How long should it take us to forgive?
Years ago my sister-in-law organized a pool party for Sarah’s sixth or seventh birthday. We lived about four hours away, and planned to visit them during a vacation—which also happened to include Sarah’s birthday.
I enjoyed the break from party planning, and appreciated the fact that my sister-in-law went out of her way to find two little boys to come to the party. The boys and their parents had gone to church with us when the kids were younger, but had moved away to the same city as my sister- and brother-in-law before we got to know them really well.
When I told Sarah that the boys would be at her party, she immediately piped up, “I don’t like Joey.”
“Really?” I asked. “Why not?”
“He pulled on my dress in church one day.”
For over two years Sarah had held a secret grudge against a little boy who had yanked on her dress. One incident. One time.
I assured her that Joey had probably matured, and since she would have a swimsuit on, she needn’t worry about him damaging her dress. And he had. The kids had a blast at the party and Joey behaved himself.
I still look back at that incident and shake my head. How could someone hold a grudge for two years over a minor incident? And then I came across a verse in the Bible where Paul urges the Colossians to “Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you” (found in Col. 3:12-14, MSG).
My immediate reaction to this verse? Do I have to forgive the jerk at work? I confess to having a little closet in my mind filled with pigeonholes, and each time someone acts like a jerk, I add another slip of paper with their ‘offence’ to the hole with their name on it. A list of all the people who irk me, tick me off, annoy me, anger me, hurt my feelings and offend me starts playing through my head. I act a little more adult in my reactions to the ‘he pulled on my dress’ incidents in my life—but not much.
Someone says something I don’t agree with in a staff meeting? I avoid talking to them for awhile. Someone’s behavior gets on my nerves every time I’m around them? I go out of my way to never be around them. I don’t exactly gossip about the people who annoy me, but by my actions I build walls to keep them out. When other people share their encounters, I nod my head in sympathy and add another slip of paper to the pigeonhole. I’ve discovered that it’s easier to express love for my enemies than it is to like the jerk at work.It’s easier to love your enemy than it is to forgive the jerk at work. Click To Tweet
More often than not, I stuff those offences in my mind and I never take the time to talk it over with the person who offended me. I don’t speak up in love and say, “Hey, could you help me understand where you’re coming from when you said such and such?”
Since reading Lisa Murray’s book Peace for a Lifetime, I have practiced the phrase “When ______ happens, I feel ______. I just wanted to share that with you.” Using that phrase is part of my life plan (I just haven’t had an opportunity to use it yet).
I need to clean out that closet and burn all those slips of paper. God forgives me immediately. He doesn’t forgive me conditionally and bit by bit as I buy myself back into his good graces.God #forgives me immediately. I don't have to buy my way back into his good graces. Click To Tweet
As I see it, I have a few choices for learning to forgive the jerk at work (regardless of where their offence lies on the scale of severity).
1. Forgive them even if they don’t ask for forgiveness. This means I can’t pigeonhole the person as someone who ‘always does ____’. I have to truly forgive and forget.
2. Have a conversation with the person. Regardless of how the conversation goes, forgive them and refuse to pigeonhole either them or their mistakes. Forget about it.
3. Work at deepening the relationship by honestly sharing how I feel without turning it into a ‘When YOU do this” scenario (who likes to hear accusations, anyway?).
4. Willingly acknowledge the part I may have played in the situation (perhaps my lack of humility or failure to love escalated the situation) and readily ask forgiveness.
5. Follow Paul’s advice: “And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s our basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it” (Col. 3:14).
What about you? Do you struggle with forgiveness? Do you have any advice for forming forgiveness habits?