About a decade and a half ago, I heard the song “Blessed Be Your Name” for the first time. One of the phrases repeated in the song is:
“God, you give and take away
Oh, you give and take away
But my heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name”
Other lines of the song point to blessing the Lord’s name in times of darkness, hardship, and pain. When I first heard the song in my early 20s, it seemed so theoretical to me. I wondered, could I really praise God in true times of darkness, loss and pain? I didn’t feel honest singing it at the time. Fifteen years later, the statements in the song are more real and more complicated than I can even put into words.
The same is true of forgiveness. At points in my life, I’ve been confident, maybe even arrogant, in my ability to forgive. I mean, the Lord told us to do this, right? As part of the Lord’s prayer, Matthew 6:12 says, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” I have had that prayer memorized for years. Someone hurt my feelings: forgiven. A disagreement with a friend or family member: forgiveness granted. A bad word spoken about me by someone I don’t really know: no worries, only forgiveness.
Then deep, deep hurts began to find a home in my soul: broken relationships, significant disappointments, darkness in the world, tragedy at the hands of other people. My ideas of forgiveness became less theoretical and much more real; forgiveness was no longer easy but complicated.
One of the complicated lessons I’m continually learning is that forgiveness isn’t always a one-time act. For me, it is sometimes a daily, weekly, or monthly discipline. After my newborn nephew and sister-in-law were permanently disabled and my parents were killed by a drunk driver, I almost immediately felt the need to forgive the very broken man who was behind the wheel. Then, almost as immediately as forgiving him, I felt an intense anger towards him. Knowing some of his brokenness, I feel compassion, but witnessing the devastation and pain his choice caused and continues to cause my family and me makes forgiveness a repeated necessity.
In some situations, forgiveness can truly be a one time act, but in other situations, the act of forgiving may need to be reaffirmed regularly.
Five years since my parents‘ death, I can say on most days that I truly have forgiven the man who is responsible for their deaths. But there are days when anger and sadness and loss well up, and I realize I need to forgive him again and ask forgiveness myself as well.
Years ago, I heard the idea that forgiveness isn’t for the other person but for ourselves. This is certainly true as Jesus tells us in Matthew 6, “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Without forgiving others, we can eventually become slaves to anger, bitterness, and hard-heartedness.
But the truth is deeper and more complicated than that. When we forgive others, we are living and ministering just as Christ did. In Luke, while he is being murdered, Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” I am to forgive others because it not only frees my soul, but it opens up the possibility of freeing the other person from the burden of knowing they have hurt me and points them to Jesus, the ultimate forgiver.
One of the beliefs of Common Ground West is the radical assertion that all people are image-bearers of God. Each person is knit together by God and created in the image of God. The easiest thing for me to do when someone has hurt or wronged me is to either push down the feelings or well up with anger. The radical calling is to view this person as a broken person made and loved by God. When I view each person, even someone who has perpetuated so much hurt, as a person created in the image of God, forgiveness becomes a natural outpouring of that belief.
As I have wrestled with forgiveness, I have been drawn to Jesus more and more. Looking to Jesus’ example reminds me that I need regular forgiveness and, therefore, can be free to forgive others. While my beliefs about forgiveness have become more complicated over the past years, my expression of my faith has become simpler. In Mark, Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Jesus sets the example to love God, love others, and love ourselves. This statement gives me the freedom to express my faith by accepting forgiveness and forgiving others.
Marilyn Schulte is a middle school special education teacher with a passion for the community she lives and works in. She enjoys traveling, laughing, caring for her chickens, and reading. When not working or traveling, she will likely be found at KayLeo, the urban farm she and her husband, Scott, bought and renovated about three years ago. Scott and Marilyn share KayLeo with two housemates, three dogs, one cat, one turtle, nine chickens, and whoever else stops by.