One early fall afternoon, I remember sitting at my elementary school desk feeling disappointed because my second-grade-best-friend and I were separated by a single chair in math class. At the time, I believed it was a personal injustice. In reality, I was probably talking too much and thus the separation was a consequence. However, I remember my disappointment blended with my feisty spirit and I made a joke, calling the innocent bystander seated between us an unkind name.
Little did I know that that single word would send him home that day in tears which would result in a phone call from his mother to mine. I can remember feeling immediate guilt as I realized the severity of my selfish action. I cried most of the night as I pulled out my construction paper and crayons and wrote a tear stained letter expressing my heartfelt apology and a dozen promises that I would never speak an unkind word again. I laid awake all night, mad at myself and terrified that this discomfort and anxiety would never go away if he would not forgive me. The next morning, both families met in the parking lot at the elementary school. Tears down my cheeks, card in hand, I apologized in person- fear, doubt, guilt and shame filled up my lungs until I could hardly breathe. And then he spoke three little words that I will never forget,
I forgive you.
And like that, I could breathe. I smiled, embraced my young friend and basked in the freedom it felt to be forgiven.
You cannot talk about forgiveness without talking about freedom. Sin creates a cage that limits our ability to experience joy, to live without fear, and to serve without guilt. Our sin is the lid to our potential because it is in sin that we are unqualified and undeserving. But Jesus removed that lid, called us qualified, made us deserving and paved a path of freedom for us to walk in. Jesus taught about freedom, He gave to us our freedom, and He calls us to do the same for others. If our forgiveness does not offer freedom, than we are doing it wrong.
The Gospel does not teach that freedom is a sacrifice, it teaches that in His sacrifice, there is freedom.
Luke records the powerful, heartbreaking story of Jesus’ death. Everytime I reach this story in the Gospel, my heart literally aches. Not because I do not remember the ending, but because it hurts to think of Jesus suffering and dying for me. I love Luke’s narration because he records that while Jesus hangs on the cross, while he is still being mocked, tortured and humiliated, he prays, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The line that immediately follows this reads, “And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.” Jesus gave forgiveness and brought authentic freedom to us while man was still mocking, torturing and humiliating Him. The soldiers were not changed immediately by Christ’ forgiveness of them on the cross, but Jesus still gave it to them.
So what does freedom look like in our forgiveness? Freedom is found when we forgive without conditions. It is found when we forgive before an apology is offered, and when we can promise that although, boundaries may need to be put into place, that both parties can walk in peace knowing that revenge, retaliation and grudges are all in past. Freedom is found when forgiveness is given in place of pay back. Freedom is found when both parties can move forward or to walk away released from the past and headed toward the future. Freedom is an invitation to the cross to fill the gap that sin created. Freedom puts the Gospel message into action. Freedom comes when we choose to forgive.