The sun was shining, it was a breezy 82 degrees, and I was headed unaccompanied into Sam’s Club to load up on the essentials: Goldfish crackers, chocolate protein bars, and other things that scream “I have a toddler”. I walked in and tried to grab a cart from the line, which clung for dear life to the cart stuck behind it. As I yanked these two unruly carts apart and stifled my instinct to threaten to separate them and give them a time-out, I looked to the end of my cart. It was literally abutted against a pair of navy cargo shorts. I had rear-ended someone! Oh, the embarrassment.
My victim was about my height, build, and age; for goodness’ sake, we both had in pearl earrings! Worse, it was obvious from my dress on this Sunday afternoon that I had just come from church. Yep, go ye into all the world and ram people with your cart. I immediately gushed a heartfelt apology. “I am SO sorry! It just came flying out!” I sputtered in a totally incoherent but genuine manner. She half-turned her head to look me over out of the corner of her eye and then proceeded on without a word. Without a word. Not even a cross-ways glance or scathing evil-eye!
As I pushed my weapon of mass destruction down the aisles, I was confused as to why my heart had sunk due to this encounter. Excuses flooded. She was stopped right there and didn’t move! Neither of us were really watching. How rude not to respond! Maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe she just wasn’t raised correctly, bless her heart. I understand that I live in a state where it is not commonplace to greet a stranger, smile, or even breathe someone else’s air. It’s not a friendly place by my definition. That’s not the issue. I had made a mistake, taken responsibility, and tried to verbally make it right with the person I’d wronged. I’m sure if I’d rear ended her car, she’d have a few things to say, but there is something fundamental in not acknowledging another human being. By the time I got to the Whole Grain Goldfish (I’m NOT the worst mom ever, thank you very much) I came to a conclusion. I was hurt because I had been wholeheartedly ignored when I had tried to apologize and beg a pardon.
Being wronged by an unrepentant, unrelenting loved one can be heartbreaking. Realizing you were the wrong-doer and desperately trying to make amends with someone who won’t forgive you crushes the heart. We are taught to say, “It’s okay”, even when it’s not. Perhaps it’s because as children we are taught to say, “I’m sorry” even when we are not. When my siblings and I were little-bitties and would get into fights, my mother would make us sit down, talk it out, and then apologize. We have a special ability to use words to cut to the quick, so rather than hug, we had to compliment our sparring partners. Soon my brother’s standard compliment to us girls (eye roll included) became, “You’re good at soccer.” One day I could take it no longer. “I don’t play soccer!” I shouted, totally exasperated. He shrugged and said, “I said something something nice!”
The problem really comes when we really, really are SORRY. Remorseful, apologetic, repentant. SICK to our stomach sorry. When that receives indifference or an unforgiving response, it is an entirely different hurt that poisons us thoroughly. Just a few hours earlier a woman beautifully belted a song during the Sunday church service. I’d never heard it before, so the lyrics stuck with me. “I know what it’s like to look back on things I’ve done and be ashamed. I know what it’s like to have truly hurt someone… but thanks to Jesus I can say, ‘I’m forgiven!’ ”
Do you ever struggle to forgive yourself for things others have forgiven? Do you make your baggage carry-on when it needs a terminal checking? I’m guilty of it. Forgiveness gets a lot of ink in the scriptures, particularly red ink. We are called to obey extremely difficult, counter-intuitive commands. We have to be re-programmed to love our enemies, forgive our accusers, give extra to those who rob us, and go an extra mile. That is HARD. Worse, trying to do so puts one under a spotlight, allowing others to easily spot when we fail miserably and struggle to make our hearts yield. It’s easy to admit that we make mistakes, but we’d rather not have people offer specific examples. It is SO much easier not to admit guilt, not to accept fault, not to let the grudge or hurt go, and not to seek forgiveness.
When we do ask for genuine forgiveness, I truly appreciate that Jesus provides an absolute guarantee on the forgiveness of sins. The other religions have a goal to reach, but no guarantee that you’ll reach it despite your . Jesus won’t look me over and ignore me because I’ve wronged Him. Even in unpleasant judgment, Jesus never ignores those who cry out. The New Testament is full of people who are chasing Jesus down to ask for things; healing, security of salvation, miracles, answers- even a free meal. Some declared a need for mercy, Barabus declared himself a sinner, but no one asked the Savior for forgiveness before asking for something else. Yet as Jesus heals and performs miracles, He emphasizes the importance of forgiveness and a healthy heart- one that isn’t poisoned with pride, ungratefulness, worry, fear, shame, and unrepentance. Isn’t it interesting that the majority of the time people are crying out for forgiveness and mercy in the Bible, it is to God in the Old Testament? That “Old Testament” God who is full of wrath whose favorite hobby is smiting? Yep. The same God that is hailed as the great forgiver and granter of loving-kindness and steadfast faithfulness to those who sought to be his people. His people were repeat offenders of wandering away from God, chasing worldly passions, and blatantly sacrificing to idols- even burning and killing their own children. Though angry, frustrated, hurt, and sorrowful, when God heard the desperate cries from his remorseful and grief-stricken children he forgave and accepted them.
Jesus doesn’t want a shrug and a forced, “I’m sorry! You’re the Son of God and really Holy. I bet you’d be really awesome at soccer.” If we are truly honest about ourselves and who we’ve wronged, a genuine, repentant apology wouldn’t be hard to muster. We indeed have an Accuser who glories in shoving our mistakes in our face- but it is not Jesus. Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven” and “Behold, I am making all things new”.It’s an unfortunate fact of life that consequences are inevitable and not all apologies are accepted. Bitterness, anger, hatred, and unforgiveness are a part of the deal. Only Jesus provides a way to have a blank slate; humans…well, we’re not God. (Sorry, Philosophy prof… my chair is not God. Logic 201 taught me that if I am God, but I am the same substance as my chair, then my chair is God. That makes me have to ponder the meaning of Ikea. I’m so not going there.)
Whether we are charging through life ramming people with our cart like Black Friday lunatics or simply rear-ending the unsuspecting that come into our path, let us be mindful and able to take ownership for our actions. Even if we are correct or just made a mistake by accident, let’s ask for forgiveness. When someone asks genuinely for it, even if you can’t grant a full pardon right away , look the person in the eye and acknowledge the situation. When we gloat, hold grudges, or ignore others, it dishonors Christ. “To err is human, but to forgive is divine”- in that case, go for a degree in divinity. In the meantime, watch your rear around the cart corral. Those carts just fly right apart.