12 February 2009

To Forgive And Be Forgiven

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,


  1. That's a pretty good working definition. Another one I have learned is "Forgiveness means giving up all hope of ever having had a different past."

  2. I still struggle with this in relation to my former husband. We have a lot of contact because we have children and so some of our difficult dynamics continue to play out over the years.

  3. you're words brought tears to my eyes... i know in my new life now, new relationship, this person wisely said to me, "you won't be able to move on until you forgive him (former husband) for not being the man you wanted him to be." some days i am doing much better than other days in the forgiveness department... but i'm trying.

  4. Yeah, those words, "I forgive you," are probably even harder to say than, "I'm sorry." I've been divorced for 13 years, joyously re-married for nine, and have never told my ex, "I forgive you." I've forgiven, just haven't told him. Maybe I should.

  5. nice blog :) the word I can forget is even lots harder than Im sorry and I forgive you