The Difficult Task of Forgiveness

Forgiveness. When I read the topic for this issue, I decided I would sit this issue out. My partner asked why and I told her, “Forgiveness is my weakest area as a Christian, the biggest stumbling block I have in my walk with Jesus. I don’t have anything to contribute to a discussion.” Her response was “Perhaps that’s what you should write about.” So, here I am.

Like so many people today, I can’t say I’m a perfect Christian in every other regard excluding forgiveness. I don’t pray as often or as faithfully as I should. I am not as active in the church as I should be. I judge the more conservative Christians because I disagree with their beliefs. Much of these failings are, I think, related to my failure to forgive.

Matthew 18:21-22 has troubled me greatly in the 15 years since I became a born again Christian. I have needed to forgive some of my family for everything from the alcoholism that colored my childhood to their reactions when I came out. As a child, I frequently accused my mother of deliberately ignoring me and enabling my stepfather’s alcoholism. I was combative and used my hurt as a shield and a weapon. I took every opportunity to remind everyone of the horrible deeds my stepfather committed when drunk. My inability to let go made things very difficult for everyone, friends and family alike. Even after joining a therapy group in college, I have been unable to completely let go of the anger and hurt.

My coming out letter was a continuation of the battling and picking at old wounds. I addressed the impersonal, hate-filled letter to my mother, stepfather, brother and sister, attempting to drive a permanent wedge between most of my relatives and myself. If I could alienate them enough, I would never need to forgive and move on. I was furious when someone told my father about the letter he didn’t receive. Dad and I were starting to build a relationship and I didn’t want to lose contact with him, so I did not send the letter to him. I was planning how and when to talk to him in person when he called me about my letter. I guess I should have known he’d find out about it. I didn’t expect his anger and disappointment at not receiving a copy.

I come by my inability to forgive honestly. My dad is still upset he wasn’t told about my baptism so he could attend. Neither my mother nor I thought he would want to be there. My mother has told me she can not and will not accept my “lifestyle” but she knows she can’t change my mind for me. I’ve been told she mourned me for days, acting as if I had died, after receiving my coming out letter. She can not forgive me for my errors any more than I’ve been able to forgive her.

I think the most difficult task Jesus gave us is forgiveness. It’s not easy to turn the other cheek and pray for good for the people who mean us harm. It’s easy to pray for the people we care about or for a nameless stranger we see suffering on the news or read about in the paper. How many of us can truly say we forgive Rev. Jerry Falwell and Rev. Lou Sheldon for their harmful actions? How many of us truly pray for those men? How many of us are able to forgive the two young men accused of murdering Matthew Shepard? I know I have struggled to forgive them and pray for them.

I have always been amazed when the family and friends of a victim of murder have been able to say they forgive the killer and will pray for that person. I want to ask them exactly how they have achieved that point in their lives. I want to know the peace they feel when they give that burden to Jesus and forgive. I’ve tried but somehow it’s not as easy as it should be. Perhaps I worry too much about everything or maybe I am just a product of the 20th century.

I have a theory that road rage stems from trying to accomplish too much in too little time coupled with the conviction that “I count and you don’t”. Mix those two ingredients with the inability to forgive and you have a recipe for disaster. How else do you explain the rise in tailgating, cutting other drivers off on the freeway, or nearly hitting a pedestrian in a crosswalk? How often do you hear of some shooting incident or fist fight over poor driving habits? I know I’ve often spent the better part of a day griping about “some idiot” that nearly hit me as I was crossing the street with the crossing light.

“Okay Ruth,” you say. “How do we learn to forgive?” I wish I had the answer to that question. I think, at least for me, that the key is studying Jesus and His life. I need to work harder to model my life on the example He gives us. I need to pray more often and work harder at seeing the issues before me through the eyes of others. It’s far too easy to hold a grudge about indignities the GLBT community has suffered for no reason other than our difference. As long as we carry that burden, we will be unable to grow and we will be unable to accomplish the tasks God has for each of us. I will pray that each of us is able to learn to forgive. Please pray for me as well.