By Rev. Mindi
“I still can’t forgive them,” she replied with her eyes facing her lap, Bible still open to the passage about forgiveness in Matthew 7 we had been discussing. I was at a loss for words.
She was not talking about people who had physically hurt her or her family, no one who had threatened her life or safety. She was talking about people who had left her church ten years before.
Forgiveness is such a difficult subject. Almost every time I have preached on forgiveness, someone has come to me later to tell me how they were physically abused; raped; a family member murdered; an alcoholic father who abused their mother; a friend who betrayed a relationship. I have always listened, understanding that forgiveness does not come easy and even at times, I’m not sure it is possible, though I am sure we are called to struggle with it.
But it is situations like the one above, where someone could not forgive because of the actions of a group of people that did not cause physical harm but emotional hurt that always baffle me. I’m not her; I don’t know what it was like to go through that kind of betrayal by people. But I do know that holding a grudge can be an identity marker; holding a grudge can define you.
And unfortunately, we have a lot of grudge holders in our congregations. People who hold a grudge against a pastor for forgetting to pray for someone during the prayers on Sunday mornings. People who hold a grudge against a board or committee for failing to vote the way they wanted to on a mission project or parlor curtains. People who hold a grudge against the one who got more attention when their mother passed away than others.
Pastors can hold grudges, too. We hold grudges against our predecessors who didn’t leave the congregation very well or abused their congregation. Interims who held on to old systems and old staff rather than preparing the church for a new pastor. We hold grudges against those who don’t like our sermons and complain loudly about us. We hold grudges against those who plan meetings during our Bible studies.
As a church, we can be pretty bad about forgiveness. We make mountains out of molehills, logs out of specks.
We need to get serious about forgiveness, or we will never move on. I’ve written a lot on this site about church renewal, what the church needs to do and what the church needs to let go of. But all of that means nothing if we cannot start with a little forgiveness.
Forgive your pastor when they mess up now and then. They are just human beings. They may have seminary education and training and may be a seasoned pastor, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t going to forget to do things or do some things unintentionally that cause problems.
Forgive your brothers and sisters when they do human things, too. Sometimes, actions are intentional, but the feelings caused by those actions were not. It may be on purpose that someone didn’t support the mission cause you feel in your heart, but really try to think about whether they actually did it just to spite you.
Finally, think long-term: is it worth holding this grudge for my own well-being and health? Do I want to be known as the person who hates so-and-so? Do I want to be known as the person who can’t stand to be around you-know-who?
This doesn’t mean you have to become best friends with the people who hurt you. You don’t have to like what they have done or said. But it does mean that you can come together on Christmas Eve and light candles as a church together, or at least on Sunday Morning sing the same hymns together. After all, we are the body of Christ, as imperfect as we all are.