In the weeks since I wrote the letter to General Becker, I’ve received countless messages saying things like, “I don’t know that I could forgive him for what he did.” and “How can you forgive the people who destroyed your husband’s career?”
With the questions have come miracles. Miracles we never dreamed or imagined…
As we’ve digested the impact of the miracles, I have struggled with how to answer questions regarding forgiveness, but here’s the gist of it…
I have no choice.
For many years, the people who know me well have heard me say, “I LOVE forgiveness!” Sometimes people respond with an emphatic, “Me too!” and sometimes they look at me like I have a third eye. There’s this thing I’ve noticed about the third-eye-people; they always say something about karma and how it’s a bitch or how they can’t wait to see karma come full circle at the mention of the word forgiveness.
Matthew 6:12-13 “…and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.”
That verse up there. ^^ It’s not just any verse. The first sermon Jesus ever preached was the Sermon on the Mount. In that sermon, Jesus said, “Pray like this…” and then he gave what became known as The Lord’s Prayer. Every Catholic and Protestant on the planet will learn that prayer. Yet, many still believe in karma.
Jesus was pretty clear. “Pray like this…” Ask God to forgive your sins to the same degree you’ve forgiven others. It’s the simplest of prayers and the clearest path to freedom…
Forgive so that you can be forgiven.
I’m sure you’re wondering, “What the heck do beer goggles have to do with forgiveness?”
Here ya go… Beer goggles make things look prettier than they may actually be. I know this to be a fact. Do you know the antonym for beer goggles? What accomplishes the opposite of making things look prettier than they actually are?
Unforgiveness is the answer.
Unforgiveness makes things look uglier than they actually are. The longer you hold on to unforgiveness, the uglier a person becomes. When you refuse to forgive, eventually, you can no longer see any good in a person.
You wanna know the difference between karma and forgiveness? It’s pretty simple. Do you choose to give a person a pardon or do you choose to put them on probation. When a person has committed a crime and they are given a pardon, all is forgiven. That person is free to live their life and they no longer face any consequences for their crime. When a person is on probation, they are living with conditional freedom. They have to report to a probation officer and they have to meet constant expectations and work to prove that they have changed.
I have witnessed it repeatedly. It’s impossible to live a life based on karma without the expectation that karma will dish out revenge to those who hurt us. People that rely on karma don’t forgive and they put people who’ve hurt them on probation. They just keep waiting for those who’ve hurt them to reap what they’ve sown. They believe that “revenge is sweet”. I know. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. And to be honest…. there will likely be a time in the future when I will venture down that road again. It feels good to think that people who’ve hurt us “will get what’s coming to them”.
One thing about karma is that it is indeed a bitch. It creates a circle of waiting to get what you deserve and waiting for others to get what they deserve. It holds everyone in that circle prisoner. I’ve seen people I love waste their lives looking back and waiting for karma to get even with someone who’s hurt them. All they see is ugly. All they do is wait.
But oh forgiveness… it sets people free.
That’s what I choose. I choose to forgive. I choose freedom.
In an attempt to teach my children the power of grace, I’ve made a repentance/forgiveness box for the last few Lenten seasons. The boxes are wrapped in paper with a slot cut in the top for inserting notes. I write scriptures, love notes really, about grace and forgiveness all over the box and attach a nail to the top that represents the ones used to hold Jesus on the cross. next to the box are notepads and a jar of pens. Between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday everyone who enters our home is invited to leave their sins and their unforgiveness in the box and on Easter night, we burn the entire thing.
Except this year… Dear Hubby and I have been stuck. I made the box on Mardi Gras and for six months, everyone who entered our home, was encouraged to leave something behind. And although the box was full and I had given my word to many that it would be burned, we held on to it. I only intended to delay the burning until I FELT like I had forgiven the people whose names I’d deposited in the box. But the delay turned into days, and then weeks, and then months. We just kept delaying the letting go. In the waiting we kept adding to the collection of paper in the box. Week after week, some days hour after hour, we would scribble names and details on pieces of paper, fold them neatly, and insert them in the box’s opening.
If you read the Sermon on the Mount, skip forward to Matthew 18 and read the parable of the unforgiving debtor. It’s a perfect picture of the difference between forgiveness and karma. In the beginning of the parable Peter asks Jesus,“Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!…”
For most of my life I was overwhelmed by this concept. Are we really required to forgive someone four hundred and ninety times? What does that even look like? Can you imagine telling your six month old baby, “I forgive you for puking on my favorite sweater.” FOUR HUNDRED AND NINETY times?!
Then again, that baby’s first words might be, “I forgive you…” Hmmmm….there’s some food for thought.
Despite the fact that the abundance of forgiving might produce a ridiculously graceful child, I really don’t think that’s what Jesus was saying at all. I believe that Jesus was saying that you keep forgiving until your heart stops hurting. If you’re still seeing ugly in a person, you probably need to keep forgiving them. If you’re still expectantly waiting for someone to get what they deserve, you’re not done forgiving.
For four months my husband and I dropped notes in the box that said abstract things like, “I forgive the Army.”, “I forgive the people who made the false accusations against my husband.”, “I forgive the people or person that is trying to destroy my husband’s career.”
And then… in June, we got the investigation notes and we had actual names attached to actual faces. We had actual actions and words spoken. Our notes changed. Our forgiveness changed.
If I had to guess, between the day we got the investigation notes and the night we burned the box, we each wrote several thousand notes. It may have actually taken 490 scraps of paper covered with two specific names for our hearts to feel free…
Fun fact: Forgiveness does not only release the forgiver and the forgiven. It also releases the power of God to move in miraculous ways.
Thirty-six hours after we burned that box, my dear hubby got a phone call from one of his old bosses. Someone that has not contacted him in four years and whose name was dropped in the box a few times, called to apologize. That’s worth repeating… He apologized. Profusely. And… he promised to get dear hubby’s security clearance immediately reinstated. And he did. He also did much, much more to restore what we thought was forever gone. And now my dear hubby is getting ready to start a REALLY SWEET job that will allow him to finish well. For four years we’ve prayed… “God, please allow him the opportunity to finish well. Amen.” The career-killer letter? It’s gone.
I want to make something clear. Forgiveness CANNOT be tied to an apology. There’s not a single place in scripture that says so. I had to forgive my Mother for some big, huge, ugly things after she was dead. I’ll never get an apology from her. She is still forgiven. I’ve been hurt by complete strangers (and close friends) who’ve said ugly things about my stimmers (my kiddos with autism). I may never get an apology. They are still forgiven. The men who made the accusations against my husband will likely never apologize. We forgive them anyway.
Sometimes you get an apology. Most of the time you don’t. Forgive anyway.
The apology my man got. It’s a gift. It’s our lagniappe. It’s one of our many miracles.
One more thing… That little note at the top.. the one about Karma not having a menu? That makes me sad. I like menus. I like choices. Some days I want the calamari and some days I want the stuffed mushrooms. And let’s be honest… Do any of us actually want what we deserve? If I got what I truly deserved I’d be feasting nightly on dirty dishwater. But God… He loves me enough to have given His son so that I get to feast daily on His goodness and forgiveness.
So when given the choice between forgiveness and karma; I choose forgiveness. Always.