doing).

The thing is, these kinds of prayers are fine to pray when they’re honest expressions of our hearts. When we feel the way Nehemiah felt then that should be expressed, there’s no point hiding our actual lived experience from our Creator. But, at the same time, it doesn’t mean we have to aspire to pray in this way. We don’t have to idealize it and treat it as the goal we’re shooting for. After all, we don’t see a very forgiving attitude on display here.

Often, we’ll go through times like these, times when we want to smite and want God to do awful things to our offenders. It’s natural. Forgiveness tends to sneak up on us. It tends to happen when we least expect it. All of a sudden, one day, it’s there, and we didn’t even have a hint that it was coming. Forgiveness is not just a gift we give someone else but it’s a gift God gives to us. He gives us the capacity to become forgiving types of people.

This means that justice is in God’s hands- and we need to leave it there.


August 27

Jesus said to his disciples, “Things that cause people to trip and fall into sin must happen, but how terrible it is for the person through whom they happen. 2 It would be better for them to be thrown into a lake with a large stone hung around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to trip and fall into sin. 3 Watch yourselves! If your brother or sister sins, warn them to stop. If they change their hearts and lives, forgive them. 4 Even if someone sins against you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times and says, ‘I am changing my ways,’ you must forgive that person.”

 

5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

 

6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. Luke 17:1-6, CEB

 

It’s important to consider our “safety” when it comes to forgiveness. Well, to clarify, it’s important to consider safety if we’re actually thinking about having a conversation about forgiveness with an offender. We need to consider whether or not the offender is a trusted person who is capable of having a mature and reasonable conversation about forgiveness. They might not be. We have to be careful about making this particular judgment, though, because people can be capable of a lot more than we think. When it comes to the more extreme forgiveness issues- such as abuse in its various forms (physical, verbal, sexual, etc.) or other such things, we may want to play it safe.

 

This doesn’t mean forgiveness can’t happen. It just means that forgiving someone doesn’t always need to be explicit. They don’t need to be told. They don’t have to agree. They don’t necessarily get to participate. This doesn’t mean they don’t benefit. If they interact with you they will surely benefit from the lack of contempt you show. If they don’t interact with you, surely they will benefit from the fact that you speak respectfully about that person to others (not the same thing as being positive). And if they don’t benefit from either of those, then surely there will be some spiritual impact they will experience as a result of being forgiven that we wouldn’t even know how to describe or talk about.

 

So play it safe. Try in the most earnest, genuine way possible to forgive anyone who needs it. But don’t talk to them about it if it means putting yourself in physical (or even emotional or psychological) danger.


August 26

Jesus said to his disciples, “Things that cause people to trip and fall into sin must happen, but how terrible it is for the person through whom they happen. 2 It would be better for them to be thrown into a lake with a large stone hung around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to trip and fall into sin. 3 Watch yourselves! If your brother or sister sins, warn them to stop. If they change their hearts and lives, forgive them. 4 Even if someone sins against you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times and says, ‘I am changing my ways,’ you must forgive that person.”

5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. Luke 17:1-6, CEB

 

I can’t remember who wrote it, but one of my favorite lines from the forgiveness “book” we’ve been writing goes like this, “We can state desires, but if we are going to grow up, we have to trust God and others to deliver what we need in ways that maybe we haven’t considered.”

This quote comes within the context of a discussion about expectations. We have a lot of expectations about the forgiveness process. We have expectations about how we might feel or should feel. We have expectations about how others might react to us or should react to us. But, we’re not always going to get everything we expect and the question is, how are we going to respond to that?

Are we going to trust the process and keep working the program while believing that God will give us what we need? Are we going to trust that He’s going to show up in our lives in the form of other people who will also help to care for us, support us, and hold us honest and accountable? Or, do we let our expectations keep us frozen, paralyzed, and unable to keep moving forward? Expectations are a big deal. Can we keep them in check?


August 25

Jesus said to his disciples, “Things that cause people to trip and fall into sin must happen, but how terrible it is for the person through whom they happen. 2 It would be better for them to be thrown into a lake with a large stone hung around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to trip and fall into sin. 3 Watch yourselves! If your brother or sister sins, warn them to stop. If they change their hearts and lives, forgive them. 4 Even if someone sins against you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times and says, ‘I am changing my ways,’ you must forgive that person.”

 

5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

 

6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. Luke 17:1-6, CEB

 

One of the things we tried to stress in our forgiveness curriculum was the idea that we need to think about forgiveness in larger ways than simply what we get out of the process. If we’re only doing forgiveness because we get some benefit out of it, then that calls into question the sincerity of the process. There’s nothing wrong with benefitting from forgiveness and getting rid of resentments, but we believe the motivation behind truly genuine forgiveness is more selfless. This is why we have defined forgiveness as a gift that we give to someone else. Thinking of forgiveness as a gift given to an offender takes the focus off of us and puts it on the person who needs forgiveness (whether they know it or not).

Ultimately, we believe forgiveness is about finding ways to show grace and mercy to our offenders. It’s offering them something they might not think they want or need. It’s offering them something we certainly don’t want to give. But if our forgiveness is truly about imitating forgiveness the way God does it, then we forgive for the sake of the other person, and not the other way around. God forgives because He doesn’t want spiritual debts. He doesn’t want things hanging in the balance. He doesn’t want broken, damaged relationships. He wants healing, restoration, and relationship.

We may not be able to heal or restore but we can release people from their spiritual debts. That’s a big deal. There are probably spiritual implications in these situations to these situations where forgiveness hasn’t happened that we aren’t even aware of. We’ll probably be affected by them in the future without knowing, as will the other person. That’s why it’s so important to try to forgive. There are always much larger things going on than just what we can see, feel, touch, experience, and understand. For the sake of the unknown, negative repercussions we could experience by not forgiving or by not being forgiven, can we try?


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