I have a real problem doing some of the things God tells me to do. I hate that. I’m the kind of person who makes a checklist every morning and then adds extra things that I did at the end of the day just to check them off. And my Type A personality only seems to strengthen when my to-do list is from God.
So, I am thrown time and time again when I cannot seem to respond how God tells me I should respond.
Not long ago, a very close friend betrayed me. My response was intense grief, anger, and sadness. I built a pool of pity in my heart and I swam in it day after day, for weeks and months. Sometimes I would replace the water of pity with seas of vitriol and jump right in. Sometimes I would just float in apathy—but I refused to get out of the pool.
Out of the Pool of Pity and into the Fresh Spring of Forgiveness
God, when I listened to him, told me to get out. He was calling me forward. His command was clear. As a follower of Christ, it was on my standing to-do list to “forgive as God in Christ forgave me” (Ephesians 4:32). What a command. The motivation for it is even included. Forgive because you’ve been forgiven.
I knew all about how much God had forgiven me. I did not meet God and accept Christ as the sacrifice for all my sins and failures until I was twenty-four years old. In that time, I had racked up countless sins—toward others and myself. (I would write them all here, but I have a word limit.) Needless to say, I was lost and broken.
When I came to Christ I knew I could never make up for all the bad I had done in my life, no matter how long I lived or how hard I worked. I needed a savior and I didn’t want to carry around guilt or shame any longer. God forgave me.
God met me that night on my knees all those years ago. He took my sin on him. Now, as I reflected on his command for me to forgive my friend just as he had forgiven me, I was overwhelmed.
I am not God. But, God is asking me to be God in a way, right? I am supposed to forgive as he does, right?
They didn’t have the phrase “mic drop” back in biblical days, but it probably should have gone at the end of that little command in Ephesians 4:32.
Of course, it’s not just in Ephesians we hear this to-do. Colossians 3:13 says, “forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” And, Jesus himself tells us this at the end of what we call the Lord’s Prayer: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14).
Finding the Source of the Spring
There I go, thrown again. How do I muster enough godliness to forgive as he does? It took me a while to realize that I already have it. I am a child of God. This means I have access to his attributes, as well as his inheritance.
Through him [Christ] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
God’s love has been poured into my heart. I have the Holy Spirit. I stand in God’s grace. That means I can absorb the penalty of whatever is done against me by my friends or by my enemies and when I can’t tell one from the other.
And, even crazier, I can rejoice in these sufferings.
Don’t get me wrong. It is no small thing to absorb the wrongs committed by others. But, this is precisely how God forgave us in Christ. “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
God forgave us by putting the burden of our sin on Christ. In turn, He commands us to forgive others by absorbing their wrongs and just as Christ did—entrusting ourselves to “him who judges justly.”
There is only one lawgiver and judge (James 4:12) and it’s not me. That is something to rejoice in even when my feelings disagree and tell me to take another splash in the pity pool.
The speed bump of betrayal taught me real forgiveness. It was no longer an intellectual command. I had to apply it. I had to learn to pray for my friend’s wellbeing and healing even while I journeyed through my own.
I am still draining that pity pool, I stare at it every now and again, sometimes I think about putting on my suit. But I am no longer swimming in it. I have work to do.
God called me to rejoice in the grace he has given me, the love he has filled me with overflowing, and even the suffering I find on this beautiful path of faith.
Cover image by JJ Thompson.