I’m entering into the part of my school journey when I get to practice what I’m learning. I’m both excited and amazed. I marvel that I’m here doing this, the whole lot of it. The schooling, the residencies, the writing, the conversations with the bright minds who are passionate about the Kingdom of God, and now a kind of practicum of spiritual direction. These are the good parts of this season.
I’m simultaneously making my way through a difficult season. I feel like I keep writing about this. I look back at my posts and it’s evident I’m familiar with difficult seasons. I know I’m not the only one. Does it ever seem like you’re in a perpetual season of hard times? I’ve come out of too many of them now to know this won’t last forever, but there are days that I have to say it out loud to myself.
“This won’t last forever, Marie.”
A friend told me the other day that pain has had the greatest impact on her life with God. I’d say the same. When we read the Bible, it’s the same story. Different people. Different trials. But always some kind of sorrow or suffering and God seemingly watching from a distance.
But He Isn’t
But He isn’t watching from a distance. Whether we’re aware of Him or not, He’s right in the middle of the pain. Right there in it with us. I hear the question some ask.
“If God is right there with us in it, then why doesn’t He stop it?” My answer is: I don’t know. I’ll let you ask Him about that. What I do know is that what comes with trials, pain, and suffering is typically a fracture in a relationship. An offense or betrayal that preceded the pain.
Which leads to my next thoughts about forgiveness.
The story of Peter asking Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother or sister who sins against him is a testament to the human preference for easy formulas. Jesus surprises his listeners when he answers with an unthinkable equation: seventy times seven. Jesus follows with a parable about an unforgiving servant teaching us that forgiveness is not about the number of times we forgive but the condition of our hearts. Dallas Willard put it plainly in Divine Conspiracy, “It is not psychologically possible for us really to know God’s pity for us and at the same time be hardhearted toward others.”
When we truly know God and trust his goodness toward us, when we understand the depth of love Jesus demonstrated during his life, death, and resurrection, we will be dedicated to becoming the kind of people who forgive and seek forgiveness. Fortunately, forgiveness is an ongoing spiritual practice and our daily lives provide many opportunities to rehearse it. “God built brokenness and weakness into the fabric of all life when he set in motion the consequences of the fall. From that point forward, God declares that all relationships would be marked by pain and misunderstanding,” writes Pete Scazzero.
If forgiveness is a spiritual practice then what does it look like on a daily basis? How can we stay prepared to be the kinds of people who forgive as God asks us to?
I’m still thinking through this but I do have a new understanding of the dynamics of a relationship after it’s been broken by betrayal or offense.
Part of the work is recognizing our shared humanity. In The Book of Forgiveness Desmond Tutu says, “We can easily be hurt and broken, and it is good to remember that we can just as easily be the ones who have done the hurting and the breaking.” All of us wound others and all of us are wounded by others.
Another part of the work is recognizing that the relationship is changed after an offense. Forgiveness provides the opportunity for the relationship to be renewed or released, not restored. The relationship cannot be what it was before the betrayal. It must be renewed or released. Tutu goes on to explain that renewal is a creative act of love, but sometimes release is the necessary option. We are not left alone to discern the best way forward in the relationship. Jesus guides us.
Forgiveness is more than a decision. It’s holy work…a healing process…and the most worthwhile endeavor. Because it keeps us connected to one another. And as Thomas Hart puts it, “Life is people or it is nothing.”