Could you forgive the way that the father of the prodigal son forgives? Would you want to?
Last winter as things were really unravelling with the qxh (quasi-ex husband), I was, of course, very upset with him. I was considering at what point a couple could say that they had hit the point of no return. At what point would it be reasonable to say that I’d had enough and wasn’t going to consider trying to fix things anymore? To my horror, as I prayed God brought to mind the story of the prodigal son and challenged me to be like . . . the father. Really? Uh, that’s not for me. Tell me I’m the prodigal who needs to come home or tell me that I’m the older brother who needs to get over himself. But don’t tell me to run out to joyously meet someone who has willfully ripped my heart to shreds without even getting an apology and admission of wrongdoing first? Ugh.
I’m not kidding when I said I was horrified. Yet each night before dinner our family prays “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” When we pray that, it’s not just a quid-pro-quo: “I’ll forgive him and you’ll forgive me”. It’s also telling us that forgiving as God forgives is our goal. And God does forgive by running out and making a complete fool of himself to welcome back the wayward son. He doesn’t wait for us to grovel, to set up a payment plan, to promise on our lives never to do it again. He just says, “welcome back.” That’s a pretty high standard to try to live up to.
Of course, there’s a reason that I pray those words with my kids rather than just tell them to forgive as we are forgiven. It’s not something we humans can do ourselves – at least not in a healthy way. It really does require God to be working in us, softening our hearts, shifting our view and standing us up when we’d rather crumple. I cannot forgive like that of my own volition, but God in me can. If I will let him.
Have you ever forgiven something others might consider unforgivable? Do you know that you need to forgive someone or something, but are struggling? We cannot move freely through life bearing the burden of pain that comes from unforgiveness. The more awful the offense, the more the burden will grind you down. The more unforgivable the offense, the more punishing it is to you to have to carry. Why not ask God to help you put that burden down and rest?
Need some help? Here are two posts with some real, practical advice for how to forgive which can help you get started:
*Just a note: this is not a post to say that marriages must/can always be reconciled. As I have walked through these problems in my marriage, I have read so many things which made it sound like if only I would forgive or do this or do that, things could work. But it takes two. And some relationships are so unhealthy that they will destroy people. If the prodigal son were seen down the road carrying a bat and looking pissed off, his father probably wasn’t going to react quite the same way. This is a post about forgiveness, not marriage.