Taking Steps Towards Forgiveness

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One day when I was walking along the Hudson River on a crisp winter's day, I caught a glimpse of my reflection. The face staring back at me bore little resemblance to the kind of Christian I wanted to be. Who in God's name is this person and why is she so angry?

As I reached down and touched the water, my visage disappeared in a swirl of dirt and debris. Unfortunately, my faith is just as filthy. Last year, I critiqued some very public religious leaders. Even though I may have been accurate in my assessments, I came across in some instances as overzealous and overbearing.

While righteous anger is a necessary tool for a satirist, I seemed to have let my feelings get the better of me. Once again, I forgot that Jesus preached how his followers must first and foremost practice the Greatest Commandment by loving God and our neighbors. (Matt. 22: 34:40). I would like to think of myself as the humble tax collector, but more often than I'd care to admit, I look more like the self-righteous judgmental Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14).

One day I was kvetching to the Rev. Kurt Nielson (author of Iona: Celtic Hospitality in the City)about a particular ministry that had promoted itself as being on the cutting edge of faith when it ended up simply being a cooler form of Christianity. He brought up the words of the wise Pharisee Gamaliel, "If their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God" (Acts 5:38-39). I keep forgetting that God works through broken vessels, including me. So who am I to say if a ministry is of God or man?

Through Kurt's encouragement, I decided to create an informal accountability group. These like-minded pilgrims help keep my comments in check so my satirical barbs can focus on exposing the failings of the church instead of engaging in personal attacks. In particular, they encourage me when possible to seek forgiveness and reconciliation when my comments divide believers rather than challenge us to go deeper in Christ. I've learned through these souls the importance of trying to put Matthew 18 into practice.

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Matt. 18:15-16)

I must confess that such a process can quite get quite messy. Seldom do reconciliations proceed step-by-step as though our divisions can be wrapped up neatly like we're starring in our own cheesy television sitcom. Only in TV Land can one solve major conflicts in less than thirty minutes.

But I decided I had to take that first step by saying, "I'm sorry." In some instances, my apology was accepted, and we've begun to repair our relationships. We may never be friends, but we can at least try to be in fellowship. In other cases, the pain we both caused to each other may have been too great. I am placing those situations in God's hands in the hope we can be reconciled over time through prayer.

While reflecting on my need to reconcile with some of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I received a poignant series of emails from the Henri Nouwen Society focusing on the topic of reconciliation. These reflections reminded me that our task as Christians is to promote reconciliation within our families, friends, communities, cities, countries, and even continents. As Paul preaches in 2 Corinthians:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Cor. 5:17-20).

My prayer moving forward is that I can remember when I pick up my pen that I must keep my eye on the prize.

Questions for personal reflection, online discussion, or small groups:

  • Do you ever struggle to value relationships with coworkers more than ideas or productivity?
  • Is there someone in your family, church, or work with whom you need to seek reconciliation?
  • Who holds you accountable for the way you treat people at work, at home, or at church?