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Forgiveness

Tonight I’m feeling the satisfaction of a full and good day. It held prayer and writing, running and planning, silence and conversation. I’m at St. John’s for a few days to work on an academic writing project. The setting and weather were as close to perfect as I could imagine . . . blue skies, soft dry air, cottonwood puffs drifting by in a slow ballet of letting go.

This evening between communion and dinner I ran five miles, crossing this bridge. The run was a little longer than I thought it might be. But the cooperative weather, mild temperature and relative flatness of my chosen course made it all seem easy. Mostly. Except for the last uphill mile. What I noticed was that it wasn’t as hard as it would have been even a year ago.

As I pushed gently up the hill I thought about what had changed to make the last mile climb easier. Practice. Running regularly and lifting weights and running intervals and running around my hilly neighborhood. Little things that made the end of a long run seem challenging but mostly more of the same.

My run helped me think about a story from a long time ago.

Before I was married, I heard some simple sounding, straightforward advice from Twila Paris, a popular contemporary Christian music (CCM) artist in the late 1980s. It was another life I lived then: sending t-shirts, cassette tapes (yes, that’s what I said; we eventually got new-fangled CDs) and posters of Twila to each stop on her concert tour. I did this for a number of CCM artists. Occasionally I got to go to one of Twila’s shows and hear her speak and sing.

On this particular night she said “when you get married, you should make a habit of saying ‘I’m sorry’ when you mess things up with your partner. And you should also make a commitment to say ‘I forgive you’ in return.” Might save a lot of bridge burning.

It was a simple enough and sensible thing. So we adopted it. And pretty much my husband and I have stuck with it over the years. When little things crop up we try to be quick to say I’m sorry and respond with I forgive you.

It served me well as I entered ministry, too. I wasn’t overly apologetic, but when I could see I’d done something wrong, or someone’s feelings were hurt, it was clear that saying I’m sorry was the quickest and most liberating response I could make. For me and the other person.

Of course I didn’t always get this right. At home or at church. But it was easier to do because I practiced.

And forgiveness is more complicated than this little formula. The church as a whole owes a lot of I’m sorrys to a lot of hurt people. They should measure carefully their forgiveness for all the harm they have felt. But that work is something like the last mile of uphill climbing after already running a ways. It is something like Jesus saying forgive them seven times seventy.

If we have been rehearsing forgiveness, then it is challenging but mostly more of the same.

Forgiveness is one way that leads to openings for grace. As Mumford & Sons sing:

“Lately all my bridges have been burned.
You say that’s how this grace thing works.
It’s not the long walk home that change this heart
But the welcome I receive with the restart.”

Welcoming each other with the gift of I’m sorry and I forgive you, are gifts of grace the world could use more of. Ya think?!

___________________

*Note: This post is part of a series of personal stories which unpack the list of advice, which I compiled for those considering ministry as a vocation, at the request of Pam Durso, executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry.

6. Admit when you are wrong. Immediately. Say “I screwed up. And I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” It is one of the most liberating things you can ever do as a pastor or human being. Be ready to admit when you are wrong (even if the other person was just as wrong and inside you are screaming ‘Idiot! No fair! Ahhhrg!’). Honestly saying you are sorry and seeking to recover the distance that the wrong created will free your own heart and give you a peace of mind and capacity for relationships that all the hanging on to being right will never give you. Never.

 

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