Forgiveness: A Daily Challenge
"Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed." — James 5:16
Someone cuts you off in traffic. Your boss asks you to look the other way at an unethical business practice. A spouse admits an affair.
Everyday life presents opportunities for forgiveness. Your response may be an indicator of the health of your Christian life.
"C.S. Lewis said he thought it would be easier to forgive a single murder than years of accumulated slights," says the Rev. L. Gregory Jones, dean of the Duke Divinity School. "But forgiveness is crucial for everyday living."
In an essay for "Practicing Our Faith," Jones wrote, "Forgiveness is crucial, because it is the means by which community is sustained over time."
The Rev. Lee S. Dukes III, a United Methodist pastor, chaplain and director of pastoral counseling at Lexington (N.C.) Memorial Hospital, agrees that forgiveness is important to community living.
He says, "We live our lives in relationships, and we’re constantly bumping into other people and doing things we shouldn’t be doing."
In counseling, Dukes uses a framework advanced by Austrian psychoanalyst Melanie Klein focusing on guilt and responsibility in relationships.
"This idea of guilt and responsibility is an awful lot of the conversation that goes on in a counselor’s office," he says. "It’s a big part of what we do."
Dukes says forgiveness is important in marital counseling.
"You can’t live with your spouse and not deal with it. Working through injuries, large and small, is very important," he adds. "Take infidelity, for instance. People think that infidelity automatically means the end of the relationship, but that’s not true. There are a lot of people who work through it and go on to build stronger marriages."
Citing the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation, Dukes says, "Forgiveness is internal. We need to forgive other people even if they don’t know it, because it’s important to us. Sometimes you can forgive and not get reconciliation.
"Some things are impossible to forgive … God can forgive, but not human beings," Dukes adds. "But for the day-to-day stuff, it’s important to forgive. We lock up our spirit and psyche with lots of garbage. It’s absolutely essential not to let our lives get mucked up."
Dukes cites a book, Is Human Forgiveness Possible? by John Patton [Abingdon Press, (800) 672-1789] in explaining the idea of forgiveness.
"Forgiveness is not the act of canceling a debt or erasing an act of wrongdoing; it is the discovery of our similarity," writes Patton, a professor emeritus of pastoral care at Columbia Theological Seminary.
Patton adds, "I am able to forgive when I discover that I am in no position to forgive."
Dukes suggests actions people can take to foster a forgiving attitude:
- Teach people to receive apologies in a healthy manner, making it easier for people to say they’ve messed up and want to make amends.
- Teach people to mediate with themselves in a more direct way, such as journaling, to work through things.
But, Dukes says, one of the most important acts, the confession of sin during corporate worship, is disappearing.
"A lot of churches no longer have community acts of confession. In my spiritual and liturgical way of thinking, worship is a place where we confess to help cleanse us for newness." Neill Caldwell is a freelance writer in High Point, N.C.
This feature story was developed by Interpreter magazine.