I will put my teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all will know me, from the least to the greatest of them – this is the Lord’s declaration. For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin. (Jeremiah 31: 33-34)
Over the course of our lives, many of us will experience situations that arouse the remnants of life’s rejections. We will find ourselves in situations that tug on the tensions of our hearts left from disappointments in friendships, relationships, family dynamics, and/or cultural experiences. We, too, can find ourselves again in “pain’s middle,” clinging to the hope of what we wanted when another person, situation, or thing pushed us away, defined us as useless, or didn’t recognize all we wanted to give or gave. There, we can find ourselves marred by what rejection does — steals, kills, and destroys.
Just like the thief.
Just like our spiritual enemy.
Rejection can produce the bitter root of unforgiveness, if we let it.
A while ago, I had an honest conversation with a friend about something we experienced together. Moments from that experience were painful and needed to be shared in order to cleanse my heart from iniquity and reground our friendship. I was coming to my friend, as I do often with Christ – seeking understanding, resolution, and a positive path forward. The conversation appeared to have gone well, yet its aftermath left me befuddled, irritated, and downright disappointed. Limited contact, despite my enthusiastic attempts of reaching out. One-word responses to text messages. Distance. Distance. And more distance. It appears, indeed, that our peaceful exchange that day did not go as well as I had thought. In fact, it appears that my friend may have left our afternoon coffee date pretending our friendship was in tack, but in reality, felt like it was hanging on by a thread. She may have left knowing that I forgave her, but perhaps a spirit of unforgiveness and pain had been birthed in her. I just didn’t know.
Now, I will spare you the details of the conversation and awkward interactions we’ve had since then. I will spare you the litany of crazy thoughts I’ve had about that conversation and those awkward interactions. And I, too, will spare you the strong feelings that have emerged regarding the conversation and those interactions as well. What I feel compelled to share, however, is the manner in which I’ve seen God work in my life, despite the situation that has ensued. A situation that developed even after humble prayer, a prompting from the Holy Spirit, and the hope of reconciling the knowledge of one’s hurtful actions with a need to understand and to choose to forgive.
My initial decision to forgive my friend after trying to understand her perspective on the situation was easy. She had answered my questions and provided clear and believable responses. For me, all was over… the battle had been won. Yet it wasn’t until I experienced uncertainty in the aftermath of our conversation that what I had really experienced was short of true forgiveness.
Hanging out in the uncertainty of her response to our conversation triggered in me a bitter heart highlighting my brokenness; those places I needed God to come in and fix…and fix soon. I was tired of trying. Resentful. Burned. With each failed attempt at connection, pain continued to mar our friendship – a disappointing outcome after having really tried to speak truth in love and gentleness. Few words can express the depth of hurt that emerged, and a second-guessing of my actions toward her. Did the Lord really want me to share my feelings that day? Were my words too harsh? Why hadn’t my attempt to clear up space in our friendship brought about the peace-filled harmony I was certain taking such a risk would bring about? Did I happen to get something wrong? God, this isn’t the outcome you promised!
And yet, in the midst of all these questions, I found myself asking God for the very forgiveness I thought I had given my friend. I was asking God to grant me grace in the midst of a situation where I was unaware of the impact I had had.
And in typical, God-fashion, I was hit with the unexpected. In seeking His wisdom and Word, I watched God uncover the bitter root that had been hiding out in me all along. It was a root so deep and tangled. A root fed by the countless ways others and this friend had hurt, disappointed, or forsaken me over time. The bitterness… this heart of stone that had silently been erected was hypocritically moving me to ask for grace from the Father, but simultaneously withhold it from another. It was “giving” me permission to give up on this person; for continuing to try to connect with her was more painful than simply sitting in the broken shards of the already experienced failed attempts. The thief had stolen, killed, and destroyed. It was clear that my theology wasn’t broken, but that my actual praxis was. I wasn’t as forgiving as I had thought. In fact, I realized I was more hurt than I could have ever imagined.
And interestingly enough, it was hurt that had created a new rhythm in our friendship. She was operating from an un-understood place, and so was I. And together, we continued to unintentionally wound each other – one word, action, or inaction at a time. What she was wrestling with, I have no real idea. However, behind the scenes, I was wrestling with my ability to forgive, not just this friend, but countless others.
A truth that convicts one to look past the faults and hurtful actions of another person.
A humble request we may ask that another mercifully bestow upon us.
A choice that sees the goodness in human beings, giving them a space to shine, despite the reigning darkness in the crevices of sin that need light and the breath of life.
An action that rests upon the very heart of what it means to experience God’s grace.
That way of life Jesus did so naturally, so well, so perfectly – even in the face of struggle.
I don’t know about you, but forgiveness can be a challenging space in which to choose to live life. On the most superficial levels, it triggers the uprising of indignant pride and an egotistical spirit within us. It tests the very fabric of our character and our heart’s desires. And it sifts out the sanctifying impact of one’s receipt of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Forgiveness calls us to a higher level of living, a higher level of trusting and walking with Christ. A higher level I am working on living at.
Today, my friendship with this friend is on-pause, as the Lord continues to work His healing hand in our lives without our frequent interactions. There has been a God-ordained pulling apart of a relationship that may not have ever been built on the foundation of Christ. God’s sanctifying order to forgive is still working itself out in my heart and life; and hopefully hers as well. Only time will tell if God will reconcile us back to one another and for what purposes. And while my heart is burdened by the unresolved matters of the situation, I continue to put my trust in God that He knows the state of my heart and that He’s working on making it more like Jesus’ each day. With each step I take and with each breath I make, God continues to show me the invaluable and undeserved grace of forgiveness He’s given to me. I pray that one day, forgiveness – true, beautiful, Christ-centered forgiveness – will be as easy for me as it is for our Father.
Worship for Encouragement
Your mercies are new today. Your mercies are new today.
I can rest on Your shoulders
There is grace to start over
Your mercies are new today. Your mercies are new today.
Help me rise like the morning sun.
Help me see that Your work’s not done.