Forgiveness - A Lesson from the Cross, part 1

Photo by Raquel Souza on Unsplash
A Cross to Bear
She wasn’t an easy person for me to love. I hadn’t asked for her to be a part of my life. But she was. And this was a fact I could not change. At first I tried to be friendly, to get along. But our differences were striking, and we rarely agreed. As time passed the friction between us only intensified. While at first I found the things she said and did to be mildly frustrating; I eventually considered them intolerable. Her actions regularly angered me, her presence bringing tension that was palpable.

So often her choices directly opposed what I requested of her, what I wanted from her – a fact to which I was most attentive, easily overlooking that I likely wasn’t an easy person for her to love either. In my eyes she was an unwanted card I’d been dealt in this game of life. A never-ending source of stress. For twenty years I saw only my desires, my plans, my way – and with self-righteous pride considered her my cross to bear. A burden I was forced to endure.

Letting Go of the Rope
I sat quietly in church listening to the pastor speak about forgiveness. For many months I’d been chased by this theme of forgiveness. Flashing like a neon sign, it radiated from every podcast, devotional, Bible study, and homily I encountered. But sitting in church that day, something inside me stirred.

Of course I was aware Jesus asks me to forgive all who have wronged me.
Yes, I know each time I say the Our Father, I request God forgive me as I forgive others.
Yes, I realize these words clearly indicate that choosing not to extend forgiveness, means I am essentially asking God to not forgive me.
However until that precise moment, the idea of NOT holding a grudge, but rather, extending forgiveness to the woman who bothered me so, had honestly never occurred to me.

Forgiveness …
How could I forgive someone who had not apologized?
Who appeared to show no remorse for her ongoing role in any of our struggles?
How could I forgive someone when the mere recollection of their past words and actions filled me with anger?
I honestly didn’t think I could; it seemed too impossible of a task.

I listened as the pastor spoke of Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Christian who, along with her family, helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II. She and her family were eventually discovered and sent to a concentration camp where many of her own family members died. Decades later, ten Boom described to Guideposts magazine her own lesson on forgiveness, learned from a Lutheran pastor:

“Up in that church tower,” he said, nodding out the window, “is a bell which is rung by pulling on a rope. But you know what? After the sexton lets go of the rope, the bell keeps on swinging. First ding then dong. Slower and slower until there’s a final dong and it stops.

“I believe the same thing is true of forgiveness. When we forgive someone, we take our hand off the rope. But if we’ve been tugging at our grievances for a long time, we mustn’t be surprised if the old angry thoughts keep coming for a while. They’re just the ding-dongs of the old bell slowing down.”

(Guideposts Classics: Corrie ten Boom on Forgiveness, Guideposts, November 1972. retrieved:

Other comments I’d recently read and heard on forgiveness began to race through my mind:
Forgiveness is a choice we make, not a feeling:
   Feeling good about the other person, or what they’ve done, is not a prerequisite.
The statement “forgive and forget” is often an unrealistic expectation:
   Every time I remember, it’s another opportunity to forgive (to make sure my hand is off that rope!)
Unforgiveness is like drinking poison, and expecting the other person to die:
   The only person who suffers when I choose to not forgive is me.
Forgiveness is not something I must do on my own:
   Instead, He calls me to receive His mercy for my wrongs, and then allow it to flow through me and onto others.

Sitting quietly, I heard His gentle whisper speak into my heart:
“Let go of the rope, Jen. Just keep your eyes on me, and open your hands. I know it’s not easy. I know you don’t feel like it. But just let go of the rope.”

My Choice 
I had a choice to make. It was mine and mine alone.
A choice that screamed against every feeling and human desire I possessed.
A choice that seemed to highlight all I deemed to be unfair about the situation.
A choice that would require I humble myself and lay down my pride.
A choice I would have to make repeatedly, as I knew that bell would continue to toll for a long while after releasing the rope…

But a choice that, despite having to make on my own, I now realized I was not expected to carry out on my own, and one that was entirely independent of my feelings.

Sitting there that morning, I quietly made the decision to let go of the rope. To release her from my anger. To no longer speak ill of her or the things she did. To forgive.

I’d be lying if I told you it was a quick and easy process. It wasn’t. It was arguably one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, requiring great intentionality in my thoughts, my words, and my actions. But I slowly realized I could dislike the things she did without holding tightly to the associated hurt and anger. And somehow, as time passed and I continued to consciously keep my hands OFF the rope, I slowly came to know a new sense of peace and freedom I had not previously experienced. In a way I cannot explain, taking my hands off the rope also served to release me from the chains of anger that had held me hostage for years – chains I hadn’t even realized were there.

Am I carrying my cross? Or letting it crush me?
The words on the page jumped out at me, capturing my focus so I could not move on. Grabbing my pen, I reread & underlined words spoken by Jesus from Mark’s Gospel:

“If any want to become my followers, 
let them deny themselves 
and take up their cross and follow me…” 
(Mark 8:34)

Take up my cross.
Take. It. Up.
As in … Make the choice. To pick up the cross. And then follow Jesus. While still carrying it.

For years I’d viewed this unwanted, challenging relationship with someone I did not see eye to eye as my cross – a cross I was forced to bear. Required to stand under, while its heavy weight slowly crushed me. As a result, I was filled with anger and resentment, emotions that I allowed to drive my words and actions.

But it appears Jesus never asked me to stand still while the impossible weight of that heavy cross lay draped across my back, slowly crushing until it flattened me. He also never asked me to stand underneath the heavy cross of unforgiveness. That was clearly an equally destructive cross I had chosen, on my own, to stand under for years, permitting its heaviness to both crush and imprison me.

No, Jesus was not asking me to bear any cross. Rather, He was asking me to approach the cross of that relationship in an entirely different manner. He wanted me to actively pick it up. To hold it. To carry it. And to follow Him while doing so. And this outlook …. It changes everything.

I am certain that none of us will go through life while escaping the cross. At some point we will all encounter that challenging relationship we can’t avoid, that undesirable situation that derails our perfectly orchestrated plans, that unwanted medical issue for which there is no quick resolution, or countless other forms of suffering where our reality does not meet the expectations of our heart.

But each of us does have a choice in how we approach that cross…

Will we approach it on our own? Will we view it as something to bear, a burden we are forced to endure?

Or will we keep our eyes on Jesus, recollecting that He quite literally and willingly picked up His own cross for us, and carried it to his own death for us so we can live with Him? 
And will we allow this knowledge to guide and aid us, as we actively choose to take up our own cross and follow Him?

Typing these words, I realize it is Holy Saturday, a day sandwiched between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, a day where mourning and joy are intertwined. Jesus has suffered and died. He has given His life for me, and now I sit in this period of waiting. In hopeful anticipation of His Rising and the Redemption it will bring. 

Perhaps it's only when I choose to carry my cross, instead of allowing it to crush me, that I will be able to see more than just the grief from my unmet expectations, but also the intermingled joy, as I experience the hopeful anticipation of redemption and life to which my cross leads. 

Praying we all can approach our crosses in a way that leads to peace and freedom, to joy, and to life.
And as always, that God breaths life into these words.

Happy Easter.


(blessed by these words? feel free to share, so you can bless others.)


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