“The real trouble about the duty of forgiveness is that you do it with all your might on Monday and then find out on Wednesday that it hasn’t stayed put and all has to be done over again.”
>C.S. Lewis, letter to Phoebe Hesketh, 6/14/1960
“‘If you forgive you will be forgiven’ isn’t some kind of ‘bargain.’ (Instead), the forgiving and the being forgiven are really the very same thing.”
>C.S. Lewis, letter to Mary Willis Shelburne, 7/6/1963
It’s not something “good Christians” talk much about, but it’s something all Christians and all people deal with: resentment. To live in relationship with others is eventually to be wronged. To live in close relationship with others sometimes leads to deep hurt. When those hurts aren’t faced honestly, they can build up. Margaret Campbell, Renovare team member, says that over time, it’s not that we simply have resentments – but that they become who we are.
I’m challenged by her words; they ring true for me. Resentment has a way of settling – settling into our hearts and our souls in a way that can shape us and our outlook on life. To face this head-on, Campbell describes how she felt led by God to forgive some men she believed had wronged her husband. But it wasn’t a one-time prayer; it was a practice for years and years. Each time she would think of them, she would offer the situation to God, and pray a blessing on the men. Resentment builds up over time, so it takes time (maybe a lifetime) of continuing to forgive and offering the situation and the people to God.
In one of C.S. Lewis’s final letters, written less than 5 months before he died, he wrote that “only a few weeks ago I realised suddenly that I at last had forgiven the cruel schoolmaster who so darkened my childhood. I’d been trying to do it for years: and like you, each time I thought I’d done it, I found, after a week or so it all had to be attempted over again. But this time I feel sure it is the real thing.”
At age 65, Lewis was still struggling with forgiving an authority figure from his childhood. But I can’t help but wonder: If Lewis had lived another year (or more), would he have written another letter saying that yet again he felt like he had finally and completely forgiven this schoolmaster?
What is true of Lewis is likely true for the rest of us – where forgiveness turns out to be more like a journey and less like a destination. So, where is resentment lodged in your heart? How will you face it? – daily, if necessary – entrusting it to the God of forgiveness, as we “put away all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4.31-32, NRSV).
Forgiveness refuses to let another’s hurt live in our lives. Forgiveness can judge what they have done as wrong, while not condemning them as a result – for forgiveness leaves ultimate things to God. That’s a challenge I certainly haven’t mastered – but I take comfort that C.S. Lewis hadn’t, either. And one day I look forward to sitting down with him and rejoicing that finally – in God’s New Creation – forgiveness will no longer be a journey, but will ultimately have become our destination.
One more thing: Forgiveness does not automatically lead to reconciliation, for sometimes that is out of our control or is not healthy. We can forgive and release someone to God who is out of our reach, who is unwilling to rebuild the relationship, or is simply in a place where forgiveness is offered but not received.
But sometimes, forgiveness does lead to reconciliation. And that’s undeniably pure and total grace, as in this 2-minute story: