2014-12-17 - Mending Fences
Almost nineteen years ago our family was faced with one of the most untimely and unexpected losses that any of us had ever experienced.
My stepfather, my brother, and I in particular felt the strain that comes with a gradual, albeit rather short, demise of a loved one with Mom having less than a year from diagnosis of a terminal illness. The loss was felt by many others, who had also known her, yet, maybe not quite as intense as those of us closest during those ten months. As a result, in part, things were quite strained with me and my stepfather. Our last discussion was not fun for either of us and the result was no contact. I think one of Mom's concerns was that we somehow lose that relationship after she was gone. No, it wasn't perfect before she became ill. For the most part each of us would talk over whatever was going on at the time and either work through it or at least agree to disagree and move forward. It's okay not to agree on every little thing in life.
A few years after a discussion involving basic principles we disagreed on, I had a message on my answering machine from my stepfather. He was apologizing for some things and understood if I didn't call him back, but he hoped that I would find it in my heart to forgive him. I was taken aback by his message and remembered getting tears in my eyes. And it was not because I was right and he was wrong. It was because he created an opening to mend a broken fence. The rift between us had left me very sad. It was a relationship I hoped would continue after Mom died, but it seemed as though it would not be possible. I began to feel joy again for a renewing of this relationship and he didn't know it, but I had forgiven my stepfather long before he left his message. That is because forgiveness is more than a disposition or willingness to forgive as the dictionary defines the word. It goes far beyond willingness and is an emotional process that is like the physical repair of a fence. Parts of a fence usually don't all break down at once and so it can go with our hearts. We mend and then we get hurt again and even when we resolve issues there is a time of healing. But unlike the fence that can be quickly repaired we don't just feel all better because we have chosen to forgive. I didn't understand this for a long time and was confused.
Different people and churches confused me by treating those feelings as if it meant I had never forgiven in the first place. My thought was “why would I want to hold onto something that will continue to hurt me and cause pain?” It just made no sense to me.
I think now about how God does not need time to heal from what we have done to Him by disobeying commands or just making poor choices that end up hurting Him at the same time they hurt us. I am very grateful for His provision in that sense. It makes me think of an old hymn I recall my grandma playing on the organ, “Will the Circle be Unbroken”. England-born Ada Ruth Habershon wrote the lyrics to the song more than 100 years ago. It speaks about when we are finally back with our maker there will be no broken fences separating us from Him.
When we ask His forgiveness He doesn't want to keep hearing about it anymore because when we mean it (and He knows if we are truly repentant) then He forgets it. He lets it go immediately. I wonder if His power is so great in forgiveness that He truly does not recall the things we have done in the first place. If so, I think it would be nice to not remember what I or anyone else did. Yet we need to make mistakes and learn from them so we cannot completely forget them if our health is such that our memory is good. The process also includes us asking for the strength to look beyond our mistakes and those of others so that we might have mercy on others. It takes time rebuilding trust with other people after traumatic moments. It would be nice to just begin as if it never happened. It does not work that way in the flesh. We have to rely on God's strength to first forgive and next to move forward. God's courage gives us courage to try again and use what we have learned to not make the same mistakes.
“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” (Psalm 32:1 KJV)
All scripture references are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise noted.