One of most impactful experiences of a Kairos Prison Ministry weekend is the day we focus on forgiveness. Early that morning, both residents and volunteers are given slips of paper on which to write down the names of those who have offended us, whether through devastating deeds or smaller slights. Incidents from the past return to mind throughout the day, and all of our lists lengthen. At one point, we hear and consider this most profound perspective: Unforgiveness is like drinking poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die. As this insight seeps into the 80-plus souls gathered there, no one needs to defend the notion, for no one pretends to deny it. It is a powerful moment of coming to terms with this commonly shared human condition.
We all bear the wounds of disappointments and hurts, as well as the grudges that fester within them. The question is, how do we purge our grievances and resentments? Forgiveness is not easy! We’ve all wielded unforgiveness as a shield against more potential harm, and sometimes pointing to the actions of others diverts us from examining our own. Moreover, the process of forgiveness means unearthing offenses we once “buried alive”—suppressing without resolving—and sometimes the one who’s disappointed us the most is ourselves.
Somewhere along the way, I discovered that when I accept and trust Jesus’ limitless love for me—when I contemplate and believe that He not only forgives me for my wrongs, but loves me enough to pay their price—then my heart changes toward those have wronged me. The grudge-dam bursts, and forgiveness flows. Granted, I sometimes find myself having to release the same people for the same wrong again and again, but it’s always the acceptance of God’s love for me that gives me the ability, desire, and strength to do so.
The apostle Paul shows us this amazing thing about God’s proactive love: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”1 He didn’t wait for an apology that might never have come; He took the initiative to love us in this most selfless way. And what did He say about those who wrongfully executed Him? “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”2 Such forgiveness is the antidote to our resentments and all their toxins, and Jesus Christ is where we find it.
Father, may your love so live in me that I would freely forgive others as you, through Christ, have painstakingly forgiven me. Amen.
Love . . . keeps no records of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:4, 5)
1 Romans 5:8
2 Luke 23:34