There are some core principles that all religious people seem to agree are necessary for spiritual formation – forgiveness is one of them.
21 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?”
22 Jesus said, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times. 23 Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle accounts, they brought to him a servant who owed him ten thousand bags of gold.25 Because the servant didn’t have enough to pay it back, the master ordered that he should be sold, along with his wife and children and everything he had, and that the proceeds should be used as payment. 26 But the servant fell down, kneeled before him, and said, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ 27 The master had compassion on that servant, released him, and forgave the loan.
28 “When that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred coins. He grabbed him around the throat and said, ‘Pay me back what you owe me.’
29 “Then his fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ 30 But he refused. Instead, he threw him into prison until he paid back his debt.
31 “When his fellow servants saw what happened, they were deeply offended. They came and told their master all that happened. 32 His master called the first servant and said, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you appealed to me. 33 Shouldn’t you also have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 His master was furious and handed him over to the guard responsible for punishing prisoners, until he had paid the whole debt.
35 “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if you don’t forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Matthew 18:21-35
We’ve all dissected and analyzed, judged and critiqued the ungrateful servant who was forgiven much, but couldn’t manage to forgive a little. We note his consequences and pray not to be THAT GUY. If he had only forgiven.
“What a dufus,” we mutter. What’s wrong with him?
In this passage, Jesus isn’t talking primarily about what to do when two guys are both in a financial pinch. The point, I suspect, is not limited to forgiveness. Perhaps what he’s addressing is bigger than the action of forgiveness itself – although, certainly forgiveness is a huge practice that we all, in theory, believe is a good thing.
What if Jesus is pointing out a lifestyle, a way to be committed to a whole bunch of practices, including forgiveness. Maybe we’ve gotten so focused on forgiveness as the starting and finishing point of any relationship snafu, that we’ve failed to take into account that it’s more about a process, a way of positioning ourselves in the world as people of grace and mercy?
I wonder if the parents who brought their stoned kid into my office by pulling him by his ear had considered the idea of sitting down with him and using their own ears to listen? What if they had been more curious about his thoughts and decision-making process than the outcome: stop stealing and wrecking the car!
Our life’s work is to imitate God. Our calling is not just to believe things about Jesus, it is to believe what he says, and try to figure out how to apply it. This framework sets the stage for all conversations about anything worth talking about.
Is there anyone in your life whose behavior is driving you crazy? How have you approached the issue? Have you had a crucial conversation, figured out what’s behind their behavior? Maybe told them your concerns and the impact their choices are having on you – without demanding that they change in order to make you happier? That’s a far different kind of discussion than breakfast and berating, lunch and lecture, dinner and discipline. It’s an invitation to connection.
How are you practicing connecting with people? Do you ask others how they are doing and stand there and listen while they actually tell you? Are you willing to tell the truth about a situation from a position of vulnerability?
I wonder, and am really deeply curious about whether or not the parents in the previous devotional have considered how their own habits are being picked up on and modeled by their boy? Do they get that? Does that scare them? Do they feel ashamed or afraid they’re bad parents? That’s a big burden to carry around. Who are they telling their own story to?
Yesterday we left a family in mid-crisis. Let’s rejoin them today and see how they might guide us in our own lifestyle choices.
I asked mom and dad to go get a cup of coffee and this young man and I began the stare down. This is a common occurrence when a parent brings a teen into my office. I wasn’t going anywhere, so I had plenty of time. We just sat in silence. I shifted my eyes off him and stared out the window. He continued to be mesmerized by his shoe laces.
This went on for a good thirty minutes, until finally, he spoke. “You just don’t get it. My parents are crazy.”
“I am sorry for your loss,” I replied.
He looked up, arched an eyebrow and began to jiggle one leg.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Well, it must be hard to have crazies for parents,” I replied.
“You mean you aren’t going to tell me how they’re just doing their best to raise me and I need to buckle down and stop making them so sad?”
“Why would I make you responsible for your parents’ happiness?” I asked.
“Well, they do!” He shouted.
Eventually they returned in hopes that I had used my time wisely and managed to inspire this young man to shape up and fly right.
I don’t know what happened to that family. I’m sure our encounter proved, at least for the parents, to be a disappointment. But I dare to dream that this young man will realize that for one hour on one day, someone listened to him and tried to give him permission to speak what was true for him, without regard for the happiness of others. I hope he caught a scent of loving kindness, the absence of judgment and the possibility that maybe he had justifiable reason to feel a feeling other than shame.
Compassion and empathy are practices that fit within the framework of a life devoted to following God. Some day this kid will have to decide whose footsteps he wants to follow in. Does he want to continue to self-medicate as his parental units do? Or might he one day be willing to become part of “the few”? How about you? Are there some practices that you might need to discard – no matter how socially acceptable or doctor prescribed – to make room for the practices of “the few”?
One day recently a mom and dad showed up with a very stoned kid and plopped him down in a chair in front of me.
“See? This is what we’ve been talking about….”
I do see. It’s not often people bring me live specimens, and for a moment, all I could really focus on was a flashback of this cat we used to have named Pumpkin. Pumpkin liked to hunt and bring me specimens. Little moles, mice, baby possums, one time a baby bunny. That cat would trot across the yard with a critter in his mouth and drop them at my feet like an offering. I preferred it when they were living offerings and would scamper away as soon has he opened up his cat jaws. Actually, what I would have really preferred was a new pair of shoes or a cute purse. But our cat didn’t shop, he hunted.
After I awoke from my reverie, I looked at this specimen sitting before me. He was not happy to be with me, and if he could, I’m sure he would have scampered off too. But he was trapped. His parental units weren’t letting him off the hook. He wasn’t going anywhere soon. In fact, I had a sneaking suspicion that if something didn’t change maybe this kid would be left here with me, and THEY would scamper off.
“He stole a $20 out of my wallet,” says the dad in a tone of disgust.
“He took my car without permission and sideswiped a mailbox and now I’ve got $1,000 worth of body damage,” complained the mom.
And this is bad, right? I’d be upset if my kid stole from me or wrecked my car.
But is it the point?
So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. 2 Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature…9 Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12 Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. 14 Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16 Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. 17 Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good. 18 If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. 19 Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord. 20 Instead, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head. 21 Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good. Romans 12, selected verses, CEB
I think mom and dad are teaching me (and I hope not him but fear on the days when he’s NOT stoned, he might get it like I do) that their primary concern is how they feel about this drug use, and the impact it is having on them. I know I know I know. They would never agree with this statement. They would say that they don’t think a 16 year old should be doing drugs and other illegal things.
But dad smokes weed multiple times a day, and mom cannot sleep without her ambien or go to work without her adderall. So what’s up with that?
Tomorrow, inspired by a different way of seeing, maybe we can make more sense of this situation. In the meantime, ask yourself the following question: how much of what motivates you is more about making yourself feel better than it is about creating a life that is consistent with what you truly believe about love, life and your place in the kingdom of God?
To be continued…
Several spiritually awake people I know close out their day with a practice called the Examine. I, however, usually close mine out with a game of Spider Solitaire. I think their way is better. During their “examine” time, they review the day’s events, and make note of themselves and their actions and attitudes. This “examine” time often results in a “to do” list for the next day. An amends may be needed, a phone call for clarification, a note of gratitude. I love this idea so much that I’m thinking about restarting my on examine practice.
How does one go about evaluating self? For me, whether it is in my own daily practice of the tenth step of the twelve or the “examine”, part of all our work involves deciding the standards we want to embrace and code of ethics we want to live by. I, personally, love the twelfth chapter of Romans….
So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. 2 Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.
3 Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. 4 We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. 5 In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other. 6 We have different gifts that are consistent with God’s grace that has been given to us. If your gift is prophecy, you should prophesy in proportion to your faith. 7 If your gift is service, devote yourself to serving. If your gift is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. 8 If your gift is encouragement, devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. The leader should lead with passion. The one showing mercy should be cheerful.
9 Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12 Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. 14 Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16 Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. 17 Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good.
18 If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. 19 Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord. 20 Instead, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head. 21 Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good. Romans 12, CEB
How do you feel about this tone for living? Are these standards for daily contact worthy of making our own? If practices like forgiveness, compassion and empathy are just isolated atoms in our solar system of life, we’ll perhaps pick them up and discard them without much thought. Commitment to a framework for living allows us to add rooms, rearrange the furniture, and even get new siding in a cool color. But the framework also provides a natural limitation. We limit our choices to the framework. Forgiveness is one aspect, one of many building blocks in a house of faith.
Take some time to consider the nature of the house you are building. How do you like the life you are creating?
Although this month’s devotionals are focusing on practices specifically related to forgiveness, I think the thing I really hope you’re wrestling with is the kind of tone you want to set for your life and your relationships. Forgiveness is an example of tone.
So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. 2 Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature. Romans 12:1-2 CEB
What would you say is the tone of your life? How do people experience you? How do you feel about that? Maybe today notice yourself, how you talk to people, what your natural inclinations are when something doesn’t go your way…just notice.
The couple that I mentioned yesterday never managed to find the gift of forgiveness. Once their last child headed off to college, the wife kicked the offensive husband (who had managed to not intervene and make sure a certain cake server was used at their wedding ceremony) to the curb. Both are now living with less financial security, their children have separate holiday celebrations, and their daughter is choosing to live with her boyfriend rather than marry him – even though he desperately wants to tie the knot. She cannot get past the knot in her tummy every time she tries to imagine a wedding with both her parents in the same building at the same time. This is sad.
Forgiveness is a gift, but one we have to open our hands to receive. People who research such things have found that those who have forgiven huge atrocities report that forgiveness was something they received, not something they were able to manufacture.
Many victims, not wanting to double the damage by drinking poison and dying, TRIED to forgive. Their values, their suffering, all sorts of factors compelled them to want to forgive, but most say they couldn’t – until one day they woke up and realized that yes, they had been given the gift of forgiveness.
This doesn’t mean that they didn’t do other things along the way. They practiced prayer and meditation, they went to therapy, they showed up at a trial and looked their offender in the eye, they started a foundation to support other victims of similar crimes. Basically, they practiced creating light in the midst of darkness. And somehow, along the way, forgiveness came to them.
Forgiveness is not a formula, but there are practices that we can practice. Some will encourage a lifestyle of forgiveness, and sadly, some will further entrench us in our resentment. The lady with the cake server resentment told and retold the story of her husband’s gross negligence on their wedding day. His unwillingness to attend to the detail of the cake server proved to her that he did not love her with a Christ-like love! Sheesh! My husband spent so much time on the golf course and basketball court the day of our wedding, that he rushed into the church minutes before the ceremony without his shoes or socks. (My father thought this was hilarious.) At our wedding, we ran out of food before the post-production wedding pictures were snapped! We still shake our heads at what naïve younguns we were, daring to believe that you could get married with one sheet cake and a container of peanuts. I am so so so glad that my dad encouraged humor rather than petty resentments that day. My gosh, we’ve spent the last 35 plus years laughing over various ways we goof things up.
Forgiveness is more about a stance, a position, an attitude, a lifestyle.
Honestly, who would you rather be? A gal with a cake server in your hand, waving wildly about in retaliation for a lifetime of disappointment? Or a person who knows that a groom can get married – with or without shoes on? Do you want a life of showing off or showing up? This means making decisions about all sorts of things, including weddings. Are they about the splash, or the community that helps these young adults to find and build a sustainable, joyful, constantly goofing stuff up but still there for each other marriage?
Are you one of “the few” who are committed to living by a framework that you have chosen? Or “the many” who prefer show to substance and never take the time to figure out if the life they are creating is one they’ll actually appreciate experiencing?
Forgiveness is such a big deal, and offenses are so terrible at times, that it seems IMPOSSIBLE to think that we could ever forgive some of our abusers. That’s ok. In fact, that’s truth. Even in matters of small to middlin’ offenses, we struggle to muster up a small dose of forgiveness.
I once spent a few months meeting regularly with a married couple who couldn’t forgive. Well, the wife couldn’t. It took weeks of prodding and probing to find that one resentment that just couldn’t be let go of no matter how committed her belief in God. (And if you are a God follower, forgiveness is a core issue that you have to deal with, right?)
Her issue? The wrong cake server was used at the wedding. She PREFERRED a different one than the server used.
Is this newly immaturity? You be the judge: they had been married over 25 years at this point.
Do you have any issues of unforgiveness that have poisoned the pond you live and breathe in? This “one issue” (of course you know it was bigger than that but this is her perspective) ruined her marriage. It ruined her marriage!
Dare to dream. What if adding the practice of showing all people respect, dignity, and the posture of wishing others well on a daily basis became your work? I wonder what might change for you….