You could say it was my fault, and I wouldn’t disagree. Let me explain.
It happened in the middle of a tough season (doesn’t it always?). One of those chaotic stretches of unlimited responsibilities and limited capacities. Between my personal and professional life, I was stretched as thin as slip of floss. I knew this, which is why “Keep it together, man!” became my regular mantra. My standard pep talk when I fear I might break.
(Oh, you too?)
Then, in a moment of maximum vulnerability, IT happened.
A friend hurled a spiky jab my direction. Okay, maybe it wasn’t as dramatic as all that. Truth is it was a few words meant it as a joke, a playful attempt at sarcasm.
Only, in my thinned state, the words landed sharp.
Thus, being the grownup I am, I retaliated. Snapped with a harsh reply. It all happened in mere seconds (doesn’t it always?). Then, we stood there. Stunned. Camaraderie swallowed up in less time than a latte.
What had I done? I apologized. Then, days later, an apology over email. A month after, an apology-ridden phone call.
“I forgive you. No sweat. It’s over.” That’s what she said, every time.
Only it wasn’t. I felt it. Then, a year later, I discovered quite by accident that she’d shared my blunder with a few mutual friends.
I’d apologized, hadn’t I? Didn’t I do my best to make things right? Thus, I once again responded. No, I reacted. Instead of words, I withdrew. Shut down. Chalked up a lawyer’s list of reasons for “boundaries.”
In short, I justified my unforgiveness with hers.
This scenario happened several years ago. In fact, it’s more a reflection of multiple scenarios rather than any single one. You see what I’m getting at, don’t you?
We may claim to embrace grace, but we sure don’t know how to live it.
I’m not talking about the grievous wrongs, the illegal and immoral crimes committed against the innocent. And I’m not talking about turning a blind-eye to patterns of dysfunctional and destructive behavior.
Instead, I’m talking about the daily digs, darts, oversights and unappreciations. The easy slips of sarcasm, selfishness and snap judgments. The criticisms and jumping-to-conclusions.
And, yes. The harsh words. The withheld absolutions. And the unforgiveness in retaliation for unforgiveness.
Dare I say it more bluntly?
We’re terrible at forgiveness.
No, really. We’re terrible at it. We think far too much about ourselves, our wounds and how wrong it feels to be wronged. We nurse it, coddle it, examine our hurts like a jewel in the hand, then show them off to our friends.
But rarely do we stop to examine the wounds we deliver and the wrongs we exact.
We didn’t mean it! we defend.
But neither did they.
For years I’ve been working with leaders, while trying to be a leader myself. In that time, I’ve learned about personal development, time-management, setting goals and pursuing priorities. I’ve explored spiritual disciplines, productivity practices, creativity prompts, and wellness regimens.
But I can’t recall one time when I dug deep and invested all of myself to master the art of forgiveness. Not one time when I spent weeks working to release wrongs, once and for all. Not one time when I set out to discover the beauty and brawn of a devout and daily forgiveness practice.
And? Rarely have I encountered anyone else who does.
1 Corinthians 13:1 adds some potent perspective: “If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.”
In other words, it doesn’t matter how intelligent, determined, and articulate we are if we don’t develop a tolerance for human imperfection. If we don’t learn how to love.
Because as much as you and I want to lead well, we will always be leading people with a propensity to screw up. And we’ll always be leaders with the same inescapable flaw.
Years ago, I heard pastor and teacher Chuck Swindoll share his secret to a staunch forgiveness practice. Although his sermon was on authentic love, he urged us to remember there is no room for a God-sized love without radical forgiveness. Simply, every time you and I are faced with the temptation to withhold love for a wrong done, authentic love requires that we remember the ABC’s of forgiveness:
A = I accept you as you are. No conditions.
B = I believe you are valuable.
C = I care about you when you hurt.
D = I desire what is best for you.
E = I erase all offenses.
It’s that simple. And that hard.
Want to lead well? Want to be the kind of person who changes the world with powerful words?
Try “I forgive you.” Mean it. Then live it. Your influence and impact grows from there.
[reminder]What are your secrets for doing the work of forgiveness? [/reminder]
This is such an area of struggle for me. By the grace of God, I have been making progress, slow at times, two steps forward and one back at times, but still progress. One thing that has truly helps was something I learned from a story in Gary Thomas’s book Sacred Influence. It was a story of a woman and her unbelieveing husband and how over many, many years God worked through her to bring her husband to Himself. She gave her husband over to the Lord through forgiveness. I have found her prayer more than helpful inn my marriage and other relationships as well. It goes like this “Lord, I forgive him (or her), and I release him to you and ask you to work in his life, Amen.” It is changing me and in turn changing my life, and hopefully the lives of those that I love.
Thank you for this post, I needed a good reminder of God’s desires for us in the areas of love and forgiveness this morning.
At times I wonder if those of us who are the most loyal in love are the ones who struggle most with forgiveness. We invest so much of ourselves that any wound seems to run deep. Like you, I’ve struggled over the years. But I think I’m slowly starting to learn how to allow a wide circle of grace around our imperfections, including my own.
Your heart is precious, Linda.
I am constantly reminded of Isaiah 53:9 “nor was there any deceit in His mouth.” I personally think there is a deep root in the deceit that rises up today in our popular culture of humor in sarcasm, condescion & criticism.
For myself I truly try to remove myself from the from the situation and pause to look deeper at what the root causes or heart issues going on with each individual. Too often I’m reminded that “out of the heart are the wellsprings of life” Pv4:23. We all are only alive in Christ by His grace. Isaiah 53 brings us to the humility of the Cross & the shedding of His innocent blood for us. We are all sinners and true confession is good for the soul. It’s refreshing to a culture that isn’t used to genuine honesty.
Good reminder, Michele. Thank you.
What a reminder of the core principle of Christianity. 2 books I’ve read that have deeply impacted me on this subject are Think No Evil by Jonas Beiler and Coming Clean by Seth Haines. Coming Clean really helped me examine old wounds from fellow human beings (gasp!) and see how they had misaligned my view of God and “church” people. Highly recommend!
Thanks for the recommends, Lea! So helpful. Another book I suggest is The Bait of Satan: Living Free From the Deadly Trap of Offense, by John Bevere.
Yes, this is a struggle for me too. I think it stems from a deeper issue, “fear of abandonment,” which gets triggered when a friend wounds us or seems to be pulling away. My first tendency is to feel anxiety over the situation and talk to someone who doesn’t know them to check my perceptions (doesn’t help). Then I want to distance myself so I don’t continue to feel hurt. When I really stop and reflect and ask the Lord to help me decipher what happened, I usually see where I have not really invested in the friendship myself. After all, friendships deepen when you have gone through misunderstandings together, forgiven each other, 70X7. It’s hard stuff.
I made my own rule for forgiving. When I forgive I can never bring that offense up again. Not to that person or anyone else. This has especially applied to my husband. Forgiveness wipes the slate clean and no ammunition can build up in the closet to blast someone. Love your writings. Thank you for being real.
Tremendous insight, Annie. I have said I would do the same, then slipped into verbally rehearsing it, with myself and others. Sometimes for YEARS. True forgiveness doesn’t keep talking about it. Thanks for sharing such a great advice!
The two biggest helps for me when I need to forgive are (1) Jesus’ whole 70×7 principle (forgive to the extent that you’ve been forgiven—and to the extent you want to stay in fellowship with God) and (2) Joseph’s magnificent perspective of God’s sovereignty as a foundation for letting go of hurts (Gen. 50:20).
Michele, your ministry is profound to me and to many others. Therefore, so is my appreciation for you!
Joseph’s example has been significant to me as well! The whole subject of God’s absolute sovereignty has probably been the most freeing and reassuring principle over my life. It’s much easier to let go of fear, hurt, frustration, disappointment, etc. if you have ABSOLUTE confidence that God is infinitely wise and infinitely loving. And he’s fully in charge.
Thank you for the wisdom (and kind words!), Wayne.
“It’s that simple. And that hard.” This is so true. We need the power of the Holy Spirit changing our hearts as we make the decision to forgive. Thank you for your encouragement.
OUCH! And, OUCH again. I still carry wounds of unforgiveness from others and from my withholding forgiveness. Thank you for setting me straight.
I’m still working on it too, Angie. With you.
With unforgiveness the bondage is so great. As I just read in Lysa TerKeurst’s book Univited forgiving is For Giving.
For giving yourself and the other person freedom to make mistakes and move on to all God has.
Thank you for sharing your heart.
I love that. Thanks for sharing, Jeannie.
Love these ABC’s of forgiveness! What a great reminder for all of us. Thanks, Michele. <3
Michelle, I lost my mom two weeks ago. Please be encouraged by this story of forgiveness I wrote about. Feel free to share. Grace upon grace. Kinsey
I forwarded this email twice already. Thank you so much. You nailed it. God bless!
Thank you, Rebekah. I’m so glad. <3
This subject is topmost in my mind lately. The Lord has been convicting me not to repeat what others have said to me that wasn’t kind and also not to complain about people (like my husband) to anyone but Him. Joyce Meyer preaches about this a lot and I’ve taken it to heart. It is hard not to complain about my feelings being hurt. Sometimes I can keep my mouth shut; other times, I don’t. I’m ashamed after I talk about a person’s failings and yet I keep doing it. Not as bad as years ago though, when I loved to gossip and feel superior. I’m happy to say God’s grace is working out his will in me.
I find if I tell God my hurt feelings and sometimes rant and rave about certain people, I feel better. I do end with praying to forgive and forget. I think it is okay to do that since the authors in the Psalms did it. I hope so anyway.
So good! I am still having a problem in this area! Faithful Love