When Joel was laid off at a difficult time in his life, he was deeply hurt and thought the decision was unfair. For years, he nursed a sense of grievance against his then supervisor. Then one evening, during a church Bible study, he encountered the passage where Jesus tells Peter he should forgive someone who has wronged him, not just seven times but seventy-seven times (Matthew 18). Jesus then tells a parable about an unforgiving servant. The parable concludes (and I’m paraphrasing here): “When your brother or sister does you wrong, you need to forgive them … or else.”
His grievance with his supervisor came suddenly to mind. “I guess I’d better forgive her.” He paused, not sure what to do next, then unexpectedly thought: “You know, she was doing the best she could.” That truth settled on him like a breath of fresh air.
Joel still felt hurt by all that had happened, but in that moment, he let his supervisor be human, too. She was doing the best she could.
Forgiveness seldom comes as cleanly as it did for him that day. It often comes in fits and starts, especially when the hurt is deep, or when it actually was done with ill-intention. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily come on command, and a call for forgiveness should never add another layer of guilt for a wounded party to bear.
But Joel’s experience encourages me to believe that we can make a choice. We can nurse our grievances, giving them more and more power over us; or we can let them go. We can let them go with the understanding that we are all flawed; we all make mistakes; we will all hurt others. We can let them go knowing that despite the wrongs done, life will continue to unfold. We can let them go knowing that a life lived with mercy and compassion is always its own reward.
Daily Message Author: Ann Herlin
The Reverend Ann Herlin is an Associate Pastor at the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria, Virginia, where she has served since 2001.
Over the years here, Ann’s work has touched on many different areas, including mission, advocacy, adult education, young adults, membership, and pastoral care.
She was raised in Palacios, Texas, and received her BA from Yale University in 1993 and her Master of Divinity degree from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
Let us pray: God, open my heart to forgiveness. Help me to see with compassion and understanding; help me to let go of the wrongs that have been done. Heal me with your grace, and lead me forward. Amen.