Where there is life, there is mess. The Proverbs puts it this way: “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean.” (Prov.14:4, ESV)
It is absolutely inevitable: Where human beings gather in fellowship, there will be misunderstandings and hurt feelings. We cannot prevent it. It’s important to try and live at peace with one another. It’s important to be humble enough to realize that sometimes it is our own behavior – not someone else’s – that breeds mistrust and discord, and then to be courageous enough to try and change. Even so, human beings on their best behavior are prone to hurting one another.
How many families will be apart from one another this Thanksgiving because of wounds that have never healed?
If I’ve learned it once, I’ve learned it a thousand times. And if I’ve learned it a thousand times, I’m still learning it this week. My hurt is not as important as the person in front of me.
Don’t misread that. I did not say that I am not as important, but that my emotions are not. Emotions are valid and need to be experienced, but they do pass. They are a temporary response to a temporary situation, shaped too often by false expectations and short tempers and self-focus. The person in front of me is created in the image of the Eternal God, shaped for fellowship and belonging and love.
I have always been the type to need resolution. When there are misunderstandings, I want to talk it all out and make sense of what went wrong so we can prevent it from happening again. When I was a child, I used to get so angry with my brother because we would fight and cry and scream, mom would separate us, and an hour later, I was still stewing but my brother was trying to make me laugh. I didn’t realize that his version of making up was more effective than mine.
We tell ourselves that forgiveness means we are ‘okay,’ that we let go of someone’s offense against us because they see the error of their behavior and have apologized – owned the fault of the problem.
The word forgive actually comes from the German pergiefan, literally, ‘for to give.’ It is a Germanic transliteration of the Latin word perdonare, meaning, ‘to give completely, without reservation.’ The same word was later used to express a daughter being ‘given away’ in marriage.
It does not mean that you excuse someone’s bad behavior.
It does not mean that you pretend you are okay when you are not.
It does not mean that you trust someone who has repeatedly hurt you.
It just means to give, completely.
How many times, as children, did our mothers tell us that someone who is mean to us is probably really hurting and feeling sad or lonely or afraid? It’s not something children do and then grow out of; it’s something we do as adults, too. We are afraid, so we lash out at someone in an attempt to protect ourselves. We are lonely, so we withdraw and refuse to allow anyone into our lives. We are hurt, so hurt someone else.
In each case, what we need is not to hurt another person or to push them away; what we need is love. What we need is grace. What we need is belonging, even when we are less than perfect.
This Thanksgiving, perhaps the best gift you can give – to yourself as well as another – is to forgive, to give completely of your heart, of your love, and refuse to be broken from relationship because you’ve been hurt. Welcome that person to your home, to your table, and to your heart, and for one day, set down all the bad feelings and pride. Be together.