Free to Forgive
I love how God leads us and guides us, don't you? He is continuing to invite me to lay down those things I am carrying so I can pick up those things He is giving me. I find my arms feel tired at times because I am carrying things He has not given me to carry. Not only that, but I am carrying things He has asked me not to carry, but sometimes it seems to me that I can do it so much better. This, of course, is not true but I sometimes forget. I forget that God knows better than me and I try to do things in my own strength, but He keeps reminding me. Unforgiveness is one of those things that is a bit hard for me to give up sometimes. Sometimes it's not so much that I want to hang onto the unforgiveness as much as I don't want to pick up the forgiveness.
I kind of liked my old view of forgiveness where I thought that one day you were walking along and just decided to forgive, brushed everything by the wayside and then happily went on your way and lived happily ever after. I knew this wasn't true, but I was not very good at seeing that sometimes we live in the gray space. We live in this forgiv(ing) space where we aren't holding on quite as tightly, but we also still have that wretched thing in our hands. Unforgiveness can be kind of sticky like that sometimes. When the sting is still there and the place isn't healed, unforgiveness can feel like protection.
I don't know if it's just me or if it's everyone, but I sometimes forget that learning to walk with God is a process. Trading out what we are carrying in exchange for what He wants to give us takes time sometimes. We can decide to forgive, but then He begins throwing open all kinds of places in our heart that reveal hidden unforgiveness lurking in the corners. It's like an infestation that makes its way into our hearts and begins to grow and spread into our attitudes and the very fabric of our lives. Sometimes we can't really see it until we decide to deal with it.
In a world of stories of transformation and big and awesome testimonies, we sometimes forget there is an (ing) in transforming. We don't very often focus on the 'ings' in our lives. It's amazing to share when God has done, but it's really important to also share the in-between places where we are in the middle of changing. Sometimes those places are raw and not ready to share, but I think sometimes we get the wrong idea that change is quick and instantaneous, but that's not usually how change happens. It's usually a gradual process of God exchanging our ideas and ways of life for His. It's a painful laying down of what's in our hands so we can pick up what He is offering.
I suppose it's the chrysalis time of our lives of sorts. If a butterfly told its story, he would talk about how he once was a caterpillar and then the beauty of being a butterfly, but I doubt he would share much about the hidden chrysalis time. In fact, he probably wouldn't understand what all had occurred to make the change except he had to show up. He had to be there for the change to happen. For God to change us, we have to show up with our whole selves.
What happens in a chrysalis anyway? I don't really know. Is the caterpillar sleeping? Is he awake? Is he bored? Does he get hungry? Is he uncomfortable? At what point is he no longer a caterpillar? We don't know how the change happens exactly, only that it does. And it happens in the hidden place. This is where we change too.
This is how it is for so much of our spiritual life. For a transformation to occur, there is most often a chrysalis time where a whole bunch of hidden work is being done. It is in this place where God heals, transforms ways of thinking and does the deep work necessary for true heart change.
In our impatient world, I think we sometimes try to tape butterfly wings to our caterpillar self and wonder why we can't fly. We trick ourselves into thinking we're butterflies, but really we're just caterpillars with taped on wings. This may fool some people, but I doubt it fools very many and certainly not our close friends and family. God wants us to have real wings, but we have to be willing to get in the chrysalis and not all of us are. Let's be honest, it's a little scary to sit with God in the secret place when we're holding onto things we want to keep.
There are all kinds of things we do to try to skip the chrysalis time. Sometimes we say the right words to cover what our heart is actually feeling. Knowing the right words and being the right kind of person are two very different things. Sometimes we disregard the ways we are asked to live and relegate them to the 'too hard' department of our lives and decide that Jesus must not actually be that serious. Other times we try to make God into our own image and imagine Him responding to our ways of relating, our ways of 'healing' and the ways we are generally doing life with compassion void of truth. That would feel really nice at the time, but it wouldn't do a whole lot to set us free. Wings give freedom, but they come from going to the hard places we often try to avoid. The chrysalis is a vulnerable place.
If there is one thing I know about God, it's that He's after freedom for us. Afterall, Galatians 5:1 says, It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. This tells me we can be free, but not live freed. We can choose the easy route of slavery over the hard work of freedom.
As it turns out, I sometimes mistake a yoke of slavery for freedom and left to my own devices, I may even think I enjoy the slavery. Let's be honest, sometimes slavery to some things can be more comfortable than freedom, especially if we feel safe. Sometimes I don't mind being a caterpillar much. The enemy always promises safety at the expense of freedom but he doesn't tell us the cost part. He makes us feel as if unforgiveness is a wall of safety around us. I know I've been writing a lot about forgiveness lately, but I am making my way out of the (ing) part of the process. I am seeing little wings emerge as I am wrestling my way out of my cocoon. I feel a little more free and a whole lot less burdened. God continues to speak healing and truth to my heart and this gives me the courage to open my hands a little more.
Earlier this week He spoke the most beautiful thing to me. If you remember nothing else from this, remember what I am going to say next. As I was wrestling through the last bit, He spoke to me,
"....But you have to decide. Are you going to carry that and hold it or are you going to respond to the invitation from me to let the Cross carry it? You see? the Cross has not only freed you from your own sins but also from the sins of others against you."
Forgiveness is an invite from a loving God? An opportunity to not have to carry the heaviness of it? The Cross provides not only for freedom from my own sin, but also for freedom from the sin of others against me? The Cross bought the freedom to forgive? I had never seen it this way before. The opportunity to allow God to help us to forgive is not only a gift for the other, but a gift from our loving Father to us. It is an invite to live in the freedom He paid for. When we hold onto unforgiveness we are missing out on a gift the Cross bought. As long as we hold unforgivness towards others we can never be free. We may think we are, but we only think that until we actually become free and then we can see we were burdened and not free all along. I don't know about you, but I don't want to live like a caterpillar thinking it's a butterfly. Let's let God do the work in us and trust Him enough to help us to forgive.
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