Once up a time there was a girl who, by God’s design, was born into a family of many children. Though it may not have looked like it from the outside, this girl was blessed with many things. Grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles who loved her, sisters to play with and confide in, and little brothers to boss around. The world would have labeled her family poor, but you could not have convinced her this was so because she did not feel want or need.
There was just one problem. It seemed her skin was paper thin, and easily pierced to the heart by others. Sometimes, even, by those who loved her most. And so began her greatest challenge: To learn how to forgive.
To forgive whether she held partial blame or none at all. To forgive when words struck harder blows then a fist ever could. To forgive when misunderstood. To forgive before the sun went down. To forgive freely, without being asked. To forgive seventy times seven. In short, to forgive as she had been forgiven.
Time passed and the girl grew. She fell in love and married, and it just so happened that, by God’s design, she had seven children of her own. Soon she began teaching her sons and daughters all she knew about forgiveness, and how important it was, how necessary, how life-restoring. She watched with a heavy heart as they hurt each other and stubbornly withheld forgiveness. She mourned the pain they caused each other. She saw them with blinders on the eyes of their hearts, as they asked God to forgive them while at the same time stubbornly refusing to forgive others. They were so much like the Unmerciful Servant that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 18.
She pondered and prayed for a solution to this problem and one day it hit her: Perhaps they hadn’t learned the forgiveness lesson because she was unable to teach it correctly. Because she had not learned it fully herself.
She remembered the times she had been hurt and had offered forgiveness.
Could that be the problem? Justified in her mind by saying, “I don’t want to make that mistake again.” Or “Yes, I’ve forgiven, but…” And she wondered if forgiveness should come with such qualifications. Shouldn’t forgiveness be full and complete, no strings attached? Is it fair to say, “I’ve forgiven you” if the sin is pulled out from time to time and reviewed in the scrapbook of the mind? Is it right to replay it like a home video and allow the anger and hurt to fill the heart until there’s no room for anything else?
Other have told her it is. She supposed the saying, “I can forgive, but I’ll never forget” was born from such things. But it felt wrong to her for one simple reason: It’s not the way God has forgiven her. He has separated her from her sins, as far as east is from west (Psalm 103:12) and says He will remember them no more (Hebrews 8:12).
So ended her first challenge: To learn how to forgive, and so began her next greatest: To learn how to forget. She has a long, long way to go before reaching her goal. There will be days of marginal success and many more of complete failure. And considering all her sin and imperfections, she’s not even close to living happily ever after.
But one day, by God’s design, she will.