Saturday, March 8, 2008

These recurrent choices are essential to the health and renewal of authentic relationships

REPENT OFTEN. I am convinced that repentance and forgiveness are necessary aspects for all relationship-building and spiritual growth. Repentance, not as a one-time turn from darkness to light, from death to life, but as a continuous turning away and turning toward, relinquishing and embracing. Forgiveness, not as a rarely-exercised rite of confession and absolution, but as a daily challenge and gift. Marriage, family life, friendships, neighboring, and community depend on these.

THEY GO HAND IN HAND. Repentance and forgiveness go hand in hand. Forgiveness without repentance is hollow. Repentance without forgiveness is enslaving. Seeking forgiveness without remorse for and turning away from offenses is something less than what the Word of God describes. Repenting without receiving or embracing costly but freely-offered forgiveness is a trap that beholdens us to small tyrants--even one's own judgmental self. Any discussion of forgiveness must assume repentance and any teaching of repentance must fully imply forgiveness.

SEASON RELATIONSHIPS WITH FORGIVENESS. In As For Me and My House, Walt Wangerin writes about daily forgiveness in small offenses as the part of the backbone of continuing and developing trusting relationships. It is not a matter of “if” we need forgiveness, it is “when” and “how often.” And it is not just a matter of an offending person needing to be forgiven, it is that an offended person’s health depends on their act of forgiveness. We're invited to become increasingly aware of the incredible value of forgiveness in relationships.

I REFUSE TO LET IT STAND BETWEEN. I like the way Frederick Buechner describes forgiveness in Wishful Thinking: “To forgive somebody is to say one way or another, ‘You have done something unspeakable, and by all rights I should call it quits between us. Both my pride and my principles demand no less. However, although I make no guarantees that I will be able to forget what you’ve done and though we may both carry the scars for life, I refuse to let it stand between us. I still want you for my friend.'”

SWALLOW YOUR PRIDE. Buechner continues: “To accept forgiveness means to admit you’ve done something unspeakable that needs to be forgiven, and thus both parties must swallow the same thing: their pride. When you forgive somebody who has wronged you, you’re spared the dismal corrosion of bitterness and wounded pride. Forgiveness means the freedom to be at peace inside our own skin and to be glad in the other’s presence.”

GRACE CHANGES THE HEART. In some situations, I have found the challenge of forgiving to be beyond the abilit of my mind and will. I am, however, finding grace--unfathomable, mysterious, and ever-available--to be sufficient. What I am unable to accomplish by exertion of will or by “reasoning it through” is possible by grace, which transcends mind and will. Forgiveness is not just the right thing to do, it casts us into the arms of the One who changes our hearts and renews our relationships.

CONVERSION IS CONTINUOUS. Because we are always discovering self-defeating attitudes, outlooks, and actions that limit or disrupt our relationships, repentance is always necessary. And because we offend-- inadvertently, ignorantly, or obnoxiously—forgiveness is always a challenge. Thus, conversion is continuous--the possibility of transformation and growth are dynamic and current as today. The Shaker hymn sings: “To turn, turn will be our delight; ‘til by turning, turning, we come ‘round right.”

Graphic by Lora Shelley

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