It’s amazing how frequently we must deal with the question of forgiveness.
Late this spring, I attended the General Conference 2012 of The United Methdist Church. I'm sure many of you followed Conference events, including debates about important issues to the Church's future.
In the midst of all of our discussions, though, there were hurtful comments, mischaracterizations, angry outbursts, and votes that left some winners and some losers. These things happened because people care deeply about the issues we were discussing, and because we’re all human.
Appropriately enough, as the conference began I had just finished writing a little book called Forgiveness: Finding Peace Through Letting Go. Now, you’d think that a meeting of pastors and church leaders would be a place where you’d never have to ask for nor receive forgiveness. Think again!
As we debated and discussed important matters about which delegates disagreed, I found myself daily in need of practicing the things I’d written about, in both extending and asking for forgiveness. We had heated discussions on everything from denominational structures to how the church should view today’s hot-button social issues. Occasionally tempers flared. Uncharitable comments were made about others’ positions. Church people practiced church politics in the most maddening of ways. And Twitter made it easy for people to skewer one another while remaining relatively anonymous.
On several occasions I needed to seek people out and apologize for things I had said in anger or frustration. Likewise, on multiple occasions people sought me out to apologize for “snarky tweets” or comments they had made to or about me in the midst of debate. That week I was reminded of several things:
- When you have acted uncharitably toward others, quickly and sincerely apologize. In most cases you’ll be reconciled with them, and you may even find that a new friendship develops from your willingness to apologize.
- When others act uncharitably toward you, let it go without needing to be asked for your forgiveness. We call this grace, and practicing it leaves you much happier and less stressed, while demonstrating character to others.
- Remember the Proverb that notes, “A gentle answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1). I found that if I responded to a harsh word with gentleness, the anger of the other melted. On the occasions when I forgot this, I was never happy with the response.
- When someone is angry or frustrated with you, even if it seems unjustified, be the one to initiate conversation and reconciliation. Don’t stew on it. Don’t wait for others to seek you out; reach out by listening to their concerns.
After I initiated a face-to-face conversation in response to what one person had tweeted, the person told me, “I came here not wanting to like you. You pastor a big church, you write lots of books, and somehow that led me to assume that you were a big jerk. But now that I know you, you’re not as big a jerk as I thought.”
By the end of the conference, we’d become friends.
What difficult situation in your life needs you to offer forgiveness and act kindly towards someone?
Read more on this topic in my brand-new book, Forgiveness.