Ah, the reject pile… No, not photos of people who got kicked out of new member class (KIDDING people, kidding. All means all). I’m talking about scraps of paper, stacks of notecards, and maybe complete folders: containing the anecdote or bit of commentary that didn’t make it into the sermon; the sermon that got started and never took off; Or the series idea that didn’t develop as fully as the OTHER series idea. But there it sits, all the same. Every preacher has this pile. Promise.
Other people might let their rejects go a little more easily than I do. But sometimes I just cannot abandon ‘that idea I had that one time,’ or ‘that thing I thought of as an image for that other thing…’ My system may be pretty sloppy, but it’s all there, somewhere. Waiting to be used again, someday.
In preparing for Lent this year, I started with about 5 different ideas for series. Only 3 of them were really viable. And then one, as I talked with other staff and worship team, clearly took on a life of its own. That’s the one you run with, obviously.
And yet… There’s this one that won’t leave me alone. I don’t know if it needs to be a blog series, a sermon series, a class/discussion group, or a someday book project. Maybe all of those things? But in the interest of getting it out of my head (because I’ve got other stuff to DO, y’all,) I thought I’d air it out here. See if maybe it will grow some legs of its own. Maybe some of you will take this on as your Lenten discipline? If you do, I would love to hear from you about the experience, and what resources would be helpful for you in the process.
It goes like this: who do you need to forgive? What are you holding onto that robs you of joy, drags you out of the moment, poisons your relationships… ultimately keeps you from living as fully and loving as deeply as you could? We could all come up with Six People We Need to Forgive, and maybe that process shapes up to some common life experiences that we can all relate to.
- The one who needs to stay out of your life. ANY time the Church, or someone speaking for the Church, talks about forgiveness, we need to make this one thing abundantly clear: JUST BECAUSE YOU FORGIVE SOMEONE, DOES NOT MEAN YOU HAVE TO HAVE THEM IN YOUR LIFE. Forgiveness is, first and foremost, for one’s own spiritual freedom. Yes, it might have redemptive value for the other person. But the Christian narrative has been used as the ammo of abusers for far too long; and especially in certain parts of the world (Southeastern Kentucky, anyone?) Domestic violence is spoken of, in certain circles, as the woman’s “cross to bear,” and Jesus calls her to “forgive has she has been forgiven,” and then Bubba says, “baby, if you REALLY love Jesus, you have to love me too. Even if I’m not perfect.” Same goes for the children of abuse who hear that they must “honor their father and mother,” no matter what. It is time for the people of God to call b.s. on that business. Right now. Truth is, even if they are not physically abusive, some people are just not good for us. Being around them will always cause us pain, or cost us too much of ourselves. This conversation starts here: who is the person you need to keep a safe distance from… and how can you find a way to forgive/release them and move on, in a way that frees you up for God’s future plans for you?
- The one you want to keep. This person hurt you. They betrayed your trust, or bailed when you needed them. Or maybe, in some obscure (or precise) way, they turned out to be not who you thought they were. But the relationship still matters to you. They might be difficult for you to be around, but ultimately, they are worth some discomfort. Who is the person you want to stay connected with? How can you name what they did, and why it hurt you, and repair the relationship?
- The One Who Drifted. These are so hard to process, and so hard to move on from… Sometimes we just don’t even deal. But this person was deeply connected to you, at one time or another. And then you lost touch. You are completely mystified by the distance. Maybe they moved away, stopped calling, never return emails… At some point, you give up. But still, the lost connection is deeply painful. And the lack of closure is hard to reckon with. Who has been lost to you? What role might you have played in the separation? Is there a window to reconnect? If not, how can you find closure and move on, without resentment?
- The One You don’t really know… With the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, the social media explosion, and our chronic connectedness to unfathomable depths of information… Most of the people who fill us with rage are people we will never meet in real life. Politicians. Terrorists. Anti-vaccers. Bloggers and mega-pastors from the ‘other’ camp than the one where you spend your time… Hey, that’s a lot of people right there. People you don’t know in real life, but you have demonized them, identified them with EVERYTHING THAT’S WRONG WITH THE WORLD, and in so doing—you have given them power over you. You might be right—they might be endangering the fragile fabric of human life and civilization—but being angry at them for always will fatigue your body and spirit. And what does it get you? Does your righteous anger really change the world? Identify one (or several) of these people; remember that they are just that –A PERSON—not evil personified. How can you focus your anger on the issue they embody for you…and then redirect that energy in a way that will affect real change?
- The one who never forgave you. You were wrong, and you know it. You apologized. You TRIED to make things right. But. They still hold it against you. Maybe they are still in your life, maybe not, but none of your attempts at reckoning have ‘made right’ what you wanted to make right. You feel it is unfair, maybe even cruel, for this person to harbor such ill-will toward you still. OR, you know that your repeated attempts to reconcile might be harmful to them, and it is time to let them go. Is there anything else you can do or say that would help this person move on? If not, how can you make peace with the space that remains? What can you learn from this experience that will improve the quality of your other relationships?
- And finally—you knew this was coming—Yourself. Maybe you need to forgive yourself for a specific ‘thing’ that you said or did, or a particular trust that you broke. Maybe you need to direct that forgiveness towards a certain time in your life, or a missed opportunity… or some truth about yourself/way of being that you’ve never quite come to terms with. (This is deep and difficult stuff, and I would not try to broach it without bringing in outside resources.) Still and all… sometimes we can’t repair the relationship, release the painful pieces, or move into new life until we’ve reckoned with our own broken selves. Find the first thread to start pulling at… Where do you most need to give yourself grace? What did you learn from the experience or life phase? How would your life be different if you could let it go?
This may be a lifetime of spiritual, emotional and physical work that we are talking about. But sometimes, naming the person or experience can give us a fresh perspective, or a renewed energy for healing.
Meanwhile, what am I missing? What person/people don’t fit into these categories? What kinds of resources or gathering spaces might be the best support for this journey? What other voices do I need to include? Because me, I’m just over here asking questions.