A Practical Christianity: Chapter 2

The best definition of forgiveness I think I’ve ever heard says that it is a matter of simply refusing to allow any other person to decide whether I’m happy or not.  In other words, forgiveness isn’t really about the person or situation that has injured me — it’s about me.  It’s about what I decide to continue to carry around … or not. Jane Shaw reminds us that in Christ, God has chosen not to “carry around” our sinfulness. Makes me wonder how much more creative, generative, and free humanity might be if we weren’t so weighed down.

What do you need to be able to put down past hurts or injuries?  How do you shake the dust from your feet?

15 thoughts on “A Practical Christianity: Chapter 2

  1. Here’s a quote that reminds me of the importance of forgiveness:
    “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it
    at someone else; you are the one getting burned.”
    The Buddha

  2. I have been thinking about forgiveness for the past five days since I read this portion of Chpt.2.
    I like what Shaw says about surprising the person who has offended you by offering forgiveness
    even before they know they need it. I know that I have people to forgive in my life, and I think
    what I NEED before I can shake off the dust is to rid myself of the fear that forgiveness won’t matter to them, things won’t change, and I run the risk of embarrassment or other negative thinking about myself. I also NEED to know that I am loved in spite the resentment being held in lieu of forgiving and letting it go. So, that makes me think I am not loving myself enough to take
    the risk, do the forgiving, and moving on. So, Jesus, take a walk with me, hold my hand, and
    give me the courage to do the right thing.

  3. Whenever I am finding it hard to forgive, I meditate on the amazing witness of the Amish community in Pennsylvania who forgave the mass murderer of five of their precious children in a one room schoolhouse.
    They even attended the funeral of the perpetrator in support of his family.
    “What wondrous love is this…?”

  4. Katie uses a phrase when describing certain kinds of stress that I believe really fits in with forgiveness: “why are you letting X person rent space in your head?”. The first time she said that to me, it was as if a lightbulb popped on. I’m in control of my thoughts and worries.  If I’m obsessing or stewing about someone or some situation where I felt wronged, I’m allowing that.  I can let them rent space or I can evict them.  And if I evict them, it kinda feels like how I imagine the shaking the dust off might feel.

    I’ve witnessed all too clearly how destructive holding onto a grudge can be.  It takes a tremendous amount of energy to stoke the fire of anger necessary and it’s sad how limiting that can be for a person.  I know I have a lot to learn about forgiveness and I am certainly grateful for those who live it exceptionally (like the Amish Bp. Epting mentioned).  But I also think it is something we have to continually practice once we start to learn how. 

    • M.E., I first heard that expression as “letting that person live rent-free inside your head”, at a 12-step meeting, where it so happens much wisdom and forgiveness can typically be heard. The metaphors and images of forgiveness, shaking dust off your feet (and your soul), moving on, and all the rest would find lots of application in those meetings. They’re not religious, but they’re awfully spiritual.

  5. I find it easier to forgive when I remind myself of something that Rev. David Musgrave taught me–we are all–not just some of us–broken people. This helps me to feel compassion toward the person who has aroused my anger or resentment.

  6. Last Lent, I surprised when someone asked me for forgiveness. He had wronged me years ago, and I had finally gathered the courage to confront him. I walked in, expecting him to deny it, but I had to say my peace. He told me how bad he felt about it, then told me about a lecture that he attended where the speaker talked about the importance of hearing those words, “I forgive you.” then he asked me if I could forgive him. At that moment, he was asking me to release him and I didn’t know what to do. I felt humble. Some call it empowered, but I really felt humble. What did I do to deserve this power over this man? I responded “Of course,” but the rest of the afternoon, I felt like I had fallen short, it wasn’t enough. I hadn’t really freed him and until I did, we would still be handcuffed together by this common wrong. Finally that evening, before I left his house, I said, “I know I didn’t really say it. So, now I’m telling you…” then I looked him dead in the eye and said, “I forgive you.” He hugged me and all the baggage that I had carried for years melted away. As I write this, I now understand what the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams meant when he “warned that urging people towards easy forgiveness can make suffering appear not to matter.” So many times people say, “Sorry,” and we reply, “That’s ok.” On some levels it is okay. But on big matters it does take more. The words “I forgive you.” frees both the victim and the one who victimized them.

  7. …forgiveness is for me a question to be asked…and it is to bring an answer…both from the deepest part of oneself…it is not a moral pardon….it is a question…

      • The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
        August 14 2002 By Susan Zimmerman

        True Forgiveness is Questions and Answers

        To plea ‘my question(s), from the deepest part of me
        has brought ‘answer(s)’ from You
        that only the I and Each received

        Ones’ forgiveness is not to ‘see’
        the surfaces of things,
        that might seem to be!

        Forgiveness is a question(s)
        to be asked by one-
        Forgiveness is not a moral pardon
        from some ‘righteous son.’

        Forgiveness is a question(s)
        that must be asked for,
        Forgiveness is not release from punishment
        for now and evermore!

        A certain creditor forgave two debtors
        one owed fifty andd another five.

        The five, the righteous one, answers thanks,
        the minimum required, while the fifty owed,
        cried, kissed the feet and with love retired

  8. Thanks, beautifully said…and especially moving, focusing on the two debtors. And yet I wonder if, in reality, forgiveness does not have to come before “the question is asked.” Often, I find that I can only ask for forgiveness because I am confident that it has already been offered. (I’ve even wondered if the Absolution should not precede the Confession in our Liturgy — after all God’s grace is Prevenient…)

    • A rule of logic…
      You cannot seek what you do not know, your must know in some way what it is
      you are seeking….So if your are seeking something,.. you already know ‘something’ about it or you could not be seeking it…

    • In “Traveling Mercies,” Anne Lamott writes: “Like God and certain parents do, [she had] forgiven me almost before I’d even done anything that I needed to be forgiven for. It’s like the faucets are already flowing before you even hold out your cup to be filled. Before,giveness.”

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