A woman was furious when she called to complain that I had not visited someone who had been hospitalized. I was confused by her accusations. She refused to either identify herself or tell me who the person was I hadn’t visited. Instead she yelled, “You know! You know who I’m talking about!” But, I didn’t. I was completely unaware of any person who had been that sick in the church I was serving.
It was the community where a pastor’s ability to read minds was assumed. I’d only been at the church seven weeks when I got the first negative call. In that period of time there had been two funerals, several people had major surgery, one was in hospice and another gravely ill. My first thought was, I had not been in the church long enough to neglect anyone. My second was a memory of calling to check on her husband, with Ann refusing to talk to me. I could hear her in the background yelling, “I’m not going to talk to that woman.” But on this day, Ann was adamant that I should have been visiting her husband. Ann was a good Catholic and not so sure about her husband’s new female pastor.
Chances are that life has given you ample opportunities to practice the art of forgiving. No matter where we live, work or play there will be someone in our life who irritates us, is unkind or simply has a mean spirit. We’re lucky when we can walk away from people who have hurt, humiliated, falsely accused or done injury to us in another way.
But often we cannot simply walk away. The neighbor whom we wish would move, is the least likely to do so. Nor is the co-worker – troubling boss, or other person in our life. While the fleeting offense of a person we are unlikely to see again finds us able to forgive and to let go, the ongoing relationship is more challenging.
I made peace of a sort with Ann. When her husband died, her priest friend and I did the funeral together. I talked to her shortly after the funeral, but then I didn’t hear from her again. Years passed, One day I was surprised by a phone call from Ann. She said she had cancer and didn’t have long to live. She was making phone calls to people she had offended. She wanted “to apologize for the way she had treated me.”
We never really understand what is going on in another person’s mind and heart. We don’t know the trials they are facing or the hurts they are covering up. *What we do know is that Jesus asked us to forgive. To forgive freely, graciously and abundantly. To forgive, even as we have been forgiven. The apostle Paul put it another way when he wrote the people in Rome.
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Romans 12:14-18
*Note – Forgiving a person is different that allowing a person to continue to abuse you. One can forgive and say, “No more.” One can forgive and still end a destructive relationship.