In the course of ministry, I have had both the blessing and curse of doing marriage and relationship counseling. It’s a blessing when the time spent together bears fruit and you get to watch that relationship be healed. It’s a curse when you sit, listen, gently offer alternatives, and then realize they will just ignore everything that has been discussed so that they can remain angry, self-righteous, and stuck on the polarized sides of “I’m right and you’re wrong”. Worst yet is when children become pawns on this bloody game of chess and are used to do battle against each other. It happens. All the time.
Anytime trust is broken in any relationship, there is only one way back, and it is a hard and painful path. It requires forgiveness. But so many of us act like forgiveness is a precious commodity, something we have to horde and keep locked away for fear of the vulnerability it takes to give it freely. Yet forgiveness is the only thing that can move a relationship forward when it is stuck at an impasse.
Jesus speaks a clear word of direction on this matter. When the disciples asked him to teach them to pray, he spoke the beautiful words of The Lord’s Prayer in response. In this prayer, he makes the startling connection between being forgiven and offering forgiveness:
“And forgive us our trespasses/debts/sins, AS WE FORGIVE those who trespasses/are our debtors/sin against us.”
Forgiveness is conditional. You don’t get it if you don’t give it. If this was the gold standard for behavior, people would be conditioned to say, “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” easier and faster, so that everyone could get to forgiveness without delay.
What if Jesus withheld forgiving you until you forgave others?
Lack of forgiveness is a place of imprisonment. But what most people don’t realize is that it imprisons YOU, not the person who has trespassed against you. They are likely going about their business, enjoying life, while you are paralyzed as you spin and agitate. You become trapped in a cycle of replaying the offense, justifying your response, amplifying your response, and setting your feet in the concrete of unforgiveness. It is very likely that the person doesn’t even deserve your forgiveness….but forgive them anyway.
We don’t deserve Christ’s forgiveness….no way, no how. But he gives it anyway. By his grace we are offered the key that unlocks us from our sins, shame and self-condemnation, and sets us free to walk away lighter and more at peace. And he expects us to do this for each other.
Whom do you need to forgive? Take the first step today.