“Our lives are meant to be characterized by grace and forgiveness.” – Adam Hamilton (1)
|Used with permission|
For the past few weeks I’ve been leading a study on Forgiveness, a book study by Adam Hamilton. It is both a timely release and one that is well written. As I have come to expect with Adam’s work it is well researched, keenly observant, and full of both wit and wisdom. While I am leading the study, I can tell you it really provides an opportunity for the leader to be a participant throughout the sessions.
Forgiveness (not the book but the action) is not a nifty little catch phrase. It isn’t something that you or I get to put a label on or say it is for someone else to do. I have to applaud Abingdon for stepping up on this one not because it would be a sure fire, best seller but for the opposite reason: it is so NOT a topic given to flashy appeal. We know darn well to talk about forgiveness means pulling off band-aids and scabs. Forgiveness is about doing surgery, of facing hate, pain, and murder (or did we forget that Jesus was pretty clear about how our imaginations contribute to our sins).
What is, in fact, lacking in this study on forgiveness is, I think, an understanding of just how to actually pray in the direction of forgiveness. It is a common thing we pastors do, and many have fallen into line behind us. We simply tell people, “Pray about it.” Huh?
Now, I will say, Hamilton does a better job than most but if I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times over and “pray about it,” in my opinion is a cheap answer (and I admit, I’ve done the same). Like all of us, I have experienced that hate and pain in my own life towards those who have hurt me and my family.
In coming to grips with the practical; with the reality that I didn’t have it in me to forgive, I began to pray. It was a prayer I found in one of the most important books I’ve read in recent years, The Spirituality of Imperfection. The prayer goes something like this: “God, please give [insert person’s name] what he/she deserves!” Don’t try to suggest to God you’ve got the better idea about what that person ‘deserves.’ Don’t worry about praying it angry either, it is okay, just start praying it. Over time, it begins to work, not just for the person you pray for but it works on you. (2)
We so want something from others we will likely never get and that is agreement. But Jesus doesn’t call us to agreement. Jesus doesn’t call us to become clones. I can’t find it. Jesus doesn’t call us to ridicule others or ostracize anyone. Yet we do it all too quickly, all too often, and all through our day. What I can find is Jesus refusing to give us a way out from forgiving, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy time seven.” (Matthew 18:22) If we don't get this, we really don't get the direction Jesus was going at all.
(1) Hamilton, Adam. Forgiveness. Nashville, TN: Abingdon. 2012.
(2) Kurtz, Ernest and Katherine Ketchum. The Spirituality of Imperfection. Bantam Books. 1992.