This is my radio devotion for Thursday, March 4, on KCNI. Thanks to KCNI for airing weekday devotions from the pastors of the Custer County Ministerial Association.
Do you want the world to be a better place? Are you a little skeptical of God or God’s presence in your life or the world?
Good morning. This week, as the season of Lent takes off, I want to explore some concrete ways to experience God’s transforming presence in our lives and the world.
This week, I’ve talked about drawing closer to God and our best selves by watching our tempers, practicing generosity, and prayer, which all seemed fairly manageable; however, today Jesus invites us to what may be a difficult practice: forgiveness. He says, “If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins” (Mt 6:13-15).
Imagine that you live by some agreed-upon practice that all good people in your life should do in order to create harmony in your life. Maybe it’s, “All drivers signal their turns.” Or, maybe it’s, “The person who opens the clean dishwasher empties it.” Simple things, right? But what happens in us when the driver in the other lane turns in front of us without signaling, or someone else gets a clean cup out of the dishwasher and then walks away from the machine?
Obviously, in the moment, we might hit the brakes and wait to avoid an accident, or we might just go ahead and empty the dishwasher ourselves. But, when we’ve arrived safely at our destinations, or the dishwasher is fully emptied and ready for the next load, do we still hold onto the injustice of the situation? Do we seethe in mild or profound anger at the gall and audacity of these others to break our agreed-upon moral code? Do we watch for that driver – because we know everyone’s cars – and sneer at them when we see them next? Do we see the dishwashing delinquent and hold their laziness over them later on in the day?
Ahh…this is where life gets fun, because, here’s the thing. These other people did a bad thing: they broke our agreed-upon moral code of behavior. And we’re right to know they did wrong. But, how does our righteousness help us live in relationship with them? How does our righteousness help them to be better? And, is it possible that, sometimes, when we hold onto our righteousness and our real and justified sense of betrayal and hurt, we’re the ones who suffer, because we’re angry, or defensive, or driven to want to punish them or others?
That’s where forgiveness comes in. Forgiveness is setting ourselves free from our desire for punishment and our sense of righteousness, in order for us to be set free to fully live with others. Forgiveness doesn’t have to mean that we can fix our relationship with others. Sometimes, that isn’t possible, or safe, or healthy for us. But forgiveness can mean, we no longer give the person who wronged us power to control how we live and feel.
So, how do we do this? I guess the context matters. Maybe it’s by directly confronting someone and saying, “I forgive you.” Maybe it’s something we do by writing a letter we’ll never send to that person, or working through forgiveness in prayer only with God. At least in part, it’s simply asking God to give us the power to be set free from our anger, hurt, and resentment. Whatever it is that needs forgiving in our lives, may this be a day in which God gives us the power and compassion to forgive, so that we can be set free.