Conflict. It’s a thing. A real thing. Like the McDonald’s of things. It’s everywhere. On every street corner. In every community and work place and church and family. You can try to avoid it and lock yourself up in your home. Close the windows and blinds to try to shut out the world. But life is messy and relationships require work, so conflict will come.
The underlying thing about a conflict is it pushes on our idols. The things we really want or feel we need that turn into things we are afraid to be without. Our hearts are idol factories. The book of James in the Bible says that things that cause fights and quarrels among you are the “desires that battle within you. You want something but you don’t get it.” A desire that tips into a demand.
The only way around it is overlooking. Distract. Don’t focus on it. Put it in context of the bigger things in life and recognize that you can shrug your shoulders and move along. An active choice. But when something changes your relationship with a person for the long haul. When the awkward and sick feeling you get when you see someone creeps in, and when you either want to attack or withdraw, we have a problem…
We seem to have all felt deep hurt. The kind that pricks your ego in all the tender spots. The kind that feels like it will leave a deep scar if the wound ever stops being picked open. Something that seems to scream in our ears – you aren’t loved and you don’t belong. My reaction is to pull up my knees to my chest, wrap my arms around the hurt and believe that lie that I am seeking safety and not anger.
Because anger will always lie and say it isn’t anger. Instead it calls itself sorrow and truth and justice and a whole lot of other things.
The Bible says “See that no root of bitterness springs up- this is how men are defiled.” Bitterness will twist you. It will rob you of trust, steal joy, and control the future by nursing the wounds of the past. No one wants to live that way.
But… here’s the kicker.. that actually requires something of us. Because bitterness is a by product. Something that springs up from a root.
The only way around it isn’t a way around at all. It is to forgive.
There are a whole host of other things we often want. Like a good way to confront or a reason to build a wall. We live in a culture where feelings rule. And if we are mad or hurt and feel justified in that, then we can’t forgive. I want to paint the person with my big black paintbrush. To put a stamp on them that deems them unsafe. I want a way to exact justice.
But Jesus says, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” The word forgive means to release someone from debt. And like any debt that needs to be paid, it costs.
It costs you.
You let go of any need of repayment. The natural response is to engage in the fight, or even the score with hurtful words on our tongue or thoughts in our head. To inwardly root against them, and not seek for the other person to thrive. To feel the debt is being paid in small doses.
“So watch yourselves. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”
Um. Watch MYSELF? Cause I was super busy with my eyes on this other guy. You know, keeping a watch out for other behaviour that warranted my big black paintbrush. Prepared at any time to do some touch ups. Kind of a high alert kind of situation here Jesus… Not sure i can really watch myself right now… cause I would never do anything like that person does…
You really can stay angry when you feel superior.
Tim Keller says “forgiveness flounders when I exclude the enemy from the community of humans and I exclude myself from the community of sinners.” When we are wronged we reduce people to what they have done. If someone lies, we call them a liar. But us… well we are sorry, but things sometimes are complicated so we told a little lie to not hurt anyone. We are multi dimensional and complex, but that other person is defined by this one thing.
Jesus said we must forgive even if someone wrongs you as totally and fully as any person could wrong another human being. Seven times. The number in the Bible that was symbolic for completeness. Seventy times seven. Nothing is impossible to forgive. When we withhold forgiveness we are the servant acting like a king, sitting in the judge’s seat.
If we want to forgive, we must remind ourselves that we are both human beings made in God’s image. All have great dignity and worth.
And do you know what Jesus followers said to the call to forgive? “Increase our faith!” They knew this wasn’t natural. They were saying “we don’t have the power to do this”. Because forgiving just takes more than we can give.
Here is the good news. With only a teeny tiny ounce of faith- the size of a mustard seed- we can forgive. Because this isn’t natural. It is super natural. If I have even a little understanding of what Christ has done for me, that I am a sinner saved by grace, I am able to forgive. When we understand there is no way we could ever pay the debt that we owe. When we understand that someone who didn’t owe a single thing, paid a debt of the greatest kind for us… only then can we go and release someone from the hurt.
I once stood at the edge of the grand canyon. As far as the eye can see there was this hole that seemed to be torn into the face of the earth. If you drove for an hour down the road and got out to look- it looked exactly the same. The magnitude was breathtaking. And I was reminded that I owed a debt even greater to a holy God. I picked up a handful of stones and watched them tumble into the canyon. In a moment they were gone and they made no difference. In all of my lifetime if I stood there and shovelled stones into the canyon- I could never fill it.
I owed a debt I could never repay. That is what I have been forgiven. Enough to fill all of the canyons. Christ paid a debt he did not owe and he will never ask me to repay. Complete and utter grace. Forgiveness is worth the cost when we realize how much we owed.
Forgiveness can be chosen and worked toward and granted before it is felt. A decision that is made that drags our feelings behind.
Sometimes I have needed a reminder. I once took a heavy rock and laid it in our yard. And every time that those thoughts began filling my head, reminding me what I was owed, telling me that I would never do anything like that, I looked at that rock. And I reminded myself that I laid it down. At times every one of my feelings was telling me to pick it up. And you know what, choosing this hurt. Every time you refuse to seek repayment or put down that secret bad feeling, it is surrender.
The currency of forgiveness is in the little decisions.
Slowly, in little tiny ways, I visited the rock less. And in gentle ways, I could see goodness. Preaching to myself, reminding myself of what I know about God, I surrendered. And in the depths of my heart, I found freedom.
We are never too broken for grace. Any of us. Ever. May we be forgiven forgivers.