The Habit of Witness
Forgiveness and a Way Home: The Habit of Witness
The reality is, everything we do has a consequence. Here before me was a young man, in some ways still a boy, having to find a way through a tough lesson. I knew what I had to do.
We talked about actions and consequences. “Do you understand that what happened to you is a result of your actions?”
He looked at me as though the words stung, but after a pause, he said, “Yes, I do. I just didn’t want to admit it.”
I decided to dig in a little more, “Do you think the judgment was fair?”
After another pause, he told me that he understood that they had to punish him, but that now he didn’t know what he was going to do. He will probably graduate with a GED. He’s not sure about his college prospects. He doesn’t know how to live down the disappointment he caused for his parents.
Another tough question for him; I asked him if he was sorry for what he did. I could see that he would like to take it back.
“We can’t take back what happened,” I said. “We can’t make it go away as though it never took place. But I want to tell you some good news.” He looked up from his feet. I continued, “You are a Christian, right?”
He nodded his head. Good. “Then, you believe Jesus died for your sins?”
His eyes began to well up again with fresh tears. If there were two things I felt he needed to understand before we parted ways, this was the important one -- forgiveness. God loves this teenage boy, and God wants to forgive him.
He told me how he wants to believe that God will forgive him, but protested, “How can God forgive me? I’ve done some really bad things. I can’t even look my own dad in the eye, how can I ask God to forgive me?”
I tried to explain, “God can forgive because he sees differently than we do. There’s the psalm that says ‘even before we came into being, God knew us.’ (Psalm 138) He fashioned you and me with a purpose in mind; he made us in his image, to be holy and good. When we get off track of that purpose, we know it. Things fall apart. But God doesn’t stop loving us. . . . No, he’s waiting anxiously for you to turn to him and ask to be forgiven. He wants to help you get back on track. Do you believe this? Do you believe God loves you and is wanting to forgive you right now?”
The young man’s tears slid down his cheeks . . . tears of repentance and hope. “Yes, I want to believe that God will forgive me. But I don’t know how to ask him.”
With questions, I led him through an examination of conscience. “First, you need to accept the things you did wrong -- the ways you’ve hurt others and hurt your relationship with God. Do you accept these wrongs?”
Pondering for a moment, he replied, “Yes.”
I continued, “Next, you need to tell God you’re sorry for what you’ve done. Are you sorry?”
“Yes,” he said again. I encouraged him to pray in his heart, to speak to God there and ask forgiveness.
After a minute or so passed by, I helped him pray a prayer of contrition:
My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart.
I know in choosing to do wrong and failing to do good,
I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things.
I firmly desire, with your help, to set things right,
to try to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.
Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us.
In His name, my God, have mercy on me.