I got one hell of an email the other day.
It was from my ex-wife, who I'll call FW here (because Ex seems needlessly cruel to me, frankly). An email by itself is not an uncommon occurrence for us. After a few years of letting the wounds heal and properly focusing on building good relationships with second spouses, FW and I started emailing occasionally, exchanging Christmas cards, etc. We're not buddies, but we're not strangers, either.
I'm grateful for that, actually: plenty of others are bitter or angry with ex-spouses, generally with cause, but somehow FW and I been able to spare each other the recrimination and angst that sometimes comes with the break-up of a marriage.
All the same, divorce is never pretty, and ours was no exception. We said and did a lot of things we came to regret, and put friends and family in some really unpleasant circumstances. But time does heal wounds, at least partially, and we've been peacefully co-existing for a goodish while now.
So, come forward to earlier this week, when I received an email from her about that awful time, asking for my forgiveness and offering the same to me. For my part, I'd been living in what I can only call practical forgiveness for some time: I bore FW no ill will, prayed for her as she dealt with some adverse health situations, and genuinely celebrated as she found joy. I'd venture to say that the same went for her, too. But the words "I forgive you." never entered the equation, until that email popped into my box the other day, and even though we'd been living forgiven for quite a while, something did indeed change in the actual speaking of the words (well, typing, anyway). The words are indeed performative, as we always said in seminary: they do what they say, and upon speaking and hearing the word "forgive," the very reality in which we live changed forever.
Jesus says in Matthew 11, "Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." For years, I thought that Jesus meant exchanging the yoke and burden of sin and doubt for the yoke and burden of faith. I still think that's what he's talking about. But I think Jesus also meant forgiveness, because to forgive someone is to free yourself of the burden of your anger and hurt, to lay it down and take up the new yoke of freedom. Incidentally, that new yoke is much heavier at the start, but as we practice forgiveness it becomes more and more a part of us and less and less something we bear externally.
Forgiveness: laying down a burden you didn't realize you were carrying, to take up another you never knew you needed to bear. Yep: that'll work for today.
Grace and peace,