"I never have understood what forgive means. [Long pause.] I know we're supposed to do it." So said radio personality John Aielli this morning on the KUT Austin airwaves. So said everybody, at one point or another.
In fact, getting a pulse on forgiveness is nearly impossible without a radical (and somewhat unpopular) transformation. Let's face it: as humans, our default mode is to look out for number one. But this personal bias blinds us—and it makes forgiveness really hard to comprehend. As Marjorie Thompson points out in chapter two of her book, "Sin is a deeply rooted disorientation in which we tend to see all things primarily in relation to ourselves rather than in relation to God." This outlook is the problem.
Forgiveness only comes into focus when we put God at the center instead of ourselves. When we see the needs of our community and our own reconciliation with God as more important than our ego, screaming "me, me, me!" Silencing this voice and placing God at the center isn't a decision made in one day, it's the practice of a lifetime.
It takes a continual, purposeful effort to live in the presence of God. When we open ourselves to a loving God who loves us unconditionally, we not only come to see the value of forgiveness, but we learn the art from the best teacher of all.
What does this mean in practice, though?
One way to begin the shift from default me-mode to God's presence is to cultivate a grateful heart, contemplating our thankfulness and praising God. Brother Lawrence once wrote, "The presence of God is an inexpressible state of the soul—gentle, peaceful, respectful, humble, loving, and very simple—that loves, adores and embraces God with tenderness and joy."
Perhaps during this week of Lent, we can all practice laying away our anxiety, our selfish concerns, and our fears, and instead make space for gratitude. How do you think your perception of forgiveness might change?
Throughout the Lenten season, small groups are meeting to discuss Forgiveness: A Lenten Study, a book by Marjorie J. Thompson. As small group members chew on this text and the conversations that come out of it, they will share their thoughts and questions here on the blog. Check back often, join the conversation in the comment section, and read along if you’d like! (Copies of the book are for sale in the church office 903-597-6317.)
Many thanks to Margaret Bjork, who contributed to this post.