Forgiveness

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Little did I know when I chose forgiveness as my March word how much I’d be tempted to abandon the virtue. I blithely promised to pay extra attention to forgiving people this month. Then God sent people and circumstances into my life that tested me to the very core of the issue. I know that I dealt with some of it in the wrong way, but at the same time, it was a hands-on practice on forgiveness, forcing me to examine my motives behind forgiveness. But before I tell you about my experiences of this month, I’ll give you a quick outline of today’s post. I hope you read all of it, but it’s slightly longer than some of my posts so I’ll understand if you skip some parts 🙂

  1. Forgiven!
  2. Forgiving Others
  3. Forgiving Myself
  4. And… because my blog post is called “Pages from My Notebook” I added a literal page from my notes at the end- the story of Joseph as I like to imagine it 🙂

 

And by the way, all the little block quotes in this article starting with ‘Forgiveness is…’ are insights from my friends (bold emphases mine).  I asked them to finish this sentence: Forgiveness is ____________. Thanks, everyone for sharing your understanding of the word. I was blessed to be able to read your submissions. 🙂

Forgiveness is choosing to look past the wrong deeds and love and accept the person regardlessly.

1. Forgiven

Forgiveness starts with God. I could never forgive others if God hadn’t forgiven me. And seriously, he’s forgiven me soooo much. Even though I was mostly outwardly a ‘good girl’ while growing up, I sinned so many times. Many times they were ‘sins of the heart’, which is my term for bad and malicious thoughts, hateful attitudes etc. I also sinned by speaking harshly and disrespectfully. I could go on listing all the sins I’ve committed, but what’s the point? They’re all forgiven. Simple as that. God doesn’t remember any of them, so there’s no use in me sifting through them either.

God’s forgiveness is so beautiful! We’ve done NOTHING to deserve the attention of a star-breathing, universe-running Deity. The Bible tells us that all our good works are like filthy rags before him. No matter how we try to be good citizens, helpful neighbors, and caring friends, it’s NOTHING before God. We are mere worms compared his glory. And yet he doesn’t throw us out like the filthy rags we are. Through his son Jesus, he stooped down to our level. Jesus died on the cross, opening the gate to heaven. By accepting his sacrifice of blood, we accept a passport to heaven. Yup, it’s really that simple. There’s no red tape, no fine-print legal loopholes, no lengthy terms and conditions. In fact, God WANTS to forgive us. All we need to do is accept it. If you haven’t yet, I pray that you will open your heart to let God’s love and forgiveness flow into you today.

I am constantly amazed at God’s forgiveness. It’s just so beautiful and completely free. It gives me power to forgive the people around me. Which brings us to…

Forgiveness is letting go.

2. Forgiving Others

Often when people hurt me, I tend to tell myself, “Maybe they didn’t mean for it to be hurtful. Maybe it’s something about me. Maybe I’m the one who’s off.” And I’m sure many times it’s true. But sometimes other people mess up and hurt us. And sadly, sometimes people intentionally throw painful darts at us. So many times I’m tempted to make excuses for others. I’ll try to convince myself that maybe what they did wasn’t wrong, that maybe I’m just hyper-sensitive, maybe it’s my fault they hurt me.

But that’s not the right way to deal with hurt feelings. I need to forgive. And without acknowledging sin, forgiveness is impossible. It’s okay to admit that other people make mistakes. I need to be able to say, “Yes, I know what she did was wrong, but I choose to forgive her.” Or “What he said hurt me deeply, but I choose to not harbor any feelings of resentment towards him.”

Forgiveness is admitting that they have hurt you. I realize in my life that is very vital to truly forgive.

A while back, an acquaintance of mine fabricated an ugly little lie about me. I didn’t find out about the rumor until a friend (who believed the lie) lashed out at me about it. To say it hurt like crazy is an understatement. I cried for hours. With tears streaming down my cheeks, I said, “I forgive you,” because that’s the Christian thing to do, right?

And it is. But, oh boy, did I ever feel like not forgiving them! Especially when the girl who started the lie has never apologized and has been nothing but rude to me. I felt like telling her exactly what I thought of her and her little story! I felt like making sure all her friends knew what she’d done to me. I did NOT feel like forgiving her.

But forgiveness isn’t about feelings. It’s a choice. I chose to forgive her, even though she may never ask for forgiveness. And I keep choosing to forgive her. It’s not easy to resist the temptation to say negative things about her, but I keep choosing forgiveness.

Forgiveness is letting them (who did you wrong) go free and wish them blessings.

Why? For several reasons. Primarily, because the Bible tells us to. Ephesians 4:32 tells us to forgive each other. Also it says that if I want God to keep forgiving me, I need to forgive those who sin against me. Besides that, letting feelings of resentment and hatred brew in me destroys me more than it does the other person. Forgiveness is the sweetest revenge, actually. It’s refusing to let the other person control your thoughts and feelings. Forgiveness isn’t easy, but it’s so, so beautiful.

Now before moving on to my next point, I want to clarify one thing. Forgiveness is not the same as trust. If you are in an abusive relationship or situation, you need to tell someone and/or leave. Just because you forgive your abuser doesn’t mean you should let that person hurt you repeatedly.

Forgiveness is not always easy… or maybe never. But forgiveness to me has been freeing. It sets you free to give love, as well as receive love.

3. Forgiving Yourself.

This isn’t something I’d intended to include in this post, but somehow I felt talking about forgiveness wasn’t complete without a few words about forgiving yourself. If you’re like me, forgiving yourself is often harder than forgiving others. But it’s a tough life when you keep berating yourself for past mistakes. Take it from me, I know.

Sure, we need to learn from our mistakes and all that. But cut yourself some slack. You’re human. You make mistakes. You aren’t perfect (sorry if that stings, but you’re not!). God knows it. Your family knows it. Your friends know it. But they forgive you. Please extend the same courtesy to yourself. You deserve to be able to forgive yourself and move on. Let it go. 🙂

Forgiveness is to stop blaming someone for the wrong they’ve done and forgive them…

4. Joseph Forgives

And… I’ll close off with one of my favourite Bible stories about forgiveness. I wrote it for a school assignment once upon a time ;-P  Warning: It’s kinda long, so I’ll give you my permission to skip to the end and just leave a comment about your experiences with forgiveness. 🙂

Forgiveness is letting go of something wrong that happened to me. It’s realizing and admitting that someone wronged me, and yet deciding to release the wrongdoer.

Joseph- Genesis

Sticky cobwebs. Cold rocks. Dusty twigs.

My head spun. This was crazy! Unbelievable. Clambering to my feet, I winced at the sharp pain in my right ankle. “Hey, this isn’t funny! Let me out!”

A dark chuckle overhead chilled my very bones.

“Please! Judah, Asher…” Desperately I clawed at the stones on the side of the pit. “Somebody… Help me out!”

“Help yourself, Dreamer Boy,” Levi taunted. “Or did you never dream this up?”

What did they think they were doing? Dad would have their hides once he found out. Throwing me into a pit like this, for Pete’s sake! Moreover, they had wrecked the cool coat Dad had given me.

Dejection fell over me like a dark cloud. Did they really intend to leave me in here until evening? Or… or until they went home next week? A horrible thought crossed my mind. What if they intended to just leave me here… forever?

My brothers’ voices faded as they probably went to sit in the shade to eat their lunches. I slid down to the uneven floor of the pit. With my head in my hands, I forced myself to think logically. Why would they do this to me? A moment’s reflection later, I blew out my breath between my teeth. Maybe I should’ve seen it coming. After all, they’d been mean and hateful all my life, especially the last few months. After Mom’s death.  After the coat. After my dreams.

Maybe I should’ve seen it coming.

That was a year ago. A long, long year ago. Nevertheless I could still hardly believe where I was now- in Egypt of all places. Sold by my own brothers. Sold into slavery. The irony of the whole situation would’ve made me chuckle if it hadn’t happened to me. As it was, it really wasn’t funny.

“Joseph! Water!”

It wasn’t funny at all. “Yes, ma’am,” I answered and lifted the heavy bucket of water. Slowly without sloshing the water over the sides to the spotless tile floors, I stepped into the kitchen. “Here it is, Patra.”

The head cook of the household gave me a brief nod. “By the way, the mistress wanted to see you.”

With trepidation clawing at me, I plodded down the hall and knocked on my mistress’ door. “Here I am, ma’am.”

“Joseph,” she crooned. “I need some help with preparing my bath…”

Frantically I looked over my shoulder. “Cleona!” I yelled.

The shy servant girl materialized at my elbow. “Yes?”

“Qina needs help with her bath.” The words tumbled from my mouth, one on the heels of the other. Then I swirled around and hurried back out.

I knew Qina, my mistress, would be furious. She always was. But not enough to leave me alone, apparently. I leaned against a cool stone column in the courtyard. A thousand memories nearly crushed me: the green valley of my childhood, the long walk south to the grasslands we now lived at, the peaceful flocks on the pastures, my dear little brother, Benjamin.

There were also sad memories: the death of my Mom, the horrible Levi/Simeon/men of Shechem scandal and the Reuben-sleeping-with-Bilhah scandal. My Dad detested my three oldest brothers because of their immoral issues. It wasn’t just our reputation that suffered, it was something deeper, I knew. My brothers had sinned against God. And I didn’t want to.

Qina didn’t relent however. In fact, her advances became even bolder and more frequent. Then one day her little game reached the peak. She actually caught me by my jacket. “Come on, Joseph. Just once…”

Flee, Joseph, flee! The urgent little voice in me spurred me to action. With one quick move, I twisted from my coat and ran. As my footsteps pounded down the hall, a piercing scream split the air behind me.

A sense of déjà vu came upon me. Despair, distress, dejection.

Potiphar came home. My heart sank down to the soles of my feet, when I overheard Qina telling her husband her version of our little encounter, which was completely warped. Then Potiphar thundered out the words I’d dreaded: “He’s going to prison.”

So that’s where I ended up, sitting in a little dungeon-like room with only I, me, and myself for company. While staring at the drab walls so similar to the pit, I nearly gave up hope. I thought about my baby brother and wondered if he took care of my dog now. I thought about my Dad and hoped that he was still well. I thought about my friend, Heber, and decided he was probably married already. Then I thought about my big brothers and wished they’d all-

No. I shouldn’t wish something terrible on them. But I did. Oh, I did!

I shut my eyes. They were mean. Wicked. They were immoral, heartless bullies. They’d crushed my Dad. They’d ruined my life.

Joseph, forgive them…

I knew I couldn’t let this hatred eat me up. Maybe I’d deserved it. Maybe my Dad had had it coming. Maybe it was my fault. That’s where I left it for then.

Then one day it hit me. Forgiveness wasn’t about denying someone else’s sin; it was choosing to pardon despite a very real sin. My brothers had been wrong, very wrong. But I could still choose to forgive.

So right then and there I whispered into the sweltering darkness, “You’re forgiven, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, and Zebulon. I forgive you.” It nearly overwhelmed me, the peace that flooded into my heart. As the bitterness seeped from me, joy took its place. And hope- hope against hope. God was here in Egypt, just like he was in Canaan.

By another unusual set of events- I seemed to be getting my share of those- I met two guys from Pharaoh’s palace. They were in prison for some offense and I was actually put in charge of them. One day when I brought their food, both looked troubled. “Hey, guys! What’s wrong?”

The cupbearer sighed and dragged a hand over his face. “Both of us had really weird dreams, Joseph. They were kinda similar, yet different. It’s not your everyday kind of dream, I’m afraid. Do you think they might have a meaning?”

I knelt down next to them. “Tell them to me,” I invited the miserable men.

The cupbearer told his dream first. After he finished, I told him the meaning. “You’ll be restored to your former position in three days!”

Joy bloomed on his face and I continued. “Please tell Pharaoh about me. I really don’t deserve this and I’d like go get out of here.” He bobbed his head, but I could tell he was all caught up in his pending restitution. 

The chief baker held my eyes with a hopeful expression while he recounted his dream. I felt awful as I interpreted his dream. “I’m sorry, but Pharaoh will have you hung in three days.”

Within three days, all had happened like God had told me. I thanked God for his blessing on me and for this chance to get away from this place. As I walked down the dismal corridor back to the mess hall, I could hardly keep from dancing. I was finally getting out of here!

Not wanting to be disappointed, I gave the cupbearer and Pharaoh a week to get me out. So when one week turned into two… and three, I was very tempted to grow frustrated. When the weeks melted into months, it finally hit me that I wasn’t getting released. Instead of dwelling on the what-ifs, I focused on my new job as head of the prisoners.

Exactly two years after that dream incident, a rapid knock pounded on my room door. “Come on in.”

The prison warden, a friend of mine, stood there, looking as if he had just seen a ghost. “J-Joseph, you’re wanted- by the Pharaoh!”

Instead of the gasp the warden probably anticipated, a slow smile crossed my face. A deep peace trickled into my heart as I followed the warden’s order to shave and put on clothing fit for royalty. But strangely, if I’d later been challenged to point out the climax of my life, it wouldn’t be this one. It would be the moment I chose forgiveness back in the prison.

My occupation switched drastically within that day: I went from being the head of a straggly group of prisoners to being second-in-command of all Egypt! The change was extreme, but I soon found that I could still live by the same basic principles I’d held onto in Potiphar’s house and in prison. God was also God in the palace. While I worked with the grain figures (until they got too much to handle!), I kept marveling at God’s plan for my life. Maybe once this rollercoaster ride of prosperity/famine was over, I’d travel home- home to Dad, Benjamin, and yes, my big brothers. I wanted them to know that I had forgiven them.

Then God orchestrated another miracle. I was at the granaries, checking up on everything, when I suddenly heard something that made me stop dead in my tracks.

“Here’s our sacks.” Just three words that were often spoke here, but it was the language, the voice that set every cell in my body on alert.  I hadn’t heard Hebrew spoken in a very long time.

My heart in my throat, I stepped forward. My suspicions were true: my brothers were here. A quick headcount confirmed that ten of them had come. My first impulse was to run to them and call, “Hello! I forgive you! Come here!” Instead I stiffly made my way to them. Without preamble, I shouted out, “Where are you from?”

“F-from the land of Canaan. We came to buy food.” It was Asher who spoke. Asher, who would always cook when we were out with the flocks.

“Spies!” I exclaimed. “You’ve come to check out our land.”

They protested, telling me about Dad and their younger brother.

That’s when I nearly lost it. Dad! Benjamin! Homesickness just about choked me. I was so close, yet so far. Just to check out if they’d changed from our last encounter, I had them locked up in prison for three days. During that time, I eavesdropped on them a couple of times, which was both heartbreaking and fascinating. Finally I set most of them free to go home, on the condition that they’d bring Benjamin with them next time.

During the months of their absence, I prayed about this whole situation a lot, not wanting to run ahead of God in anything I did. Even though it felt like eons until they returned, I was still not ready for the effect that seeing Benjamin had on me. He was after all, my little baby brother all grown up!

This time I prepared a banquet for them. Just to confuse them, I seated them in their age order. The puzzled looks they flashed each other assured me that they were getting uncomfortable. Still, I was not ready to reveal my identity to them. I had tested their honesty, their faithfulness, and their response to favoritism. Now I wanted to check their loyalty to their youngest brother by secretly putting my silver cup into Benjamin’s sack when they left for Canaan.

When my manager came back with my brothers in tow, I demanded, “Why did you do this! Don’t you know that I can predict the future?” Even while I raved on, inside me my heart was twisted with conflicting emotions.

When Judah made his heroic speech, I completely lost my composure. Motioning for my Egyptian attendants to leave the room, and breaking into tears, I cried, “I am Joseph! Is Dad still alive?”

Stunned, my brothers could only stare. With a fresh flood of tears, I held out my arms. “Come here! I’m Joseph, the little brother you sold into slavery! But it really wasn’t you who did this- it was God! Even though you hated me and meant to do evil to me, God had a good plan through it all. And he has been with me through everything, even in the land of my affliction.”

Forgiveness is freedom. Freedom from guilt, shame, pain, free from condemnation.

Oh, and next month’s word is

Encouragement. 

Be blessed and thanks for reading!

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