I am always astounded by how God teaches us so much through our flawed human relationships. I’m sure much of it even goes unnoticed – but today my eyes were kept wide open to learn a beautiful lesson.
I met with an old, old friend – a friend with whom I have journeyed the high peaks and rocky places. A friend who once threw up one of the most honest and painful mirrors to myself whilst calling out new and brave things from that young heart of mine. At the time, my fists were deliberately kept clenched, allowing what would have been such precious lessons to slip like sand through my fingers. I hurt and bruised in selfishness and ran away when the time came to reconcile. Those simple words ‘I’m sorry’ were too far from my heart to form themselves into words.
As a result, I never released them and he never heard them.
Years passed and we changed. We matured (some), we moved homes, cities, countries, found new directions, fell in love on two separate continents and life re-calibrated. And somehow, we both ended up back in this spot on the map and recently – largely through his graciousness – we had patched things up and taken tentative steps towards respect and dare we say it, friendship.
In the spirit of friendship, we’ve had some coffees and good conversations. But I was convicted a few months ago that this wasn’t enough – a residue still remained. A residue that would threaten to seep into new relationships – for me and though I wouldn’t like to presume, potentially for him. I felt a need to voice an apology and request forgiveness. But then, as I seem to have inherited the forgetfulness gene in double quantity, soon forgot to.
But God is clearly quite committed to this whole forgiveness thing – and will stop at nothing to urge us to push back unforgiveness, making sure that it doesn’t stick around to shroud our vision and poison our relationships. For Jesus to come down from Heaven to inhabit our devastated brokenness here on earth must mean forgiveness is a pretty big deal. Essential to reconciliation and to living fully.
As I spoke with my friend today about everything and nothing, it was almost wonderful but somehow infected with the dust of past hurts. The focus was on being ‘nice’: to make up for lost time. On being supportive: due to a sense that it is owed. A flawed effort to love the other person into forgetting the past. It was, in the end, self-seeking and dissatisfying. And self-seeking, as I am discovering, does not fit in a relationship.
And then all of a sudden, that conviction from a while back resurfaced and stared me in the face. I knew I needed to say sorry – and now. And as I did, the air changed in a tangible way. Tears flowed, and he seemed shocked at the unexpectedness of it all. After a time, he thanked me for saying something so desperately needed – even after all this time. He said forgiveness had already been given, but that this still meant something, somehow.
I thought about this, and I guess that even if forgiveness is given, without an invitation through apology it will feel incomplete because we are only human. Only God can offer forgiveness without it being sought first.
Flawed as we are, perhaps we need two people to help muddle through the forgiveness story. To hear both ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘I forgive you’. This way, the burden of guilt is laid freely on the table – alongside the burden of resentment and aching, haunting questions of ‘did I bring it on myself?’ I was so moved by the powerful way in which healing took place when both of these things were laid on the table between us.
And suddenly the table is an altar. Our sacrifice on this day wasn’t a beautiful thing – it was the shreds of our selfishness, our pride, our resentment and pain.
And yet once on the altar, Jesus takes these things upon himself before handing them back to us – except they have changed. They become stones of turquoise, foundations of lapis lazuli. The stuff of grace, renewal, Life. The holy preciousness of relationship is affirmed through the beauty of the things given back to us by the Master Renewer of things. It is worth it to reconcile. It is worth it to acknowledge and voice the ugly selfishness – because once on the altar, as we both saw, they will be transformed into something beyond our wildest dreams.
The amazing thing about this conversation was that after we had finished, it felt as if we had shifted to an equal footing. Instead of our exchanges being self-serving or tinged with a nagging need to erase the omnipresent baggage of the past, we were able to connect in freedom.
Before going to see him, I had prayed for chance to talk about Jesus with him. And instead of talking about Him, God – Father Son and Holy Spirit – came right into the room, sat with us and inhabited our conversation. He was the friend drinking and breaking bread with us as we chatted. He was the Father whose aching heart for reconciliation gently drew us to the point of sacrifice and forgiveness. He was the priest who blessed our offering upon the altar before blessing us and exhorting us to go in peace. He was the Shepherd who will continue to walk down any road to find us and bring us both home.
And surely, goodness and mercy will follow us, all the days of our lives.