In reading Brennan Manning’s The Furious Longing of God, I had to stop and meditate on a section, much as you would stop at a solitary painting in a gallery. Not because it’s the most spectacular painting in the show, but because it touches you – and perhaps only you on this particular day – in an imperceptible but undeniable way. This section of the book spoke to me of the incredibly fierce, passionate potential of love; rather than the simple sweetness of a valentine card we mandatorily distributed in grade school and often enough didn’t receive in complete reciprocity in grade school.
This kind of love is hard for me to understand when it comes to my children, much less for the rest of world. I struggle to love someone very close to me when the “love” I grew up with was conditional, with strings attached, at a price that I could never hope to repay. And repayment would be expected, although I never knew when or how.
What I’m coming to understand about loving others as my Father loves me is this: God loves me always and anyway. If I were to hold a daisy and play “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not,” it would have but one single petal. Because he loves me!
But what about my sin? Surely each sin should add another link in the a shackle for the world to see, a reminder of my human failings, an ever-growing statement of my shame, a testament of God’s exhaustive mercy. Yet it’s not only forgiven, it’s undeservingly forgotten, and I doubt very much that God’s glory would be as evident if his children walked around with the chains of their failures dragging behind them. No. We are set free!
Several years ago, about a week before Christmas, I told my husband I was going to Kmart to pick up a few stocking stuffers. Everything I got was less than $3.00, more often under $2.00. Imagine my surprise when the cashier informed me that I owed her over $200.00! As I drove home, I considered every plan I might use to return at least half of the items. Would I return a few things at a time, or should I just bite the bullet and return half of my haul at once?
Neither option allowed for me to hold onto my dignity. And I gave up any hope of simply not telling John, because I’m a lousy liar! He was naturally taken aback by my abundance of small stocking stuffers. Two hundred dollars was way more than we could afford! He said, “Just keep it all. It will be fine.” I’ve always remembered his quiet mercy. But here’s the thing – when I told this story to some friends a few years later, he said, “I’d forgotten all about that!”
I can’t imagine how! I’d spent years keeping that mistake on my list of “Things to be Ashamed Of”, and he had stopped thinking of it entirely! I began to wonder what other things he may have forgotten, how many other things should I be cautious about reminding him of – just in case he’d forgotten them as well. (Wink, wink, nod, nod, know what I mean?)
To make the comment all the sweeter, he wasn’t aware of how very many times I’d heard my mother say, “I’ll remember that.” And she did, bringing up a slight on my part every time I did something wrong and she wanted to make sure I, as well as my step-father and brother all knew how very horrible I was. Yet here was someone who had not only chosen to not keep a $200 mistake in his arsenal, but had managed to forget it. And he loved me.
Now, if my husband could not only forgive but forget one of my wrongs, what God promises is mind-blowing! But this is exactly what our Abba promises. Imagine what we could do without the weight of remembered faults. Imagine the freedom of being able to not only forgive others for being just what they are – people capable of disappointing us, failing us, hurting us, ignoring us, or just plain getting on our last nerve – but to actually treat them as if they hadn’t slighted us at all. What if our mercies could be new every morning, too?
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV
What if, before I even open my eyes in the morning, instead of getting irritated because I know that I know that I know a certain empty can of Pepsi is not in the recycling bin, but rather right where my husband left it – so close to falling off the counter next to the recycling bin that a faint breeze would be enough to push it off the edge, I thank God for the man he gave me? (I have a more adhesive memory than my husband does, which is inconvenient for him. ;D) What if, instead of expecting my co-worker to misfile something because she “always does”, I look for the woman God sees; a woman who loves her family dearly and has immeasurable potential?
Don’t expect a sermon or a Power Point presentation on how I learned to forgive and forget. I stink at both! (Although forgetting seems to get easier each year that I grow older.) Sadly, I simply cannot grasp how anyone can forgive and forget. I can’t imagine there are many of us who can. Remembering where our pain has come from can be as much a means of survival for us as remembering where the nuts are hidden is for a squirrel. And part of becoming a good, upstanding citizen depends upon our behavior being rated on a scale from selfless to horrendous. Our parents, teachers and other authorities are there to nudge us back to mid-scale so we don’t hurt others, to prevent anarchy. Unfortunately, those “nudges” are sometimes tainted with shame along the lines of “Naughty boy!” Some of us have had those lessons reinforced with the more effective use of punishment and fear, from being disregarded and unloved to being beaten and malnourished.
Have you ever thought that if people knew more about you, they’d be amazed that you can function at all? I have. Often. But then I realize that there are a lot of us out here who are functioning the best we can, in spite of so many things. If only we could extend to them the same compassion and patience we crave.
I think it’s just that kind of love that Jesus was here to share and demonstrate. When he healed the crowds, I very much doubt that he stopped to decide if someone was worthy or not. I would imagine there were those who were cruel and abusive to their families, those who had stolen from their neighbor, betrayed their spouse. Perhaps they were among the very ones who needed Christ’s touch the most. The kind of healing they required had the potential to create healings far beyond a broken hand or restored hearing; this was the kind of healing that impacted everything and everyone the hand ever touched thereafter. To think that Jesus knew the hearts of everyone he touched and still loved them enough to heal them. He had to have known there were people for whom a healing touch may not change anything, but such is his love for us. His healing provided hope that things could be different!
Today Christ doesn’t see just what is, but what should have been when we were formed in our mother’s womb, and what still could be because of the future he has spoken over us.
It’s not too late until we draw our last breath, because our Father loves each of us always and anyway. Imagine…He loves us as much as he loves his own son.