Forgiveness Lives in the Center of Relationships

In Ed’s eyes, I could do no right. My vision of who I was and my role as a pastor was constantly in question.  What I thought I knew before I met him, I quickly discovered I didn’t. Previous experience meant nothing to him. It was not, as he often reminded me, “This church’s way.” He was the source of my greatest frustration. Undermining my efforts, pleasant to my face, but whispering words of discontent behind my back.

Among his many complaints was the time I wasted visiting the elderly home bound people. My gifts and strengths in ministry were neither valued nor appreciated. He wanted a full time street working evangelist. Instead he got me. I suspected alcohol played a part in late night scathing emails about something I had done. I found myself painted with the negative brush the last female pastor had been painted with. Her flaws became my flaws, her weaknesses mine.

I was not the only person who experienced Ed in this way. He either liked and embraced the newest staff person, or plotted to end his/her employment. While he micromanaged me, he was fiercely competitive if I stumbled into his territory. His need to control made it difficult for me to lead in ministry.

I carried a lot of bad feelings about Ed when I moved to a new place. My thoughts of him were primarily negative. Only in the past year did I begin to see him differently. I never really took into account the toll having a wife with a debilitating disease was taking on him. I began to observe other men in similar situations. I realized that in their inability to control the illness ravaging their spouse, some latched onto other people, issues or projects to control.  For the first time, I understood Ed’s need to control me had more to do with his inability to control his wife’s illness, than anything I had done.

Then one day I was invited to a craft fair at a Senior Center. When I walked through the door in the lobby area, I saw Ed. Out of context. Out of the area he belonged in. I thought it was Ed , but I wasn’t sure. How many years had passed since I last saw him?  Was he really in a Senior Center that far from his old home. I had a chance to visit with Ed before and after the Craft Fair. He was clearly lonely and an unexpected visit from a former pastor much appreciated. When I was leaving, he thanked me for coming over to talk to him. Then he hung onto my hand for a very long time. A few short weeks later Ed died.

Of this one thing I am sure. God who had been softening my heart, arranged the meeting time and place. And in the mystical way God works . . .  God gave us an opportunity to see each other differently, to love, care for and appreciate the other. I would not have guessed that single encounter could bring so much healing to me. I hope that it did as much for Ed.  The thing of it is, I almost didn’t walk over to talk to him.

The Biblical witness reminds us that forgiveness lives in the center of all relationships. When we forgive, our own hearts are healed.   The apostle Paul wrote to the people in Ephesus, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32    Good words to remember and live by.

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