Negotiating the Path of Forgiveness
Love does not seek its own, is not provoked,
does not take into account a wrong suffered.
1 CORINTHIANS 13:5 (NIV)
The stress and strain of serious illness brings everyone’s weaknesses to the surface — those of the patient, as well as those of caregivers and encouragers. Fear, pain, fatigue, depression, job changes, income loss, isolation, uncertainty, and other stresses can so drain a person’s energy that social norms and niceties fly right out the window. Phone calls may not be returned. Thank-yous or even an acknowledgment of meals or flowers may not be given. Feelings are easily hurt by the lack of what we consider to be an appropriate response. And the feelings of patients are hurt when their friends are not able to support them in the way they desire and need.
So forgiveness is absolutely necessary. Forgiveness is the godly response to the human condition. It is not a feeling or emotion. It is more like a comforting blanket that covers one’s frailty and weakness with unconditional love. Forgiveness is the gift that enables a friendship to survive the ups and downs of serious illness.
Heather Grounds, the college student who shared her story in the last issue of The Encourager, now shares her story of forgiveness and reconciliation.
The loss of some friendships during my treatment for cancer was devastating to me, I struggled to know what to do. Is it really necessary to let my friends know how painful it was to not have their friendship? I wondered. What if I try to reestablish the relationship and they don’t even respond? During this time, 2 Corinthians 5:16-18 kept coming back to me: “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view . . . if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:16-18 NIV). So I decided to obey God’s Word and seek reconciliation.
For several months I prayed for an attitude of love toward my friends who had hurt me. I prayed for a heart to forgive them, no matter what the pain. This wasn’t easy because their lack of friendship was ongoing, and it continued to eat away at me. Eventually, I realized that although I could not control their actions, I could control mine. That refreshing revelation set me free to take action.
You see, we naturally assume that our friends should do certain things that are required in a friendship — like be there for us when we are really sick. I struggled to understand why my friends didn’t reach out to me or in some tangible way let me know they cared. Because they had not done for me what I thought they should have done, I had become bitter and angry in my heart toward them. I knew this was wrong. God has commanded us to allow no root of bitterness to grow in our hearts, so I knew I was in trouble. My heart was not right before God because of my bitterness. Although I couldn’t control my friends’ actions, my attitude toward them was up to me and God. I needed to give my bitterness over to God and do my part to initiate forgiveness and reconciliation with my friends.
So I took the step to reestablish communication with one friend by lovingly sharing my hurts with her. I knew I was risking another loss if she didn’t respond, but I never really thought I wouldn’t hear from her again for months! This was a terrible blow because I thought I had done what was right. Yet her response made me feel like I had messed up.
When we saw each other again, however, my friend shared her side of the story. As it turned out, she had been going through difficult times that I didn’t know about, and my situation was more than she could handle — it immobilized her. She had felt guilty because she couldn’t give more to me at the time, and I hadn’t validated what she was able to give. After that meeting, I was so thankful to have heard of her struggle. I thought that this would be the beginning of a new relationship.
But three months passed without a word from her. I was so confused. I thought we had really accomplished something — then nothing. When I had the opportunity to see her again, it was difficult. I simply chose to love her and didn’t probe to find out why she hadn’t written. I had to lay myself down and allow her to respond in her own way without fear of what I might think or do.
The most amazing thing happened about a month later—I received a thank-you letter from her! As I read her letter, the pain in my heart just melted away. I realized that she really did care about me and our relationship. I realized that if it took some time for us to be close friends again, that would be all right, too.
It isn’t easy to reach out in forgiveness to those who hurt us, especially when we are hurting. But our only alternative is to choose self-pity and isolation, which leads to loneliness and despair. God commands us to reach beyond our comfort zones and give mercy and compassion to those who have hurt us, just as He has shown mercy and compassion to us. He commands this because He loves us. Forgiveness and reconciliation allow His purposes to prevail in our lives.
My friend is not perfect – no more than I am – and so we suit each other admirably.