My friends among the Old Order Mennonites have a practice that is profound in its simplicity and yet incredible in its effect upon the members and their relationships. For those who may not know, Christians are admonished to “inasmuch as it is possible, be at peace with all” (and many of us really rely on that notwithstanding clause “inasmuch as it is possible”…)
Instead of having communion weekly or monthly the way many churches do, they have it only twice a year and treat it with an incredible importance. My Old Order Mennonite friends were shocked when they learned how communion is held in most churches.
“But you do at least have foot washing afterwards, right?”
Like I said, it’s a big deal.
Preparation for communion takes at least six weeks. They examine their relationships with every other church member – and work together to fix any problems, heal any rifts in relationships, come to agreements and, ultimately, find ways to be at peace with all. And yes, they do this twice a year before small problems become entrenched grudges.
In fact, this is so important that they talk about times when the communion was delayed in order to bring about reconciliation between two members. This makes for a tight-knit church full of people who have given and asked forgiveness. They have humbled themselves in front of each other and held each other up.
Society makes it a virtue to hold grudges and to not forgive people, to walk away from those who have wounded us, to treat relationships as disposable unless they are easy and effortless.
Christianity, though, is quite clear that we must forgive.
Even more clear, though, and even more opposed to society’s values, is a requirement that we proactively ask forgiveness of others.
Okay, there’s this bit that Jesus said – if you’re offering your gift at the altar and remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there and go be reconciled. In other words, you have trekked halfway across the country, spent days in preparation, purchased an expensive animal for sacrifice, and you remember that your neighbour is angry at you.
Not that you are mad at him, but that he is mad at you.
And so, Jesus says, drop everything, leave that expensive offering, trek all the way home, and go deal with that before you approach God.
Notice that there is nothing about forgiving others (although, yes, that’s covered in many other places). The emphasis is on asking forgiveness and reconciling when we know that another has something against us.
How often do we have a falling out with someone and, instead of proactively healing the rift, we justify our own failings by listing theirs?
“I didn’t start it! If she hadn’t bragged about how her little Simon was so superior, we’d still be friends.”
It is so much easier to just step back from conflict and let that person drift out of your life, isn’t it?
“Whatever. If he doesn’t want to talk to me, so what? I have plenty of other friends who aren’t so high maintenance!”
If you are looking for happiness and peace, stop seeking justice for all the wrongs done against you. Instead constantly seek ways to forgive, to beg forgiveness and to do what is necessary to gain forgiveness.
It goes against pretty much everything we are taught and shown in our world today, and I would be surprised at anyone who said they found it easy to accept our role in relationship problems and proactively seek forgiveness when we know we have committed an offense.
I certainly don’t!
Hey, perfection is something I will never claim, and most of these Plain Living challenges are going to be drawn from things that I struggle with all the time. Forgiveness is difficult – giving it and especially asking for it.
The first step to seeking forgiveness is to identify the offence. It may be an action or an attitude. Recognize that you have caused them emotional distress and …
Tell them. Let them know you understand you have caused them distress and harmed the relationship.
Specifically ask for forgiveness.
The response could be forgiveness, in which case sincerely thank them. They could state that it does not matter, in which case you should insist that it matters to you and you would like to have their forgiveness.
Unfortunately, some people will refuse forgiveness. Perhaps your apology came across as prideful and insincere. (“Look, I know you think I did that, but I didn’t, so could you forgive me?”) Perhaps the hurt has been too deep and long, and they need time to appreciate your sincerity. If all else fails, let them know that you will always be there if they are willing to forgive.
Among the Old Order Mennonites, there is a culture of forgiving and seeking forgiveness and so people are encouraged to be forthright with problems.
A huge problem in our culture, though, is that many people will simply remove themselves, physically or emotionally, instead of clearly and lovingly stating their grievances.
It is difficult, and sometimes impossible, to seek forgiveness, especially when someone removes themselves and will not be honest. In Ephesians, Paul tells us to “patiently put up with each other”, which is a delightful way of acknowledging that not every Christian is going to behave perfectly.
One point that I need to address quickly is that sometimes the named offense did not actually happen. In this case, it is impossible to honestly ask forgiveness for something you did not do. As long as you are absolutely positive that you are falsely accused, this is very different from asking forgiveness for something that you know you did.
Even to heal a relationship breach, I would not recommend admitting to, and asking forgiveness for, something you know you did not do.