It was an uncomfortable confrontation. The kind where you hope the hammering of your heart isn’t visible through your shirt. My friend and I stood face to face, disagreeing about how to handle a situation between our children at school. It had been a fairly serious issue, and I had spoken to a teacher about it before discussing it with my friend. After a second uncomfortable exchange by phone, we both owned up to our part of the dispute and apologized. After that, our friendship began to feel solid again. These days, it’s better than ever.
I found myself in a tense, combustible situation—standing between two groups of angry people who were nose to nose, boiling over with rage and hatred. One group spewed vile, dehumanizing words at the other; then that group spewed vile, dehumanizing words back. In that volatile space, both groups completely lost perspective of the other’s humanity. Locked in an intractable posture of opposition, neither side would acknowledge any common ground. Neither side would consider there might be some way to resolve their differences or even begin any kind of constructive conversation. Both sides felt wronged and wanted only to punish their foe.
What’s the goal of forgiveness? When we’ve been wounded by another, why should we forgive? It’s often said that we forgive for ourselves, to break out of our prison of bitterness. It’s pointed out that not forgiving is like swallowing poison and hoping the other person dies, that our rage continues to give the offender power over us.
“I wake up in cold sweats every so often thinking, What did we bring to the world?” Tony Fadell, who helped create the iPhone, voiced those words of concern over the self-absorption that can come with too much ‘iFocus’ in our use of technology. He noted that communication devices—though capable of much good—are designed to meet individual needs and aren’t always about what’s best for healthy family and community relationships.
When the father of a murdered teen showed a heart of forgiveness to his daughter’s killer, waves of shock rippled through the courtroom. The serial killer, who had sat emotionless while the families of several victims voiced their pain and rage, broke down in tears at this unexpected moment of grace. Though painful, the father chose to show a taste of Christ-like love even in his pain.
Poet Carl Sandburg has said, “A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.” This thought rings true for many of us. Despite the diapers, frequent feedings, and sleepless nights, infants give renewed hope for the future.
After a failure, shame can cling to us like the smell of rancid garbage. Perhaps at the end of the day we look back at what happened and hang our heads with regret. That conversation with a friend when we talked too much about ourselves. That underhanded dig. That time we lost our temper with someone we were supposed to be caring for. We’ve done wrong, and we’re ashamed.
There I was, shaking hands with the president of the Republic of Iceland! As my boss introduced me to him at a private dinner I had the privilege to attend, my mind went blank as I tried to remember the few words I’d memorized in Icelandic. It made me incredibly nervous to be in the presence of the leader of a country.
When our pastor was a young man, he accidentally defaced a much-loved dining room table. Beautifully crafted, it had been in the family for generations, but it was left with an ugly mark when he accidentally placed a piping-hot dish directly on it. Although his parents forgave him, he was overcome with shame. Years later when he saw an ad for a furniture repair specialist, he got the table fixed. Although he’d been forgiven, the sting of shame only faded once the mark on the table had been removed by the skillful hand of a master.
I need to apologize most often to those to whom I’m closest—my family. They are the ones dearest to me but can also be the ones I’m most likely to hurt through my pride or selfishness. When this happens, I need to heed the promptings of the Holy Spirit to confess my wrongdoing, asking them and God to forgive me. Then I can be freed from the weight of my sin.
National Geographic has detailed the unimaginable killing force of pythons. These snakes have been known to kill large creatures: crocodiles, hyenas, and sometimes—even humans. According to experts, pythons kill their prey by cutting off the blood flow, a quick though agonizing death. “The heart . . . doesn’t have enough strength to push against the pressure,” one vertebrate ecologist said. The deadly snake literally squeezes the life out of its victims.
The administration of former US president Richard Nixon was plagued by scandals, the most infamous being the break-in at the Watergate office building. When addressing the various improprieties of his administration, Nixon famously used the phrase, “Mistakes were made.” This allowed him to admit that something had gone wrong without actually taking direct responsibility. Even after he resigned from office in the face of mounting pressure, Nixon never admitted to any criminal wrongdoing.
Although a man murdered nearly all of a woman’s family in the Rwandan genocide, they’re now next-door neighbors. He says, “Ever since I [confessed] my crimes and ask[ed] her for forgiveness, she has never once called me a killer. . . . She has set me free.”
“Where will the word / resound? Not here, there is not enough silence.” These words from T. S. Eliot’s haunting poem “Ash Wednesday” lament a world of people so hardened and afraid that they “walk among noise and deny the voice.” The poem echoes the thought of John 1, where the light of Jesus persistently shines in the darkness of a world that will not recognize Him (Isaiah 55:5,10).