This past April, I was asked to write an article for a blog created by Women of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). The online magazine is geared towards women in their 20s-30s, and somehow, my name was passed on to the editor as someone who might be a good writer. My assignment was to write on the topic of renewal. It took quite a bit of thinking for me to dig deep, but in the end, I wrote about renewing relationships – mistakes and second chances. The article never got published. At the beginning of this summer, my head-over-heels article became irrelevant. (Or so I thought.) My thoughts and journaling went from lessons about new love to lessons about forgiveness. While I have no desire to share unnecessary situational details, I would very much like to share what I’ve learned about forgiveness… and renewal.
It all began when I suddenly realized that I had a lot of questions about forgiveness. I mean, how does it actually work? What kinds of preparations do you have to do to forgive someone, and what should you expect from them? What do you actually mean when you say “I forgive you”, and what happens afterwards? What if you never forgive? Well, when I have questions of this nature, there’s only one good solution: supervision with Pastor Karen. Unfortunately, I don’t work at Luther Place anymore, but I AM a member, so I put in a request for email supervision on forgiveness, and luckily, PK responded. A few emails were sent back and forth, including one with a 6-page article on forgiveness. I read and reread it all summer, soaking in as much wisdom as I could. Here are a few main points (or feel free to read the article yourself!):
- Why forgive? We are all sinful, imperfect beings who make mistakes. Because of this, we are not called to place judgment on one another, but rather let God be the ultimate judge. And ultimately, God loves each one of us equally and unconditionally.
- What to expect? Forgiveness is unconditional and has no limitations. You cannot expect ANYTHING from the one you’re forgiving – not that they’ll be sorry or change their behavior or even accept the forgiveness. It is a one-way street, and you cannot take back your forgiveness because you’re unhappy with their reaction.
- What’s the result? Forgiveness is a process of unknotting and takes time, but when it’s achieved, both parties are liberated – released from anger, hatred, guilt, and sadness.
- What comes next? Beyond forgiveness, there is potential for reconciliation – a mutual decision that would lead to the full restoration of a whole relationship. Without reconciliation, forgiveness will feel empty.
- What if I can’t forgive? Our forgiveness of one another is intrinsically linked with God’s grace towards us. If we can’t forgive one another, we are also refusing to accept God’s forgiveness of us.
By the end of the summer, all this unexpected study on forgiveness opened my eyes to the real grit of renewal. The things I wrote in April almost became more relevant, deeper in a way. The ups of downs of relationships somehow shock us more than they should. It’s easy to love when things are going well, but we forget that we are actually called to love harder when we’re inclined to love less. That’s the real test of renewal. So I leave you with a portion of my unpublished blog post as a complement to my lessons on forgiveness. I sincerely hope it inspires your relationships in the way it has inspired mine.
conform or transform?
One of my favorite bits of peer wisdom I received from a friend in college is this: choose joy. We often forget that we are in charge of our actions, our reactions, and our interactions. And beyond that, Paul encourages in his letter to the Romans that we not be influenced by what this world dictates:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2
No to conformation, yes to transformation! And transformation comes through renewal. The concept of renewal appears multiple times in the bible, often in relationship to one of three things: renewing the mind, spirit, or strength. Yet, while it’s a common biblical image, it’s not a word we use often in our every day language. In fact, the concept of renewal almost sounds impossible. If something is new, how could it be new again?
death gives way to new life
Our human standards often don’t make room for such a miracle. Rationality (and society) might look at the once-new relationship I had with my ex, our strivings and our failings, and label us a failed attempt. Any news between us now is old news. Haven’t you heard? History repeats itself! To which Isaiah might reply, “Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? … those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength” (chapter 40). Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, newness and re-newness are possible.
In fact, it is this cyclical nature that is the entire basis of the Good News. Jesus died for us and became renewed through resurrection. We are born and then reborn through the waters of baptism. We are affirmed as members of the body of Christ and then reaffirmed through our confirmation. We sin and fall short time and again, but we are renewed – made new again – through forgiveness. Who’s to say these cycles are not also a part of our relationships with one another? I believe God calls us to love and to relove!
I share this story with you today not just because I love talking about boys (which I do), but because I believe that God’s love is part of the very core of who we are, even – especially – in our most personal relationships. As a transient young adult, I’m seeking a sense of constancy. I’m not at a point where I can depend on my job or housing for this, but rather, I find myself relying on relationships to provide stability. When we are able to be fully present in a relationship, choosing joy and renewal and trusting in God’s good grace, we are given second, third… infinite!… chances. We are made new again. And then we are made new again… again.