Photo used with permission by Sassy Soul Art
Something rather incredible happened on Sunday. Chris and I had received an early morning call that we were needed to lead worship at a church we started attending a few months ago. As we scrambled to gather songs, kids, and get to church in time to practice, we both knew this is why we were called here. To serve. It was a fire drill of sorts, but one in which we acted in unity. Almost like we practiced this, which we didn’t. So, it was pretty awesome to see us rise to the occasion, together.
We led our portion of the service and sat down to listen to the sermon. The preacher, also a last-minute fill-in, had prepared his message on “the releasing power of forgiveness”. The topic peaked my interest because I have been struggling to write a post about forgiveness, after visiting Eddie in prison last weekend. Forgiveness is a big topic all by itself. But multiple it by gigantic when you are walking through it in real life. I have been fighting for every inch of the emotional space needed to share our experience.
When I prayed about what to write, God brought to mind the passage when Jesus healed the paralytic. “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven” (Matt. 9:2). We had said something like this to Eddie, as we sat across from him in the visiting room, watching him wolf-down vending-machine cheeseburgers like a starving man. Compared to the food served at “chow”, I guess this was gourmet. Eddie said it tasted like Wendy’s. As he ate, we got onto the subject of forgiveness. Or more accurately, unforgiveness. We could see that Eddie is “stuck” there; unable to forgive himself for the past. His grief and regret came spilling out in angry, self-condemning words. We tried to encourage him, yet be true to where we really are, as a family. I told him, “Forgiveness is a choice, and a process”. Our visit was a sign of our willingness to forgive and take this step toward healing. We encouraged Eddie to take similar steps for himself. He nodded in agreement, but we could tell he wasn’t able to move. We both knew this position was not helping Eddie move into a posture of repentance, where he can receive redemption, forgiveness, and healing in Jesus.
Something Chris said on the drive home prompted thoughts of this blog post. He said the best thing Eddie can do now is do something with his life that honors God. We prayed something stuck with Eddie at a deeper level to help him get “unstuck” in his current thinking. These thoughts reminded me of the passage of the paralytic, and a book by Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction . I started to see forgiveness like a paralytic finding his legs and learning to walk. When Jesus said, “Pick up your mat and go home”, the man had an initial choice to make. Would he believe Jesus and get up? That’s like making the choice to forgive – someone else or yourself. Will you believe we have forgiveness through the blood of Christ? Will you have the courage to rise out of your paralysis? Unforgiveness immobilizes us; locking us in a downward spiral of self-defeat and destruction. The only way up is to receive what Jesus is offering. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Eph. 1:7).
But once on our feet, then what?
The unsteady walk following our initial choice is the long obedience of forgiveness. The slow healing of broken hearts and homes take time. Sometimes, a very long time. Like the paralytic, we walk with a lightness in our step, praising God, when we personally experience forgiveness. But we must walk forward with a commitment to keep on keeping on when the old feelings of doubt and unforgiveness sneak up on us again. Because they most certainly will. Like waves of the ocean, they roll unpredictably wild. Be prepared to meet the waves with settled confidence in the redemption we have in Christ. Walking in forgiveness is liking finding your sea legs. Once found, you are much more stable in letting Jesus direct your life through the wind and waves of each coming storm. He whispers, “Peace, be still”; calming each jolting fear and every raging thought. He brings us back, again and again, to the still realization, “You of little faith. Why did you doubt?” (Matt. 14:31).
Because we do doubt. And forget. When hurt runs deep, it has a way of resurfacing. We must remind ourselves to continually walk in the light of forgiveness, as He is in the light. Humbly, we renew our commitment to repentance and rest in His faithful care. That is obedient walking.
Imagine my surprise on Sunday when the preacher went straight to the passage when Jesus healed the paralytic. I blurted out, “Are you kidding me?!” causing Chris to wonder what was going on. I listened closely to his every word, believing, through him, God was confirming what He had given me to write about. The pastor shared an emotional, personal account of forgiveness from his own life. I knew God was using his story in mine, and about to use my story in his. I asked Chris before we went back up for the last song if it would be okay to share from our visit with Eddie. He gave me his blessing, so I shared with heart pounding in every word. I told them how God is using that very same passage to help us walk in forgiveness, and shared a little about our visit to Eddie. Everyone was amazed at how God had moved that morning to arrange a group of fill-ins with such a powerful message on forgiveness. The whole morning was a testimony of God’s Sovereignty and great grace.
I recently finished a book by Anne Graham Lotz called, Wounded by God’s People . In it, she talks about how we are all wounded in life, and we are all, at times, the one doing the wounding. She spoke of it like a cycle. The wounded ones end up wounding others. The wounded become wounders. And that is all of us. Jesus, our Wounded Healer, has made a way to break the cycle through the forgiveness we have in Him.
This was the picture I had in mind as I led a closing song in worship on Sunday, How Deep the Father’s Love for Us . I choked up at the words, “And wounds which mar the chosen One, bring many sons to glory” because I saw His offer of forgiveness is for everyone – the wounded and the wounders. There was such beauty in being a part of this gathering of imperfect people – all wounded, all wounders; lifting praise to our Glorious Wounded Healer. There is powerful release in recognizing yourself on both sides of forgiveness – forgiving and being forgiven.
Jesus asked, “Which is easier: ‘to say your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sin….” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat, and go home” (Matt. 9:5, 6).
By His authority, no one need remain stuck in unforgiveness. Forgiveness is possible and provided for in Christ. His Cross calls us to, “Get up and walk”. But forgiveness is not the easier road; it is a long obedience in the same direction. It can be a broken road filled with heartache. The Man of Sorrows walked a long obedience up a lonely hill in Calvary to bear the punishment that brought us peace. But by His wounds, we are healed…and forgiven.
Walking out forgiveness in your life is living proof that Jesus forgives sin with the authority of heaven. When the road seems too hard and long, remember His word to you, “Take heart, son. Your sins are forgiven”, and know you walk the holy path bringing this son to glory.