So I’m writing this post for a friend of mine. I want to dedicate it to her because of how raw and stunning her honest journey is. She thinks it is sometimes ugly. I think she articulates in brutal, real and yet vulnerable words, the reality that most of us battle with on the inside all of the time. But in writing for her, like most things, I’ve been aware that I’m also writing for me. And you. And probably all of us who wrestle with this messy yet beautiful thing called forgiveness on this messier yet beautifuller (yes, I know that’s not really a word) thing called life.
Anyone who’s ever spent about 3.5 seconds in my company will know that I love to hang out in coffee shops. I love to drink tea, try coffee, eat cake, talk for hours, pray, encourage, live out this deal called daily-life together. I love the bustle of coffee shops. I love the quiet corners, the anonymity-yet-known-ness of going into regular haunts. I love a good barista.
And so on any one week, in-between the various tasks of life, I meet people for coffee. Right now, I am 10 weeks into this living-in-Japan thing and so I spend a lot of time building friendships, and sharing heart, and listening. I spend a lot of time in coffee shops.
The other week, on one particular day, I met one particular friend. We had our Bibles out. We were sharing testimony. And she began to tell me her story. Not just the pretty, glossy, magazine-edited parts, but the depths of the things that she was ashamed of, and the deep things that she still wrestled with the condemnation over. Tears fell into our coffee cups as we talked and listened and grieved. But tears turned to laughter as we considered this awesome forgiveness of a God whose awesome-forgiveness-heart is bigger than our mistakes, and greater than our fears, and able to redeem our futures. I was speaking with her about this amazing power of Holy Spirit to soften our hearts and enable us to pray blessing on those who have wounded us more deeply than we can articulate, of being able to trust Jesus with the reality of our failures and those of others so that He can free us from bitterness and pain. I shared that there is no sin or failure too great to stop her from being a precious daughter of her heavenly Father, redeemed completely for His glory…
And you know what I realised?
I still struggle with this.
It hit me so completely. I was sharing with my friend about all this truth in scripture. The beautifying work of the Gospel. The fact that we can completely forgive and be completely forgiven and live totally free…
I know that, and I believe that, and I’m basing my whole future on the fact this grace is true…
But yet, if I’m really honest, I still struggle with this.
And I want to be really honest. Because I don’t think I’m the only one.
For me, it’s not forgiving others that causes the biggest hurdle. It’s forgiving myself.
Don’t misunderstand me. Forgiving others is hard. Really hard. But throughout my journey I have learned that forgiving the one who has hurt me, or betrayed me, or abused me, or slandered me is the only path Jesus’ love will take us through and on and into true and real and precious His-blood-paid-for-freedom.
I love Corrie Ten Boom’s words on forgiveness, which, when you read her story, make the reality of this so completely stunning…
Even as the angry vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him…. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness…. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives along with the command, the love itself.
There is a joy that comes in the place of forgiveness. A deep and real and almost-unexplainable joy, because it involves being given the very love of God rather than resting on our own abilities.
But what about myself? Or yourself? When the condemnation of failure and memories surrounds? For me, it’s honestly still sometimes the reality of life being so different to that which I expected. For the painful journey my 20s turned out to be. I turn 29 next week and I did not expect to be sitting at this point having been through the depths of rejection, and abuse, and depression and divorce. I did not think my life story would look this messy. I did not, quite frankly, think I would have made so many mistakes.
I have to come back to God in the reality that I find it easier to forgive others than to forgive myself. I find it easier to speak grace to others than to myself. I find it easier to believe the reality of God’s transforming and redeeming mercies for everyone in the entire universe… but me. And I don’t think I’m the only one.
You see, I often think I’ve got there. I think I’m living open-handed. I think I’ve laid down my hurts and my rights and my pride and my ‘stuff’. And then in prayer, God gently reveals another part of my heart that is still hard and needs softening. Or another part of my pride that is present but needs to become absent. Or another tiny step into the vast expanse of freedom that He has called me to run in.
It takes more faith to live open handed in regards to myself sometimes. To trust that although life isn’t where I thought it would be, it is exactly where God knew it would be. And I can trust Him. Oh boy, can I trust Him.
I can let go, not only of that which I need to forgive in others, but that which I need to forgive in me, knowing that His blood speaks a better Word. He speaks better words. He enables me to say with full confidence like the Apostle John,
I am the one Jesus loves.
That is the truth. For me. For you. That is our identity.
And in that truth there is SO much joy.
Because just as His asking of us to forgive all the sin committed against us seems so… reckless. We are simply following His own perfectly-reckless example in first forgiving us. In dying for us, while we were still sinners. I’ve blogged this Bible story before, but I love it. I love this.
In Luke 7, we are told this incredible story. It’s shocking really. Shocking to the core. It’s where Jesus is anointed by a sinful woman.
She is not a reputable character. She is the subject of town gossip, and household rumours and brazen-late-night-stories. Everyone knows her for all the wrong reasons. And the thing is, it’s all true. Every word.
And she comes to Jesus, who’s at the house of a nobleman in the town, and (who knows how she even got in through the door) she kneels down in front of a room full of people who thought she was so worthless, and, avoiding their gasps and critical gazes, she falls on her knees and she pours this perfume on the feet of Jesus. Perfume of such high worth that it would have probably cost her everything. Everything.
So she is crying, and weeping, and filling the house with the fragrance of this perfume and the sound of her tears… And Simon, who owns the house is outraged. He is sitting there watching this scene in such offence. Because he is a righteous man, and he has invited Jesus to his house, and surely if Jesus had any sense or prophetic insight, he would know that this women was a harlot, devoted to sin and destined for hell, and he can’t figure out why Jesus doesn’t just send her and her perfume back to the streets where they belong. Because why would God want someone like that? And if Jesus were really God, why would he even let this sinner touch him?
But Jesus, who as God, not only knew the depth of this woman’s sin, but the detail of Simon’s thoughts, speaks in her defence. ‘A certain lender of money had two debtors: one owed him five hundred denarii and the other fifty. When they had no means of paying, he freely forgave them both. Now which will love him more?’ You can almost hear the silence that screams as time stands still, and the reality of what Jesus is saying sinks in.
All have a debt they cannot pay. All. But they who really see their need for forgiveness, who run to Jesus with the hole in their life and throw themselves at His feet, pouring out everything in complete abandon. They love much, because they are forgiven much.
I love much because I am forgiven much.
Oh Jesus, thank you for loving me, even in my mess.
And Jesus esteems this women. In the amplified version it puts His words like this, ‘Go (enter) into peace (in freedom from all the distresses experienced as the result of sin).’
That floors me.
In freedom from all the distresses experienced as a result of sin.
He doesn’t just forgive her sin. He redeems her future.
What kind of love is that? What kind of mercy? What kind of grace?
I want to be real about the journey, about the struggle, and about the reality. Because my beautiful friend doesn’t need super-heroes who have the whole deal perfectly worked out. She needs fellow wounded soliders who will stand with her, and cry with her and go ‘You know what, it’s ok that we revisit this in the Presence of Jesus everyday for the next little while’. It’s ok that we take the space to shout our prayers at God, and ask Him ‘Why?’ and know that the whole while He holds us in a grace so strong it breaks the power of sin and darkness over us. So again, I think in our realness, we have one of the greatest relational gifts available.
As I’m studying (right now I’m writing a paper on Urban Theology so the studying hours are going through the metaphorical roof!) I often stream the prayer room from IHOP-KC. The last week or so, there’s been this song sung from that place that has just led me deeply into the Presence of God. Especially the chorus. Oh my. I love those words. I love this message. I love our God.
And you know what?
I am the one He loves.
And so are you.
Your precious blood, has paid for us all
You took our griefs and carried our sorrows
You conquered death, You came back to life
So we’ll breath our last, but we’ll never die
You are our heart’s desire, come as the Healer
Shout Your Name over us, You are the Mighty Redeemer
You are the One we want, come in Your power
Shine Your Name over us, You are the heart of the Father
No one wants to make things right more than You
Have it Your way, do what You want to do
Anything can happen when You move, so would You come and move here