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Why Didn’t You Do It Ages Ago?

Why Didn’t You Do It Ages Ago?

In a letter to his friend Malcolm, C.S. Lewis writes: “Last week, while at prayer, I suddenly discovered—or felt as if I did—that I had really forgiven someone I have been trying to forgive for over thirty years. Trying, and praying that I might. When the thing actually happened, sudden as the longed-for cessation of one’s neighbor’s radio, my feeling was—But it’s so easy. Why didn’t you do it ages ago?

 Why didn’t you do it ages ago?

For most people, forgiveness has conditions. I’ll forgive if someone apologizes to me, or if they do something to somehow “make it up” to me. I’ll forgive if they take the first step.

I always find that curious. When you were wronged by the person you’re refusing to forgive, that person had control over you. By waiting for them to make the first move and apologize, you’re allowing them to continue to have control over you. Is that truly what you had in mind? Does that really make any sense?

As Christians, we are called to forgive, not because anyone who has wronged us asks us for it, but because God asks it of us.

Sometimes God grants us the grace to forgive easily. More often, it takes effort, and discipline, and faith on our part to get over whatever insult or injury someone has done to us. But in this as in many other lessons, Jesus is wise. Carrying the burden of a grudge, of hatred, of anger isn’t hurting the other person–it’s hurting us. It’s keeping us away from the perfect freedom of life in Christ. It’s erecting a wall between us and God’s grace.

Why didn’t you do it ages ago?

In 2006, a man walked into an Amish school In Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, and shot 10 girls between the ages of nine and 13. The shooter, Charles Roberts, then committed suicide. In the midst of their grief over this shocking loss, the Amish community didn’t cast blame. Instead, it reached out with grace and compassion toward the killer’s family. That same day, Amish neighbors visited the Roberts family to comfort them in their sorrow and pain. Amish mourners outnumbered the non-Amish at Roberts’ funeral.

The Amish didn’t wait: their automatic reaction was to forgive.

Why didn’t you do it ages ago?

Peter, ever the questioning one, always trying to get it right, asked Jesus, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus must have looked at him with compassion–but, perhaps, also with some amusement. Peter was thinking in such small terms! “I say to you,” Jesus replied, “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Seventy-seven times! Peter must have been gobsmacked. He probably thought forgiving someone seven times would make him a pretty fine fellow… but he wasn’t even close. Seventy-seven times might as well be infinite; and that is, of course, the point. God forgives us, over and over and over again. And it’s our responsibility, our calling, to pass that along. How can we stand in the light of God’s unending forgiveness–and not forgive others?

For the Amish of Nickel Mines, forgiveness was as natural as breathing.

Forgiveness didn’t negate
their pain or grief or loss,
but it elevated it, instead,
into an offering to God.

We who are forgiven must forgive. It is that simple, and that complex, and that necessary.

Why didn’t you do it ages ago?

That last part, the question, speaks to the tremendous relief that forgiveness brings. Aside from any other consideration, why would you live in anxiety and stress when you don’t have to?

Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the person who has done it. Forgiving does not mean excusing; they’re two very different things. Some people think if you ask them to forgive someone who has cheated or hurt them, you are trying to make out that there was really no cheating or hurting; if that were so, there would be nothing to forgive. We are called, instead, to make every effort to kill every taste of resentment in our own hearts, to turn our backs on any wish to humiliate or hurt the other person.

Why didn’t you do it ages ago?

To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in us. The good news is—as with many things in life—practice may not make perfect, but it does make it easier.

For the Amish, forgiving didn’t mean they didn’t feel pain, or grieve, or even get angry. Those are normal human emotions. But forgiveness isn’t an emotion; forgiveness is a choice. And for the Amish, after a lifetime—no, after the experience of generations—of taking God’s commandment into their hearts, forgiveness, at the end of the day, was the easy part. They didn’t ask themselves whether they should forgive. They didn’t think about how to forgive. They just did it.

Try it. It just might be easier than you think!

 

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Inspiration, Prayer and Holiness, Living the Faith Today

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