By Reverend Amanda
On Monday, when the kids and I got home the first thing we did was empty lunchboxes and then we went on the playground. Those kids sleep so much better when they have had time to run. Maddie was playing on the rock-climbing wall and Isaac had found a stick and was running around with it. This was a problem because that stick he found was the stick that Maddie likes to play with. This led to a meltdown on the playground. She did not want to wait her turn. She did not want to play with her brother and when he went off and found her another stick she was having none of it.
She cried and yelled at her brother. Ultimately, this led to everyone going inside and no one having the stick. After calming herself down, I sat down with her and explained that no one owns the sticks outside and that we need to be nice to our brother if we want them play with us. It is not ok to yell and scream at the people we love. We can get mad but then we need to sit down and work things out. She then apologized to her little brother and gave him a hug and kiss. They then ran off to watch Paw Patrol together.
The interactions between siblings are such a wonderful way to understand how we are called to live in relationship with one another. We are called to be loving and forgiving, respectful and kind, even when we are frustrated and battling feelings of jealousy and rivalry, even when we disagree with choices and actions. We are now over half way through the season of lent and it is time to really contemplate the idea of forgiveness in relationships. It is time to meditate on the opportunity that Christ has afforded to each of us through his acts of forgiveness in our lives.
None of us are perfect in our faiths, in our relationships, or in our general interactions in public. But we can rest assured that like the father in the prodigal son, God has already forgiven us and waits for us to return to his embrace seeking healing and freedom from our mistakes. God urges us to afford the same forgiveness to others in our lives as the father urged the older son. In doing so, we are not excusing inexcusable behavior but rather we are recognizing the humanity of other people and we are freeing ourselves from a prison of hate and bitterness caused by long burning anger. Lewis Smede reminds us, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you”.1
How we forgive, how we love, how we allow for healing matters in this world. It matters for our spiritual well-being, our emotional well-being, and for our search for happiness in life. How we interact with those who are closest to us impacts and shapes how we interact in the world. We are called to take our inspiration from Christ and to live forgiven and forgiving lives. In our society, we often hear stories about how people pay it forward when someone does something kind for them. Forgiveness is the same concept. Because we have received the ultimate gift of love and forgiveness in Christ, he asks us to live into that forgiveness by embracing its healing freedom and affording others that same opportunity.
The parable of the prodigal son has so much to teach us about love and forgiveness. Not from the flawless way that the father forgave his younger son but rather from the way that urged the older son to come to forgiveness. None of us can forgive as the father because that is divine forgiveness. But we all can learn and benefit from the act of forgiveness by trying to step out of our rivalries and our own life choices to see the humanity and suffering of the other person and actively deciding not to give power to negative emotion, to accept the love and freedom of the act of forgiveness. This doesn’t necessarily mean that one should be reconciled to those who have harmed us. But it does mean giving up on the anger, an anger that drains us of energy and can prevent us from truly connecting with one another and with God.
So, this week let us remember the words of the father to the eldest son when he said, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”2 Then when thinking about our own interactions with family, friends, and strangers remember to take the time to view the situation from the other person’s perspective, it just might help to bring you to offer forgiveness and to free your soul from the burden and entrapment of bitterness and grudges. In the scripture lesson, the father, who represents God, offers to free both of his sons through a single act of forgiveness, forgiveness for the youngest which freed him from self-imposed judgment and forgiveness for the eldest which offered to free him from years of bitterness against his younger and somewhat irresponsible brother. He offers to do the same for us, too. We only need to accept forgiveness as a way of life and see how freeing that forgiveness can be.
1 Lewis Smede, Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve, September 2007
2 Luke 15:31-32, NRSV