The bridge of forgiveness

May is the month in which we honour our Mums, but I also like to think it is a good opportunity for us to show our appreciation for women in general. (And not just once a year – showing respect and care for women is something that should be a natural part of our lifestyle, regardless of our age or gender)!

And one of the women I admire the most is a lady whose story I first read about over 40 years ago – the late Corrie ten Boom.

Corrie and her family gave shelter to Jews in their home in Haarlem, Netherlands during WW2.

When their activities were discovered, Corrie and her sister, Betsie, were arrested and subsequently imprisoned in Nazi Concentration camps.

Betsie died in the camp but Corrie was miraculously released and after the war she went on to speak to countless people around the world about the love, forgiveness and grace of God.

She also wrote about her own very personal encounter with forgiveness:

It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. 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 has washed my sins away!’

His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I who had preached so often to people …of 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. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.

You do not have to be a rocket scientist to know that bitterness and resentment destroys relationships and I have seen many times how this has fatally eroded marriages.

Philip Yancey said:

Ungrace causes cracks to fissure open between mother and daughter, father and son, brother and sister, between scientists, and prisoners, and tribes, and races. Left alone, cracks widen, and for the resulting chasms of ungrace there is only one remedy: the frail rope-bridge of forgiveness.

Faced with her hurtful past and former tormentor that day in Munich, Corrie ten Boom chose to travel the path of forgiveness and both she and the man before her were set free.

How are your relationships today, especially your marriage?

Faced with past hurts and angry words, will you choose to hang on to them or will you choose to forgive?

He who cannot forgive another breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself.

Perhaps it is time for you to take a walk over the bridge of forgiveness.

Going light: ‘keeping score’ weighs down marriages

backpack

THE OLYMPICS are here again and the world will marvel at the exploits of superbly fit athletes competing against each other for gold and a place in history.

For Aussies, when we think of the Olympics, our minds go to the pool. But there will be a lot of excitement out on the velodrome where our cyclists will also battle for glory!

Over the last several years I have been something of an on again, off again bike rider myself.

I say on again, off again because I have not been able to maintain the kind of consistency with riding that I would like.

I have all the necessary equipment – an Avanti carbon framed bike, cleats and of course, the much maligned Lycra nicks!

I have morphed into that strangest of early 21st Century suburban creatures, the MAMIL (“Middle Aged Man in Lycra”).

Yet despite all the gear I have not become the Cadel Evans of the back streets of my suburb.

Oh, and I also own a backpack.

I must say that I am rather proud of my backpack.

I have had it for about 7 to 8 years and in that time it has shared many a journey with me as well as assisting me in transporting a number of necessary items from A to B.

I have also become quite adept at what I can actually pack into it.

On a recent trip I managed to find room for a heavy bike chain, three highlighter pens, two standard pens for writing, a complete change of clothes and a pair of shoes (bike cleats won’t cut it around the office!), a stoutly packed lunch box, at least one book, some writing paper and preparation notes for a sermon I was working on.

I was even able to squeeze in my wallet, watch and phone when I discovered I had left them out in the original packing!

We marvel at what a woman can put into her hand bag but people are in awe of what I can cram into a backpack!

It occurs to me that many people carry backpacks in their marriages.

I wrote recently about the baggage that we bring with us into our marriages and how important it is to deal with that.

What about the baggage we also accumulate after we are married and which we stuff into our backpack called “for future use, as needed?”

You know what I mean!

There was the time your wife smashed the car. Into the backpack it goes, ready to be pulled out at a moment’s notice to remind her of her incompetence.

What about that time when your husband forgot to bring the washing in as you had asked him to?

In the middle of an argument, you reach into your backpack and draw out your deadly weapon: “You always let me down like this! Remember the time when you…”

On and on it goes, with our backpacks becoming heavier as the years pass, bulging at the seams.

We human beings can cram an awful lot into our emotional backpacks!

And we take great delight in dumping their contents on our husband or wife when we feel we need to emphasise a point.

One thing I have noticed about cyclists at the Olympics.

Regardless of what event they compete in, they don’t carry backpacks! Olympic cyclists know that they must travel light to ensure maximum speed.

It’s good advice for a marriage – travel as lightly as possible.

Carrying around your emotional backpack, waiting to dump it on your partner, only undermines your relationship.

Better to dump the whole backpack into the hands of God and let Him free you of its contents.

There, doesn’t that feel better?

Backpacks might be good for MAMILs on suburban streets but they are lousy “accessories” for an Olympic cyclist…and a marriage.?

Forgiving others removes emotional baggage

sorry

Some of the emotional baggage that we carry with us into our relationships is found in a sack labelled un-forgiveness.

The idea that someone has wronged us and that they should pay has been likened to a debt – the person owes us for what they have done.

But when we carry this kind of baggage around with us we also end up carrying what author David Seamands calls the “Fearsome Four of guilt, resentment, striving and anxiety.”

That is a lot of baggage to lug around!

More importantly, if our practice in life has been to not forgive, then we can be sure that this will also be our habit in marriage.

Forgiveness is a complicated subject because there are so many intricate avenues and nuances associated with it.

“I was the victim of verbal and emotional abuse for twenty years in my marriage – how can I be expected to forgive that?”

“My father suffered inhumane treatment at the hands of a brutal regime. Surely you don’t mean he needs to forgive them?”

I want to assure you that I understand these statements. While I have not experienced treatment like that or other horrors inflicted on people, I can appreciate how difficult a thing like forgiveness can be in these situations.

But I am also challenged by this statement:

“The world is made for forgiveness; it is made for grace; it is made for love in all of life. The need for these has been built into the structure of our bodies, in every interpersonal relationship. We are made for grace and love and acceptance.”

Every one of us hungers for grace. Every one of us longs to be accepted. We all want to be loved.

And if this is true, then there lies within all of us the capacity to demonstrate that same grace, acceptance and love to others.

The problem is that some of us feel we have a right to hang on to our hurts and to withhold forgiveness to those who have mistreated us.

This kind of thinking leads to destruction. We slowly torture the other person by our refusal to forgive, forever keeping them imprisoned by their misdeed and our lack of grace toward them.

But we also keep ourselves imprisoned. While ever we refuse to forgive the other person, we give them power over us to keep us locked up in our bitterness, pain and rejection.

Yet at the heart of the word forgiveness are two incredible concepts.

The first is that to forgive is “to let go”. When we forgive someone we make a deliberate choice to let go of the offence as well as letting go of our perceived right to make them pay or to exact revenge.

The second is that “to release”. When we release a person through the act of forgiveness we make a choice to not keep them enslaved to our bitterness or held prisoner forever for their act of wrongdoing.

And we also release ourselves!

While ever we hold on to our grudge or some so called “right” to feel the way we do, we inadvertently give the other person power over us because we are forever held captive by them and what they did to us.

Little wonder then, that people who do not forgive fall prey to the “Fearsome Foursome!”

At the height of the US Civil War, a commander told President Lincoln that he “had an enemy and (you) must slay him!”

To which Lincoln wisely replied, “If I make my enemy my friend, have I not slain my enemy?”

You were made for forgiveness, grace, love and acceptance.

And so are the people in your life that need your forgiveness…?