REHOBOTH MILLS: A forgiving spirit is a gift of God. I am learning to turn to Him in prayer, for the healing of deep emotional wounds, especially. I fear that too often I am not mindful to love my fellow man as Christ has commanded – and that too often I am not mindful to love myself or ask that forgiveness for myself, either. Confessing our sins in prayer is a vital part of our Christian practice, but so often I find myself totally blind to my shortcomings. When deeply inflicted emotional hurts are involved, it is difficult to reach out for help without running the risk of impairing the reputation of another. I have yearned for the Gospel order of Meeting in the past year – the unfortunately absent role here of oversight of the membership, in helping us walk together in the love of Christ – to help restore the harmony among us. Being reminded to “walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us,” is a message of great joy, urging me to turn constantly to that source of all true love.
JANE’S FALLS: It is sometimes said that the closer we come to the Life of God, the more aware we become of the distance – the separation – between our lives and His. Our shortcomings become more apparent – and seemingly greater! Each time I am not an example of “uprightness, simplicity, and moderation” in my own life, I feel that separation – that pain – and am grateful to some special Friends who are able to elder me, minister to me, oversee my activity in such instances … my brothers and sisters in Christ …
A forgiving spirit and Christ-like love involve much more than the “I forgive you, it’s OK” attitude that seems so prevalent. In Christ’s example, we have many instances where His loving could be outwardly tough, as when he faced the Pharisees and Sadducees. Sometimes it seems that we are expected to forgive anybody and anything that sins or wrongs us, so that they can come back and continue. Yet we have Christ instructing us to leave such situations, even to the extent of shaking the dust off of our sandals. The challenge here is one of standing firm against sin and darkness while remaining strong in the love of Christ. Friend Richard Foster, in his Celebration of Discipline and Money, Sex & Power, makes an essential point: “There is a power that destroys. There is also a power that creates. The power that creates gives life and joy and peace. It is freedom and not bondage, life and not death, transformation and not coercion. The power that creates restores relationship and gives the gift of wholeness to all. The power that creates is spiritual power, the power that proceeds from God.” He emphasizes that we must be very careful in our submission to Christ to avoid the trap of self-contempt, and to realize that we are not doormats for everybody to walk over, but that we are instead given a precious personhood to be valued and used in service for God. “Self-denial declares that we are of infinite worth and shows us how to realize it,” he writes. “Self-denial does not mean the loss of our identity… . Without our identity we could not even be subject to each other. It is not the same thing as self-contempt.”
We have a key in Luke 17:3-4: “If your brother sins,” rebuke him, and “if he repents, forgive him” (NIV, emphasis added). In other words, out of love we must be firm, seeking the other’s ultimate good. Rebuking, or being open with the other about our differences in such matters, is often extraordinarily difficult these days, especially where the “if it feels good, it must be right” self-centered attitude prevails.
The other New Testament references to forgiveness, which do not include this conditional if, seem to stress the other side of this dynamic of forgiving, that is, our own ultimate good: so that we not be bound up in the bondage of hurt and hostility, but dwell instead in God’s healing, loving, creating power.
But it is not always easy, especially when the trespassing party keeps coming back and coming back to inflict new pain. As Myrtle once remarked, sometimes when we’re unequally yoked (with an unbeliever), that person will turn our own beliefs upon us, and turn them against us.
Sometimes we may try to love our neighbor more than ourselves, neglecting our own self worth. Sometimes we need to forgive ourselves as well.
When the meeting as a whole, however, cherishes a forgiving spirit, it carries over into our individual lives, often lifting us above situations where we might otherwise succumb. This is a vital role where the overseers of the meeting, especially, should be vigilant in their service.
WILLOW BROOK: I’ve seen many instances when we’ve hurt others, usually through insensitivity or unawareness. We need to learn more of the disciplines of covenant – honesty and forgiveness.
For me, this means facing my usual avoiding of conflict and stepping into the fray – including acknowledging more fully my own feelings and desires.
For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.