Love keeps no record of wrongs.
By Pastor Geoff
In her book, Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren describes a fight she had with her husband like this:
“We start by talking about something casual. Then I fret aloud and he dismisses it – because I’ve fretted aloud so often that it’s a pattern – and I say something sarcastic and it escalates from there until one or both of us yells and then one or both of us leaves the room.”
What follows is what she describes as a game of chicken, which involves avoidance and loud sighing and awkward silence until one or the other of them chooses to “lay down their sword” and initiate the making up.
If you’re married, this might sound familiar to you. Even if you’re not, you can probably identify with this picture of conflict.
Because, as people in relationship with other people, conflict is inevitable. Even people who love one another (maybe especially people who love one another) will have the occasional disagreement. And because we’re the sinners that we are, those disagreements will seldom be worked out in ways that are wholly calm or reasonable or kind.
The thing is, the conflict itself isn’t usually that big of a deal. It’s what we do after the conflict that matters more.
Warren says: “It takes a lot of bravery to lay down a sword.” In other words, when there’s been conflict it doesn’t always feel safe to put yourself out there, to be the first to admit fault, to extend the olive branch and trust that the other will do the same.
And even after you’ve made nice with your enemy combatant, even when the words of forgiveness have been extended and received, there’s still work to do. The hard and very necessary work of doing the deep forgiving and clearing the record.
In describing her fight with her husband, Warren says: “Today’s conflict is not a marital crisis – there was no betrayal or lie or scandal. It is a burr-under-the-saddle conflict over the kind of habitual resentment that, if we let it, builds.”
Resentment. That is the end result when we fail to forgive fully and deeply.
And we probably each have somebody or somebodies in our lives about whom our feelings could best be described as resentful.
Maybe it’s a parent who has never loved you the way you needed to be loved.
Maybe it’s a sibling who can’t be bothered to give you the time of day.
Maybe it’s a friend who’s always venting to you but never taking an interest in how you’re doing.
Maybe it’s a spouse who takes you for granted or habitually fails to take your feelings into account.
We all have people who have failed us, who have hurt us. More often than not they are the people from whom we should expect better. And just as often they either can’t or won’t ever fully recognize the harm they’ve done – which makes forgiving them all the harder.
One of the texts that is commonly preached during this season of Easter is the story with which John’s gospel ends.
The risen Jesus shows up on a beach while his disciples are out fishing. He calls out to them, telling them to cast their nets to the other side of the boat. And when they do, their nets become so heavy with fish that they can’t haul them in. At that point, they realize that it’s Jesus, and Peter immediately jumps out of the boat and swims to shore.
What follows is one of the most poignant and tender stories in all of the gospels.
Jesus takes Peter aside and three times asks Peter if he loves him – one time for each of Peter’s denials on the night of Jesus’ trial. Each time Peter insists that he does love Jesus. And each time, Jesus tells Peter to feed his sheep.
In my Bible, the section heading for this story is “The Reinstatement of Peter.” And I think that’s about right. Jesus takes Peter aside not to scold him nor to shame him but to restore him. His thrice repeated question is a lifeline of grace to Peter. It’s Jesus’ way of showing Peter that, despite Peter’s betrayal, Jesus’ love for him has not changed.
Paul writes that love keeps no record of wrongs. That is a very hard thing to do. It goes against everything in our (fallen) human nature.
But if we are going to be people of reconciliation – if we are going to be people who resist resentment – forgiveness has to be our norm.
Now, that does not mean that we explain away the hurts or dismiss the harm that’s been done to us. And it certainly doesn’t mean subjecting ourselves to continued harm for the sake of a superficial reconciliation.
But it does mean refusing to give bitterness or resentment any space in our hearts. And it means seeking the restoration of those who have wronged us, both for their sakes and for ours.
Because, as Anne Lamott once wrote, “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”
Unforgiveness is toxic. It eats away at our souls. Forgiveness does the opposite. It detoxifies the soul and sets us free.
Right now, some of us are spending more time than usual with the people closest to us. Maybe a little too much time. It can be easy for small annoyances to turn into big frustrations. Little comments become cause for outsized irritation. If there were ever a time to avoid record keeping and to deal gently with one another, this is it.
So, my prayer for us today is that we would be people who keep no records of the wrongs done to us. That we would forgive quickly, not in a way that downplays or dismisses the wrongs, but in a way that refuses to let those wrongs foment resentment in our hearts. And I pray that God would use this time to heal the deeper hurts we’re carrying, giving us the grace to let go of bitterness and to seek true reconciliation.
1) What are some of the small annoyances in your current circumstances that have
become or have the potential to become points of conflict?
2) What do you think is required to do the deeper forgiving that guards our hearts
3) What does forgiveness look like when there isn’t remorse on behalf of the person you need to forgive?
4) How do you balance forgiveness with accountability?
5) Whom do you need to forgive today? From whom do you need to ask