I have been contemplating group forgiveness a lot lately. It’s strange to think of forgiveness as being a community activity but it very often is. An alcoholic man can be a father, brother, son AND husband while drinking- affecting multiple lives with his bad habit and hopefully leading to a group apology. A corrupt CEO can lead to the loss of thousands of jobs resulting in an apology at a stock holders meeting. A disgraced politician can make selfish choices that result in a press conference begging for the nation’s forgiveness.
While to some it may seem that coupons dominate most of my life choices, it’s actually my faith that affects my daily activities. As a result, I spent quite a bit of my life sitting around people with various belief systems having discussions (sometimes heated) about different things. We debate the existence of God, who Jesus was/is, the authenticity of popular religious writings and the relationship of science and faith. The conversations are always lively and I have been blessed with friends who can balance a relationship with differences of opinion.
I believe one thing that all views, from Atheist to Buddhist to Christianity, share is the value of forgiveness. People recognize the horrible effect that harboring feelings of resentment or ill-will against someone has on the person doing the hating. And while some radical groups seem to value revenge over reconciliation, the overall feeling is one that encourages forgiveness.
In my life recently I have been around a situation requiring forgiveness. I don’t know the ins and outs (they aren’t any of my business) but it resulted in some changes at my church with some people who were my friends. Some people in leadership positions had made some mistakes and there were natural consequences that went along with that.
Based on my previous experiences I waited for the bomb to drop. I waited for the rumor mill and character bashing to begin. I waited for the disgrace and shame to be placed on these people and their families. I waited for comments about hypocrisy and failure.
It never came.
Church leadership faced the problem head on. I didn’t get one text message or phone call from anyone wanting to know details or share stories. We never even discussed it in my Sunday School class or any of our outings. It’s like it never happened except that we did pray for church leadership as they were making decisions during this time.
A few weeks later I was heading into church exhausted. I had been up late the night before performing and still had a matinee to do that afternoon. I am pretty sure I didn’t even have make up on and my hair was in a ponytail. As I stumbled into the lobby searching for caffeine I was pleasantly surprised to see one of the people had come back to church. She was surrounded by people hugging her, loving her and welcoming her home. Since then I have seen her husband and children around the church as well being embraced by the congregation.
I have no doubt there have been some snide comments and side ways glances (after all a church is just a group of people with all their flaws) but the love I was seeing had a profound affect on me that morning and made me proud to be part of the congregation.
I wish all communities would demonstrate that kind of forgiveness and acceptance.
So I write this post as a reminder to myself that I don’t need to hold grudges. That I am going to mess up at some point and need that forgiveness myself.
And to give myself a checklist on how to behave:
1. Stop the Gossip– People love to gossip. No news spreads faster than bad news. While I try to keep a rein on this I am as guilty as anyone else. Anything I can do to stop the gossip I should even if it means making someone else angry.
2. Realize it’s Not About Me– These situations can feel close to home and personal. And while for some people it WAS extremely personal (such as family members) for the bulk of the congregation it had nothing to do with us. It inconvenienced our lives a bit but there was no need to whine and make it about us. People have enough going on in their lives to be worried about those on the perimeter.
3. You May Need To Step Up and Lead– Someone has to forgive first. And if I am not a person who has been horribly wronged I can reach out and offer my support to those who are suffering. I can be the one who risks a ruined reputation and remains friends with an offender. I can demonstrate the kind of love that a good leader does.
So as you go about your day think of the grudges you may hold against those who have hurt you and your family. Or you and your friends. Think about the gossip that is ruining someone else’s reputation.
Even if you have been wronged and even if you feel justified in your anger, you may still have room in your heart for forgiveness. And if you don’t think you do, tune into the spiritual part of yourself (in my case prayer) and ask for the strength to reach beyond yourself and forgive. And then encourage others to do the same.