“Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” (Colossians 3:13)
When we are cleaning out the attic decisions are made. Some things we are willing to let go of, other things we want to hold on to. What we hold on to is what matters to us. Some people don’t want to stop mourning the loss of a loved one. They feel to do so would betray their loved one and signify they didn’t matter to them as much anymore.
Forgiveness involves letting go. But when we let go are we saying that what happened was no big deal? If it didn’t matter, why did it hurt? Why did it anger us? In forgiving are we minimizing something that should not be downplayed? Are we letting the offender “off the hook” too easily?
There is a place for confrontation. Jesus said: “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” (Matthew 18:15) Mind you though, He is speaking here of an offense great enough to report to others if there is no repentance. How often are we trespassed against to that degree? Usually, the hurts we feel, while very real, aren’t even great enough for us to tell the one who has hurt us. Their offensiveness lies more in their duration than in their depth. They are reminders of something we don’t like in the way another is. And so we can hold on to them as evidence of the flaws of the offending party.
Jesus advocated both forgiveness and forbearance.
Forgiveness, in such a case, is the letting go of the latest manifestation of a deeper flaw that neither we nor the person involved can fix. When Peter wanted Jesus to place a limit on forgiveness, he was asking Him if there was a place of giving up on another for flaws that they were “working on” but failing to conquer. Was seven times a day the limit? “No,” the patient, longsuffering Master replied, “Make it seventy times seven.” (Matt. 18:22)
Jesus advocated both forgiveness and forbearance. We forgive people for what they have done. We forbear with people for who they presently are. We forgive because we want to forbear. When we stop forgiving, we stop forbearing. Our list of offenses grows until we reach the straw that breaks the camel’s back. And now we declare it’s over – not because of one offense, but because of a multitude of sins.
The real issue is this: if the love of God was at work in us could a relationship have continued? What then is the most important thing to hold on to? In cleaving to Jesus we find the power to let go of offenses that embitter our hearts. We also find the strength to forbear when the change we would love to see is nowhere in sight. What patience God calls us to! What love rich in mercy! What faith which looks to Him – in the hope He can do what no one else can do.
Decisions, decisions. What should we hold on to and what should we part with? Relationships matter. Holding on to painful memories keeps us from holding on to each other. Better to let go of many offenses than to let go of love.