Whenever people live or work together, they need to practice forgiveness because we humans are imperfect. No group can function long before someone breaks a promise and lets others down.
Forgiveness seems like a wonderful virtue, but it is very difficult to practice. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis said, "Forgiveness is a lovely idea until you have someone to forgive." To move from theory to practice is often a great distance to travel. In the midst of our anger and disappointment, forgiveness seems impossible or at least impractical.
In fact, forgiveness is one of the most misunderstood words in the Christian vocabulary. We often associate it with forgetting. To ask me to forget is to minimize or dismiss my pain. In fact, I need to forgive because I cannot forget what someone did.
The hurt needs to be named. I need to "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15), but it is never easy. Too often, I avoid the conflict altogether, further harming the relationship.
Forgiveness joins what is separated in life. It makes possible what our sinful human nature conspires to make impossible. Forgiveness removes barriers so life can go on; it is the margin for our error. No marriage or friendship can survive without it.
As wonderful as this concept sounds, we often dismiss forgiveness because it doesn't seem to hold the offender accountable. Actually, forgiveness allows people to renegotiate their future. When I forgive someone, I am demonstrating my belief that the relationship can grow.
This is authentic forgiveness: We believe we can live together in the future despite the way we have lived in the past. We commit to change our behavior in the future. Forgiveness is a great gift that includes a measure of accountability.
Imagine an employee loses his temper with a customer. He later apologizes profusely to the customer and to his manager. But he has acted this way before. The manager forgives him again and tells him to get some counseling about his anger. Hopefully, the employee will work on his problem and make some progress. If nothing changes, though, the manager will need to protect his customers! Forgiveness isn't blind.
Read the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35). A king forgives his servant an enormous debt, but the servant refuses to forgive the small debt of his friend. The king is incensed, and the story serves as a warning not to presume upon God's forgiveness without embodying this gift in our own lives.
Lewis Smedes says, "Forgiveness is love's toughest work." It is painful to forgive, but forgiveness helps us work and live with each other on a very deep and profound level. Through forgiveness, the gift of God's Spirit will breathe new life into those relationships that matter greatly to us.
Think and Pray
Can you name a situation in your workplace that is making forgiveness hard to offer? Forgiving an offender (especially a repeat offender) is not the norm, which makes it a powerful opportunity for others to see the fruit of the Spirit displayed in your words and actions.
Father, You know that forgiving an offender is not a natural response for me, but I want to do it so there’s no bitterness taking root in my heart, so there’s nothing between You and me, and so others can see You in me. Give me the grace, the sincerity, the words and the right approach to personally forgive the mistakes of others. Amen.
By Mike Chalk. Published by The High Calling. Used with Permission. Theology of Work Project Online Materials by The High Calling are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.