“My husband’s not much of a mechanic”, said Joy, to the group of friends chatting after church. “It’s usually better to just hire someone.” Arthur, Joy’s husband, felt himself flush. It was true that he wasn’t mechanically gifted, but he wasn’t that bad, and, even worse, as a man, it made him feel stupid hearing this said in front of a group. He fumed. That was the way his wife, Joy, tended to be, though. She wasn’t trying to put him down or be mean, she just was blunt about her opinions, and often unaware of how they might make others feel. Arthur and Joy had talked about her bluntness multiple times, but she didn’t see it as a problem and thought that people just needed to grow up and be less sensitive. The fact that she didn’t have bad intentions, though, didn’t take all the sting out of her prickly observations. They still hurt and that hurt still caused Arthur resentment.
I want to tackle a subject today which is slippery; hard to completely pin down. It’s about people who hurt or annoy us versus those who deliberately wrong or damage us, and how we can best respond in each case. As a believer, we basically can choose two attitude strategies. Sometimes patience is enough. At other times, we need to add in forgiveness as well. Paul has a verse which seems to cover these distinctions. In Colossians 3:13, he says: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Lewis B. Smedes, in his book, The Art of Forgiving, stirred me to think more about forgiveness. One of his insights, in particular, prompted me to write this article. He says “we forgive people for what they do to seriously wound us.” This statement implied, to me, that not everything that hurts or annoys us is an offense that requires forgiveness. Let’s explore this, going beyond what the book says.
Why is it important that I learn to distinguish between the need for merely exercising patience and the need to actually forgive?
1. It’s important to distinguish the between the need for merely exercising patience and the need to actually forgive because we often exaggerate the offense.
We may need to lighten up. Our husband tries, but he’ll never be that neat. Our wife tends to run the car down empty. A friend talks too much. Sure, it’s annoying, and the problem may even need to be discussed or corrected, but do they really need to be forgiven? Live in the real world. We bump against one another all the time. There’s usually no malice involved. It’s just people being people; having weaknessness, making mistakes, or just not doing things they way we want them done.
2. It’s important to distinguish between the need for merely exercising patience and the need to actually forgive because we often lack critical information
This ties into the last point. Has the other person really wronged me or am I misinterpreting them? I’ve had people say to me, as a pastor, “Were you upset with me on Sunday? You walked right by me without smiling.” No. I wasn’t upset, I was on task. On Sunday mornings, I’m a distracted, multi-tasking person (hard for a man to do, right?), and it’s easy to brush right by someone unintentionally. A lot of apparent offenses are that way. Furthermore, we all have our own internal code for how we interpret the actions of others – a code that others, unfortunately, may not know. What was clearly an offense to us (you disagreed with me in front of others) may seem unimportant and normal to them. Maybe their family did it habitually, and see it as lively discussion rather than a source of offense. So it helps to talk about problems before we make harsher negative assumptions.
3. It’s importance to distinguish between the need for merely exercising patience and the need to actually forgive because forgiveness is more difficult to achieve than patience
Although both can be a challenge, forgiveness is definitely the harder of the two, especially if a significant wrong has been committed. It involves deeper wounds, and takes more time and processing than a mere annoyance. If we can avoid being unnecessarily wounded or offended and just accept the situation, or settle for mild frustration, it makes things easier for everyone. Life is too short for unneeded drama.
4. It’s important to distinguish between the need for merely exercising patience and the need to actually forgive because this allows relationships to grow more easily
I’m not suggesting ignoring significant wrongs or just playing nice when we’re really wounded or offended. These soul slashes need to be worked out and forgiven, if only in our own hearts. And full reconciliation requires a two-way resolution. But when it’s legitimately possible to just be patient and let more things go, this allows us to work together more harmoniously and have more fun together.
5. It’s important to distinguish between the need for merely exercising patience and the need to actually forgive in order to see others more fairly
I’ve implied this already. So much of what is hurtful to us is, ultimately, more about us than about them. Frequently no malice is intended. Often, they don’t have a clue about how we took something. And sometimes, that’s just who they are and it’s tough for them to change that, especially if it’s not a clear moral issue. So there’s room for some slack. It’s easy to take things the wrong way, or too personally or too harshly. Try to be slow to do that. God is a much better judge than we.
6. It’s important to distinguish between the need for merely exercising patience and the need to actually forgive because we want others to do that for us
Don’t we all need some grace? We too do our share of annoying things and have our share of weaknesses. I’d like to be able to relax around friends and family despite my imperfections. Wouldn’t you? My ability to be more patient and less woundable for others often creates an environment which allows them to be the same toward me. On the other hand, touchy oversensitivity makes for a more tense environment.
I told you at the beginning, that this was a slippery subject. Sometimes, even when we’ve not been seriously wronged, we still feel that same sort of woundedness. At this point, maybe we can’t help it. For whatever reason, that’s where we’re at. So we may have to forgive offenses which wouldn’t even bother others. Do what you have to do. Forgiveness is crucial even when it’s not technically necessary.
Furthermore, I’m not suggesting, that there isn’t still much to forgive in our fallen world. There is. Sin is ugly and everywhere. Satan makes sure to keep it stirred up. I’ve written in more detail on forgiveness in articles #17 and 18 on our website, under “Media”, “Just Thinkin’”, at our website, <ivevfree.com>. And there are tons of good materials on the subject, including the book mentioned at the beginning, by Lewis Smedes, The Art of Forgiving. I’ll stop here. Tune in next time.