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The weight of unforgiveness

by davesandel on March 14th, 2023

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

(click here to listen to or read today’s scriptures)

The weight of unforgiveness

You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant as I had pity on you? Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt.

I have unforgivenesses that weigh me down like anchors in a heavy surf. For now the tide is out, so I can breathe. But soon the water will rise and, unable to move, I’ll be drowned.

So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.

I didn’t realize how the wires of my memory wrap and imprison me. I thought I could just say “I forgive you,” and then just step away from the anchor and begin swimming again like the dolphin I love. But not so, my fishy friend. I  say the words, but nothing happens inside me. The memories are etched into something like stone. All that’s happened in my life, pouring over the stone year after year, changed nothing, and now my intentions change nothing. It’s too late.

I feel trapped. The story Jesus told Peter rings in my ears. What do I do now? I can’t get to my heart; it’s caught under the water and the tide keeps rising. Oh God!

Remember your compassion, O Lord. In your kindness remember me because of your goodness.

God whispers deep inside me.

Even now, return to me with your whole heart. David! I am gracious and merciful.

I must turn away from this “forgiveness” that I cannot accomplish on my own. In his book As for Me and My House: Crafting a Marriage to Last, pastor and professor Walter Wangerin offends his wife Thanne. He seeks forgiveness, and he seeks to forgive her, which turns out to be far more complicated and conditional than either of them expected. He tries to ask her forgiveness during a sermon. That was a mistake. He walks down the aisle and hands her a red rose. She looks up at him. She crumples the rose in her hands and lets the petals fall into the aisle. Then she drops the rest of the rose on the floor. The congregation gasps. Walter returns to the pulpit.

In the fire, Azariah prayed. For your name’s sake, O Lord, do not deliver us up forever. Do not take away your mercy from us! We are reduced, O Lord, brought low in the world this day because of our sins. But with contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received. Let our sacrifice be in your presence today.

In their agonies the Wangerins “remember their own forgiveness.” Walter’s confusion about blame and shame retreats for just long enough, as God shows him his own dirty hands, his own filthy face, his own selfish soul … and loves him. I LOVE YOU, WALTER. LET ME LOVE YOU. BE STILL. YOU ARE MY CHILD. THANNE IS MY CHILD. AND IN OUR FAMILY, LOVE IS ALL THERE IS.

In other words, get over it, Walter. And that’s for me too, of course. I can forgive my colleague Mike and my teacher Mrs. Armstrong only in the midst of God’s forgiveness of ME! In this communion with God, I’m free. When I leave his presence in fear or forgetfulness, the weight returns. But I know, more certainly than the stone is etched forever, that God’s forgiveness never leaves me, nor does my ability to forgive. I am free!

 (Daniel 3, Psalm 25, Joel 2, Matthew 18)

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