Forgiveness Revisited

Reconciliation @ defines “forgive” as follows:
~to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.
~to give up all claim on account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.).
~to grant pardon to (a person).
~to cease to feel resentment against: to forgive one’s enemies.
~to cancel an indebtedness or liability of: to forgive the interest owed on a loan.

I’ve addressed this topic of “forgiveness” in previous blog posts but I must confess that it comes back to haunt me on a regular basis. The kicker for me in the above list is item #4 “to cease to feel resentment against; to forgive one’s enemies.” It took me the better part of two years after I was fired to stop being angry at my former boss–and a big part of why it had taken so long was because I was still unemployed after two years from when he fired me. However, by that time I thought I had honestly dealt with the issue and I had truly forgiven him (although I never saw him again after the day he fired me).

Of course, as you know if you’ve been reading my posts, I’m still unemployed and it’s now been three years and eight months since he fired me. Fortunately, he doesn’t cross my mind very often anymore but when he does . . . well, let’s just say the issue of forgiveness has not yet totally resolved itself. I heard (not that I wanted to) that he had been promoted at some point in this past year to vice president status. And I’m still unemployed. And I wasn’t allowed to present my side of the story before I was abruptly fired. And I was a director at the time. And I moved 1000 miles for that job . . . . I think I’ll stop the list at this point (it is longer), but you get the idea. Oh, one more item–I spent the past twenty years in that profession with stellar recommendations and references and in the scant seven months that I worked at that organization he effectively ended my career. I can’t find a job of any kind after three years and eight months of trying and applying. I’ve been stuck on hold and no matter what I do to try to move forward, it’s not working.

There is absolutely nothing easy about forgiveness, especially when the devastation left by the betrayal or unfortunate circumstance is embedded in our lives. In my case it’s long-term unemployment, but for others it could be any number of other things (e.g., divorce, a business deal gone bad, treachery at the hands of someone we trusted, infidelity, etc.). As a Christian, forgiveness is essential and it’s at the very core of what we believe and why Jesus went to the cross. And Jesus tells us to “forgive those who trespass against us” (Matt. 6:9-13) and to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:43-48). But how do we “make it stick?” 

Most of us are familiar with “The Lord’s Prayer,” where Jesus instructs the disciples in how to pray (Matt 6:9-13):

“Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts [trespasses],
As we also have forgiven our debtors [those who trespass against us].

 And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.

I started including that prayer as a part of my prayer time two years ago, and it is so enormously helpful when I don’t know what or how to pray about a long-term situation such as my unemployment dilemma or other situations including the turmoil in our world today. However, while we are all most likely familiar with that prayer, the two verses following this prayer (vv.14-15) state: “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” Those two verses in the Message Bible state, “In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.”

As I read that, I realized that I don’t want to be cut off from God in any way, and yet I struggle with the whole issue of forgiveness when it comes to my former boss because it has devastated my work life for so very, very long now. It would have been so much easier to forgive him if I had found another job and moved on with my life instead of being stuck “on hold” with all of the ramifications that come with long-term unemployment.

And, as yet another calendar year of my unemployment trial is quickly approaching (of which the fifth year will begin in April 2013 if God does not intervene in my situation before then), this past week my former boss crossed my mind and I realized that, once again, I have not yet resolved this issue of forgiveness regarding him. My resentment is right there on the surface, and as many times as I’ve gotten to the point of forgiveness and thought it was resolved, with each passing year I can tell it keeps rearing it’s ugly head when I honestly thought the issue had been dealt with. And I’m tired of riding this seesaw.

Three weeks ago I wrote a post about Corrie ten Boom, a Holocaust survivor from the Nazi concentration camps in WWII. She survived the experience but her father and sister died in the camps, and her brother died of spinal tuberculosis contracted during his time in the camps a year or two after his release. Her autobiography, The Hiding Place,” details her and her family’s life leading up through the experience at the hands of the Nazis and concluding in 1946 (she was in the camps for eleven months in 1944). I found a copy of the book and the reading of it has been daunting, to say the least. Near the end of the book after her release from the camps (her sister, Betsie, died there), she wrote a very moving illustration about forgiveness and just how difficult it could be and how she was able to resolve it. At this point in time she was traveling and speaking in various places about her own and Betsie’s experience in the concentration camps. The following is a direct quote from the book on pp. 230-231 of the edition I’ve been reading:

“I continued to speak, partly because of the home in Bloemendaal ran on contribution, partly because the hunger for Betsie’s story seemed to increase with time. I traveled all over Holland, to other parts of Europe to the United States.

“But the place where the hunger was greatest was Germany. Germany was a land in ruins, cities of ashes and rubble, but more terrifying still, minds and hearts of ashes. Just to cross the border was to feel the great weight that hung over the land.

“It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck [a concentration camp]. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there–the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.

“He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. ‘How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein.’ He said. ‘To think that, as you say, He [Jesus] has washed my sins away!’

“His hand was thrust out to shake mine. and I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

“Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.

“I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again, I breathed a silent prayer. ‘Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.’

“As I took his hand, the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder, along my arm and through my hand, a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

“And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His [Jesus]. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”

As I read those words this evening, I realized that this is what I needed to do regarding my former boss, even though the likelihood that I will ever see him again is extremely remote (and I doubt very much that he has given me much thought after he fired me so long ago). Yet the issue isn’t about whether or not I ever see him again but the fact that if I am sincere in my quest to forgive him (whether or not he cares or even knows) it is Jesus who will give me the love I need to forgive him. And so, tonight, I’ve asked Jesus to give me the love I need to truly, once-and-for-all, forgive him.

I do not want to carry this burden even one more day . . . .

If we confess our sins,
He is faithful and just
And will forgive us our sins
And purify us from
All unrighteousness.
~I John 1:9

YouTube Video: “Faithful God” composed and sung by Shannon Wexelberg (from her “Faithful God” CD, 2007):

Photo credit here