Between Monday’s eclipse and getting kids back to school, it’s already been a strange week. Now, with Hurricane Harvey bearing down on us here in Texas, we’re all throwing our schedules out the window and getting prepared.
Storm prep is a bit sobering—last year’s devastating floods are still fresh on people’s minds. However, one good thing that always happens in Houston is that people begin to focus on taking care of their families and neighbors. Grace starts to manifest itself in beautiful ways.
In my own life this week, I’ve needed a refresher on that amazing grace. What I wrote last week on forbearance and what I’ve wanted to write about forgiveness this week have been put to the test. There haven’t been any big upsets, but I’ve been an anxious, irritable mess and haven’t had a whole lot of grace for my family or myself. On top of that, every bit of sharp-tongued criticism I’ve directed at my family, every hurt feeling I’ve struggled to release—all of it has been on a replay loop in my brain. Forbearance? Forgiveness? Who can write about those when you can’t seem to extend either?
Now, a few of you other veteran parents just nodded knowingly because you are acutely aware that things get a little tense as the kids head back to school. In fact, my problem-solving husband was Googling articles on the August Blues, trying to help me gain perspective. (He was also trying to soothe me with science since I’m a sucker for good research—if nerd-speak isn’t an official love language, it should be.)
So yes, I’m aware that what I’ve been experiencing—the short temper, the frustration, and the angsty regrets over those feelings—isn’t that different from other moms in back-to-school mode, especially those who tend toward some anxiety and depression like me.
So do I dare write about things like forbearance and forgiveness? You bet I do.
The only way to move past my stormy emotional state is to entrust myself fully to Jesus, embracing everything He’s taught me about not only extending forbearance and forgiveness, but receiving it myself. That translates into being deliberately kinder to myself, doing what I know to do to ease the blues, and then basking in the wonder of Jesus’ grace and forgiveness toward me all over again. Then, I find I’m ready once again to let that same grace and forgiveness flow out of me toward my family, friends, and sphere of influence.
Even if you’re not in midst of the August Blues, the journey toward understanding things like forbearance and forgiveness always starts with understanding what God did first. That truth is right there in the verse we looked at last week:
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:13
When the Lord forgave us, He wasn’t playing some kind of cruel joke. God doesn’t save us so He can sit back, watch us fail, and then send us to our doom. Our Father declares us holy—set right with Himself through Jesus—and then, pours out His love on us. He does that through the power of Jesus’ blood to wipe away—to forgive—our sins and reconcile us to Himself. We’ve become His chosen, holy, dearly loved children (see Colossians 3:12). In fact, 2 Corinthians 5:17 says we are completely new:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
That’s what I have to preach to myself when I’m distressed by my own sin. I have to remind myself that I have the Spirit of Christ inside me and cannot help but look more like Jesus each day.
Even if in our August Blues, our feelings tell us we’re hypocrites with a nice message but no substance (and our less-than-righteous behavior is backing up those feelings), we can’t afford to wallow in failure, regret, or bitterness. Believe me, the enemy of our souls is quick to pull out the list of failures to shake in our faces, but we can choose to believe that we are works in progress who have access to every bit of forgiveness and restoration Christ purchased for us with His own blood. We get to repent, receive forgiveness, and rejoice that He’s not finished with us yet. Then, to our delight, we discover He’s equipped us to forgive others in the same way He’s forgiven us: lavishly, powerfully, completely.
And that ability to forgive others? No doubt about it, it’s something that Christ commissioned and empowered His followers to do through the power of the Holy Spirit.
In John 20:22-23, the resurrected Jesus breathes upon the disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He commissions them like this: “If you forgive anyone who has sinned, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (Or as The Message version renders this last statement, “If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”)
Think about this: Jesus was saying that the work He’d been doing for three years on earth—forgiving, healing, restoring—was meant to continue through us, His Holy-Spirit-enabled followers. Paul calls it “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18), and it’s part of every believer’s calling.
We are not called to overlook sin—our own or anyone else’s. We don’t just pat sin on the back and pretend it’s something else. Christ has made a way to deal with sin through His cross. Neither are we called to withhold forgiveness as a way of punishing others and extracting revenge. Both of those attitudes leave us suffocating in the burial shroud of unforgiveness.
What we are called to do is to move in courage and power to live the life of forgiveness and grace, rejoicing in it for ourselves, extending it to others, and helping them find that same freedom. If you, like me, got a little “stuck” in living out that calling this week, then let’s start by preaching to ourselves that good news and running full speed into the waiting arms of Jesus so we can “receive mercy and grace in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).