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Fires & Forgiveness

Early Autumn found me praying daily, hourly about forgiveness.
I was praying it for myself and declaring that I offered it to others.
I was praying for other's to find there way to it's release. 
Forgiveness was the pulse throbbing through my mind.
We have all had moments, seasons, and offenses that make us justifiably unforgiving.  We are the wronged and we writhe with the call for justice.  Messages on forgiveness sear us, prick us, and irritate us.
But when you do wrong and need forgiveness like you need oxygen to take your next breath you start to explore the topic with intensity.
You see yourself in great need of forgiveness and you see those who have hurt you as your equal.  Those that you have withheld forgiveness from in the past now seem to be sharing your same patch of ground. You now stand with them like a penniless beggar bankrupt without forgiveness.
You stop seeing yourself as the wronged only, but now you have joined the group of wrongdoers.

One early October morning I submerged my hands in soapy water trying to wash the remnants of the previous night's dishes. I pulled out my kindle and searched for a sermon to accompany while I cleaned the stacks of crusty plates.
Randomly or so it seemed I clicked upon a sermon that delivered the most profound message on forgiveness I had ever heard.
I felt compelled to send this message to my husband.  I was nervous, but I did anyways. 
I didn't say much, but that night as we went through our dinner routine I noticed him antsy and on edge. 
He brought up the sermon I sent I could see the wrestle playing out on his face.  The message was hard to hear.  Hard for anyone who had someone to forgive. 

Later that week I sat at the table a pond of midmorning sunshine swirling around me.  A text from my husband snapped me out of the quiet.
"I'm doing a message on forgiveness." the text read and I gulped in wonder.
"Really?" I stared wide eyed at the screen.
That Sunday I sat in the back pew listening to my husband approach this topic.  I knew it was like climbing a craggy mountain or scaling a precipice.  It was difficult. It was a sacrifice.
I left with awe at the miracle I saw unfolding in Him.
He challenged everyone to make a list of all of the bottled up hurt that we were clenching white knuckled and burn the list.  Letting the flames eat away the debts owed us.  Considering all balances even and paid for.  Not to be reopened.
The next week he told me a couple friends were coming over to grill out.  "Oh okay.  Any special reason?" I asked.
"Yes, we are making our lists and we are going to burn them."
Surprise rose in my eyes and I was stunned to know these talked about lists were going to be fleshed out on paper. I nodded in agreement.  "I'll make one too."
Late that Friday night I quietly tucked into the corner of my couch with my list.  I thought it would be a bit taxing to write, but I didn't realize just how long it would take.  Everyone was already out by the fire pit but I still had a list to write.  It took me an hour. 
I thought I would start with the most current season of my life, but I didn't. 
When my pen hit the paper stuff from childhood came flooding out, filling up the college ruled lines.  I felt in those moments that I had to pen all of it out. Any pent up hurt I held would be released onto paper by my pen.  I worked my way through significant painful moments that had imprinted me with self loathing and left me wounded.  I filled up at least ten pages.  I worked from the earliest and put my pen down with things most recent.  Things I had long thought I had forgiven God resurfaced in my mind.  I put my pen down and almost shut the book, but I quietly knew I wasn't finished.  There were two more to forgive.  "I have to write down everything I really have held against God" I knew in my heart.  Even though God had never wronged me, yet my feeble and doubtful brain had quietly held things against Him.  I penned down as many doubt darkened corners of my mind that I had quietly contested against God.  None justified, but real to my heart.
Lastly I knew I was supposed to forgive myself.  Something I knew would most challenge me.
I knew that I had always, all my life kept a running tab of my wrongs and replayed them over and over torturously in my mind inwardly punishing myself endlessly.
A woman had met my eyes at church one day and whispered into my ear, "The person hardest to forgive is yourself."  I was stunned that she saw it and I nodded quietly tears springing to my eyes.
After I filled up the last lines with every thing I knew that I still punished myself for that stretched as far back as twenty years time I finally put my pen down.
I felt exhausted, spent.
My husband and friends were gathered in late night darkness.  The firepit snapped and popped against the chill of night. 
Someone offered a prayer of blessing and help as we were all standing in agreement that we were making a stand to forgive anyone on our lists. I think God honors tangible moments like this.  Ones where the desire of our hearts expresses itself in a physical sign.  Like the burning of grudge lists or the building of an altar.  God sees we are serious.  He meets us there.  One by one we tossed our list in (or my almost novella).  My husband was last.  I saw the struggle play at the corner of his mouth as he held one last time to the list before he let go of the list and we all sat back in silence watching the flames annihilate the grudges of the past.

The moment spoke volumes to me and all of us. We couldn't go back to the fire and retrieve the ashes.
There were two things that really stood out to me in different messages and words I read about forgiveness.
One was this: those who hurt you never realize how much they have cost you. They will never know.
That truth reminded me of the words Jesus agonizingly breathed out while being crucified.
"Father forgive them for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34). 
We know that what we are doing is wrong, but our hearts deceive us into knowing how wrong it is.  The full weight of our sin.  We are blinded to it's costliness.
Secondly: We must absorb the debt others owe us and consider it canceled.  They can't repay us. 
No one can repay you for hurt they've inflicted.  It's impossible.  Just like people on my list would never be able to undo damage done with words, I could never undo the damage I had done. I was completely sorrowful for it, but I could never undo it. 
The Psalms mirror this theme, "Lord, if you kept a record of sins, who O Lord, could ever survive? But you offer forgiveness, that we might learn to fear you...hope in the Lord; for with the Lord there is unfailing love and an overflowing supply of salvation.  He himself will free Israel from every kind of sin." (Psalm 130). 
That is what Jesus has done.  He absorbed and became the very debt we owed, taking the wrath that we could never survive and handing us in return forgiveness and new life. 

If you are grappling with grudges or are in need of forgiveness yourself take time to listen to that sermon I found.  It's life changing.
Lastly, if you now need forgiveness let that this time be a springboard for you to now forgive.  You know now what it is like to need forgiveness.  Now you can forgive.  Forgive anyone you have kept chained up in the past with the weight of their offenses.  Release them.


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