I don’t know about you, but I’ve said and done stupid and hurtful things to other people, things I wish I could unsay or undo. Unfortunately, that’s not possible; once it’s said or done, it’s “out there” and it can’t be brought back in. I’ve damaged several relationships, some, perhaps, beyond repair. I’ve broken trusts that have taken years to restore, and some have yet to be restored. As I consider each of those situations–some weigh heavily on my mind–I wonder whether I can be forgiven by the people I’ve hurt. I have been blessed many times to have been forgiven by some of those people, whether I’ve asked for forgiveness or they’ve offered it without my asking, but there are still some whom I must seek out and others of whom I am afraid to ask. Perhaps you can relate to that?

Of course there are those others who have wronged me, and I must confess that forgiveness isn’t always at the front of my mind when I think about them. Can you relate to that, too?

How “funny” it is when we think about the people we have wronged and can only hope that they will forgive us, but when we think of those who have wronged us, forgiveness doesn’t come so easily or quickly. On one hand we might beg for forgiveness, longing for the relief it brings, but on the other hand, we withhold forgiveness for the simple reason that it might prolong the other person’s suffering, as if they must continue to pay on a debt.

In Ephesians 4:32 Paul writes: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Often we think of this command as a matter of “got to,” as in, “Well, Jesus did it for me; so I guess I’ve got to do it for you….” But Paul shows us that this is a matter of kindness and compassion. How would any of us feel if the people we have wronged throughout our lives told us we were forgiven, but only because they had to? Would you feel forgiven?

Rather than forgiving others under compulsion by God, we must forgive with the same attitude that Christ had when he forgave us, with kindness and compassion. That’s more than a canceled debt; it’s a restored relationship.