On a regular basis during the summertime, I have a conversation with a certain person. We chat about the weather, his work, my work, his family, his stress level and so on–or we chat as best we can given that I tend to see him at his work and have to chat between customers. Our time is therefore limited but it is always cordial, friendly, unforced and feels genuine. It is the kind of conversation that I have with a lot of people whom I know, one of those pleasant times that are appreciated as much as a cool drink on a hot day.
But when I reflect on these particular conversations, I am always a bit surprised and wonder what is going on. This person and I have a very unpleasant history which at one point involved his leading a campaign that ended with my resignation from the church and spending about half an hour at a church business meeting pointing out all the real and imagined deficiencies and weaknesses and even sins in my ministry after I had resigned. I am pretty sure that the trauma of that whole thing has affected our youngest and his understanding of the church in a negative way. At the time, I felt betrayed, attacked and even persecuted. I am pretty sure he felt the same thing. When the dust settled, I was given a second call to serve the congregation and he and a few others departed.
I am pretty sure that I was the wronged party in the process and therefore was the one with the obligation to offer forgiveness. My guess is that he was pretty sure that he was the one wronged and therefore should be offering me forgiveness. On my better days, I am pretty sure that we both did each other wrong and both have an obligation to forgive and be forgiven. Both of us are somewhat strong-willed (which, of course, was part of the underlying problem) and so neither of us has ever yet asked for or spoken of forgiveness.
But every summer, we talk and my sense is that it is a genuine talk on both our parts. He could avoid talking by focusing on work and I could avoid talk by altering my path just a bit. But I don’t alter my path and he takes the time to talk. I realized a while ago that I like him and enjoy talking with him. I doubt that I would be jumping up and down with happiness if he were to join one of the congregations I pastor but I could probably deal with it.
Did I forgive him or he forgive me? I have never consciously forgiven him, neither in my mind nor with words. I am not very good at reading minds so I don’t know if he has mentally forgiven me but I know he has never spoken the words of forgiveness.
But we talk and enjoy the talk. And so I have begun to think that maybe sometimes, forgiveness creeps into situations without either the forgiver or forgiven actually being aware of what is going on. Maybe some part of our being gets the message of forgiveness and the ability to forgive without it going through the logic circuits. Maybe the Holy Spirit actually does more in and through us than we realize at times.
As a counsellor, I generally teach and practise that we need to verbalize things to make them real–and yet it seems that to verbalize everything with my friend would be counterproductive. What we have works. There is a real concern and interest, a sense of respect and a lack of background tension. Somehow, we both seem to have let things go and maybe the talking we do is a tacit admission to each other that we have forgiven and been forgiven.
This is another of those great mysteries of the faith that I struggle with. I haven’t consciously forgiven or been forgiven but at the same time, I feel forgiven and feel I have forgiven. And the relationship shows evidence of that. We don’t see each other all that much but we do see each other and we don’t avoid each other and there is genuine interest and concern when we talk.
Did I forgive or get forgiven? Given the reality of the situation, I would have to say yes–but don’t ask me when or how because I have no idea.
May the peace of God be with you.