Christ’s death on the cross was the sacrifice God provided for sinners to cancel our sin debt in full; past, present and future sins all wiped out for believers! This precious gift was given out of God’s grace. There is nothing we can do to earn it. Yet it is ignored or unopened by many of us. I know how guilty I was for so many years. As Good Friday approaches, we think more of what Christ did for each and every one of us. He secured our place in eternity if we but believe, and believing we should want to obey.
God gave us free will and many of us go about pleasing ourselves and ignoring what Scripture reveals to us regarding forgiveness. In the Lord’s Prayer, we petition the Lord to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.” We ask for forgiveness which He grants to us daily and wipes our slate clean, but how many of us nurse real or even imagined offenses that we hold in our hearts for years? Unforgiveness gains a stronghold and we continue to let it control our hearts and minds. It blocks peace and joy in our lives. I know of what I speak, because I used to hold on to these hurts, ignoring any thoughts of forgiving offenders.
I was also a victim of generational sin. My parents practiced unforgiveness throughout my childhood. I observed their actions and responded accordingly. As a child of the fifties, I heard their reactions to public offenses. When Arthur Godfrey fired Julius LaRosa on live TV, they vowed never to watch his show again and they didn’t. When Eddie Fisher, my dad’s favorite singer, left Debbie Reynolds and married Elizabeth Taylor, they refused to listen to his music any more and would never watch either one on TV or in a movie. This attitude was also enforced in their personal lives. When I was eighteen years old, my dad had an argument with his siblings and his mother, never speaking to any of them again, a period of over thirty-five years! A dispute with a neighbor over trimming bushes was handled in a similar manner. This unforgiving attitude was also modeled by my maternal grandfather who split with his brother before I was born and never wanted to even hear his name mentioned again. I was taught well or that was my excuse for so long.
When my first husband was diagnosed with cancer, he knew about my unforgiving nature since we had been married for twenty years and he had witnessed it. After being told the esophageal cancer diagnosis was terminal, he began working on my heart to forgive his brother and sister. There had been a falling out after his mother passed away and he was ostracized for six years. He and another sister had settled their differences and gotten back together about six months before he became ill. What really set me off was the fact that even after this brother and sister heard his illness was terminal, neither one tried to speak with him. His sister, who had come back to him, made the promise that his brother would call him immediately after hearing the news. I can still remember him sitting by the phone that night waiting on the call that never came. He knew from previous experience that if he tried to contact them, they would just hang up. I thought I would never be able to forgive them. Hurting me wasn’t so bad, but hurting the one I loved was beyond forgiveness, or so I thought.
My husband began working on my hard heart. He knew what I was capable of doing. I must admit I had begun thinking how I could ban them from the funeral home and funeral if they dared to come. I can remember that this was a constant subject for over two months. He even tried to explain the love he still had for them, but I didn’t want to hear it. God was working on me though. We’d begun praying together for the first time in our married life and always began with the Lord’s Prayer. I attended church every Sunday by myself and would carry the message home to him. We were blessed with a very caring minister during this time. My heart was being softened and I regret that I didn’t come to a change in attitude sooner. He had his hands full with the burden of his cancer and I refused to grant him peace by forgiving his siblings. One Sunday our minister preached on the prodigal son and stressed the need for forgiveness. Praise God, I heard His Word and finally realized the error of my ways! I returned home that day with the wonderful announcement that I could forgive them and the truth of this statement was reflected in the peace we both shared from that moment until his death a short month later.
How glad I am that my eyes were opened before he passed! I was able to greet both siblings and receive the hugs that I wished he could have received. My anger towards them was gone and I could accept their hugs in love and respond with love. It was only later that I fully realized the gift my husband had given me by caring enough to beg me to forgive them. I was free to feel God’s love surround and protect me in my loss. My husband was at peace, free of pain, and I knew he was with the Lord. Looking back, I can even say I was able to enjoy his funeral. He was a funny, loving person and the comments our minister shared regarding him caused all of us to laugh. If anyone had told me I would be able to laugh at a loved one’s funeral, I would have thought they were crazy. I did laugh along with crying, but I was at peace, knowing where he was. God is good all the time.
My prayer is that my witness will touch some hearts that are captive to unforgiveness. I want to close with what I believe to be the most compelling scripture regarding forgiveness, Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Can you afford not to forgive others?