When you forgive, you in no way change the past—
but you sure do change the future.
Today a friend shared with me a neat story about forgiveness. A person was invited to a fancy dinner where the dinner table was laid out with the host’s finest chinaware. The meal was wonderful, and afterward, it was time to remove the china, put away the left-over food, and wash the dishes. The guest volunteered to help with cleaning the dinnerware. The host told her she could dry. While drying the expensive chinaware, the guest accidentally dropped a dish, which broke into many pieces. The poor woman was devastated and asked for forgiveness. The host told her that she was forgiven.
Sometime later, the host invited the woman to another dinner. Again the meal was wonderful. When it came time to remove the fancy chinaware and food, the host asked the guest if she would mind drying the dishes. What a lesson in forgiveness!
Unfortunately, when someone upsets us and then asks for forgiveness, we often say they are forgiven while clinging on to the memory of what they did and the feelings it provoked. Instead of forgiving and restoring that person to the place they previously held in our mind and heart, we may label them as clumsy and careless. We may even restrict them from activities such as drying the dinnerware. When we do such things, we truly have not forgiven them. “They will not dry my chinaware because they are not careful,” we might tell ourselves. But forgiveness is restoring the offender and the offended to a right relationship.
Grace gives to others what they need
instead of what they deserve.
Forgiveness is an act of grace. Grace is a beautiful word because it allows others to have clay feet—to be human with all their vulnerabilities, immaturities, and baggage. People with clay feet stumble; they may make mistakes and wrong choices, fall short of their commitments or disappoint us. Sometimes they do destructive things not because they are cruel; rather, they make bad choices out of their unmet needs, unhealed wounds, and sometimes by accident.
Forgiving grace doesn’t label or freeze others to a wrongful act, nor does it let the wrong say everything about who they are. In short, grace is larger than the wrong committed, or the hurt inflicted. Grace is not controlled by destructive behavior but by what is most loving. Grace gives to others what they need instead of what they deserve.
The following statement is probably true for most of us: the hardest person to forgive is ourselves. We have to live with our mistakes and the wounds we have inflicted on others. Not only is it essential to practice forgiving grace with others but with ourselves as well.
Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700