From the Eyes of a Chaplain

To be Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.~ C.S. Lewis

I sat at his bedside listening as my patient shared stories of his life, family, and friends. The stories were short and few, a representation of the relationships he claimed while lying on his bed of affliction. Days would come and go but visitors would not. He would share cold memories of an estranged brother. His eyes were dark and laden with sadness and regret.

One warm and sunny afternoon while sitting with my patient, the reality of coming face-to-face with the end of his life ignited his desire to seek reconciliation with his brother. Unfortunately, his brother did not have the same change of heart. He refused the opportunity for reconciliation and chose not to forgive. While my patient forgave his brother and found peace, his brother lacked peace and calm and exhibited levels of anxiety and fluster in my presence. My patient’s brother did not understand that the death of his brother would neither relieve him of the need to forgive nor erase the consequences of unforgiveness.

The previous scenario happened at various levels and degrees throughout my two-year residency as a Hospice Chaplain. While offering emotional and spiritual support for patients and their families, I would often encounter individuals and families who were struggling with unresolved conflict, anger, and broken relationships.

I heard many stories from spouses, parents and children who, for reasons they sometimes could not recall, had ceased to communicate with each other. Often times, harboring levels of resentment and bitterness, families struggled to connect during one of the most difficult moments a family would share–the death of a loved one. At the root of most of the discord and relationship issues was unforgiveness. What should we know about forgiving and unforgiveness?

Forgive All and For Everything

The New Testament apostle Paul addressed the church at Colosse on how to live a Christian life. He tells them to “Be gentle and forbearing with one another and, if one has a difference (a grievance or complaint) against another, readily pardoning each other; even as the Lord has

[freely] forgiven you, so must you also [forgive]” Colossians 3:13.
Forgive. Forgive for all things. Forgive at all times. Forgive every time. We are commanded by God to forgive everyone for any and everything. Matthew 6:14 says, “For if you forgive people their trespasses [their reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go, and giving up resentment]; your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”  To forgive may not always be the easiest thing to do, but it is not an option for the Christian believer. Perhaps you struggle with forgiving someone who offended or betrayed you. Perhaps you are praying and asking God to soften your heart toward the individual that caused you so much pain and heartache. Or, perhaps you are the one that needs to be forgiven. You may have already made a phone call or a visit to offer forgiveness. But what do you do if you find the person you need to forgive is no longer among the living?

The Love of Father

You may question why you would need to forgive someone after they have died. Death does not cancel the command to forgive. I learned this firsthand several years ago as God was preparing me for ministry. Following my Morning Prayer, I sat down to write the names of several individuals who were coming to mind. Not knowing why I was writing the names, I wrote until I was prompted to stop. Looking at the list I noted names of people who bullied me during my early teen years. But what caught my attention was the name of a relative who died several years ago.
Praying.I made a decision that day to forgive every person on my list. It did not matter what they had done or how they had hurt me. Most of the offenses occurred during my childhood, and now decades later they mattered to God. What mattered to me was that my condition was important enough to God that He took the time to show me. God was not as concerned about what had been done to me as much as He was about my response to it. At that moment I recognized God wanted to change my heart. He wanted to heal me of the hurt and rejection I suffered at the hands of others, and He wanted me to forgive them.

Far greater than the offenses was my unforgiveness toward the offenders. Until that day I was unaware of the unforgiveness in my heart, but God knew. I gained a new understanding that day about forgiveness.

Forgiveness is more than saying I am sorry. It is a desire for a changed heart. It is loving others unconditionally beyond their good, bad and ugly. Regardless of the degree of betrayal or level of pain and suffering, forgiveness is not an option.  Not even after the death of the offender.

A Desire for Change

So how do you forgive someone when that someone is no longer around to hear you utter the words of forgiveness or experience the forgiveness you offer? I believe the first step is to ask for God’s forgiveness for harboring unforgivegness, and then to choose to forgive the one who hurt you. You must be willing to forgive others. Forgiveness is not based on a feeling. Feelings are real but at times irrational and unpredictable. You cannot put your trust in them.

In offering forgiveness we are forgiven (Matthew 6:12). The one who forgives understands how much he has been forgiven. When we freely choose to obey the word of God, we avail ourselves of His attention and He is available to help us in the most difficult situation. God is the strength we need to accomplish all challenges in life.

After making the decision to forgive, the next step is to purposely and passionately seek and trust God for a changed heart. When we have unforgiveness against others, we need a cleansing of the heart (Psalm 51:10). We all need a heart that is soft, tender and loving toward others. Praying for God to change an unforgiving heart is a powerful prayer that God is just waiting to answer.

 Choosing Life

Is there a deceased parent or grandparent who abused or neglected you? What about a friend who died prematurely before saying they were sorry for hurting you? Have you stopped speaking to a neighbor or co-worker because of malicious gossip that defamed your character?

Pray and ask God today if there is someone you need to forgive. You are the beneficiary when you forgive others. You will begin to experience peace in your life the same way my patient experienced peace after forgiving his brother. Growing in faith and in our relationship with God and others are benefits of forgiveness. Refusing to forgive invites the work of the enemy into our lives. It creates a breathing ground for spiritual, physical, mental and emotional conditions which include, but are not limited to, ungratefulness, bitterness, stress, high blood pressure, premature aging, and depression. Choosing not to forgive others is like choosing a death sentence. Choose this day to LIVE and FORGIVE!

All scripture are taken from the Amplified Version.