The Truest Story is Grace

Gazing out my window on a recent late-night flight, I was struck by how many stories there are out there, so many broken dreams and shattered promises. So many ways we hurt each other, wound creation, self-destruct.

Not one of us, even the best among us, can say with a straight face that we’ve no regrets. We hope that in the end our lives have done more good than harm, but we’ve succumbed to selfishness, we’ve nurtured greed, we’ve not loved our neighbor as ourselves.

And here we encounter that old, sturdy, often overused-but-rarely-embraced word: grace. Grace is dangerous, risky. We fear it’s too good to be true. Grace unravels all the shame we hide, all the failures we keep at bay, all the ways we’ve screwed up. And screwed up again.

Grace is the father watching out the window after we’ve run off with the Chevy and the family stash. Grace is the smile waiting behind the door that is always, always open. Grace is delighted laughter when we feared rejection, a warm embrace when we feared distance or reprisal.

So each night when we put our head on the pillow (or try to catch a wink on the red-eye), we rest in the good news that God (not our worst mistakes) tells our story.

And the story is grace.

The Courage of Forgiveness

Often forgiveness can be an act of restrained power, where one who has been wronged and thus holds the noose chooses to let the rope go, to relinquish their ability to exact a high price. How many women have returned the house key to their wayward husbands begging for another chance? How many fathers have picked up the phone or written checks or taken midnight drives to the local precinct for the child who breaks their heart again and again? How many friends have welcomed back, with open arms, the betrayer or the squanderer or the friend who simply does not know how to be a friend?

For others of us, however, forgiveness is so difficult precisely because we have no power. The husband does not want to return. The child never calls. The friend, oblivious to the grief they have inflicted, bop along with their grand life and their fabulous new relationships — and if they ever even think of us at all, their thoughts come laced with condescension about how we sensitive souls are so easily offended. It is one thing to be wronged. It is a whole other thing when the person who has wronged us doesn’t give a damn.

This is why I believe forgiveness to be an immensely courageous act. To forgive is to relinquish the one weapon we still hold: our bitterness, the acid that seeps from our wound. The transgressor may not care about us now, but we believe that somehow our scorn or our coldness might one day exact revenge. Maybe one day they will feel the pain – and when they do, they will see us once again.

Jesus told Peter that we must do the hard work to forgive (which means to release, to let go) 77 times, which of course is not the number to stick at the bottom of the ledger but a signal that forgiveness rolls on and on. For some of us, this means we will have to face that one wrong with a tenacious grace, releasing over and over that single treachery that left such a gash in our soul. The memory wakes with us each morning, the sorrow slithers into our mind each night. And with great courage, we release it into the arms of love.

This does not mean we roll over and take abuse or injustice. Forgiveness, like love, speaks truth and knows how to say a firm ‘no.’ However, to forgive simply means that we refuse to hold power over another. We refuse to play the part of God. We know that love, not bitterness or revenge, is our only hope.