In the years that Steve and I were responsible for the Pastoral Care of our Congregation, we were well aware that our wisdom would never be enough to do the job. We didn't want to just give advice. We wanted to open doors of understanding through God's Word.
Thankfully, we didn't have to rely on our own ability to do that. No matter what the situation, the Holy Spirit was there to show us what to do or say, and when it came to *Chris that was even more important.
Chris was an intelligent young woman who managed to combine a delightful sense of humour with a deep and probing need to uncover the workings of her heart. Add to that the willingness to be almost surgically honest and it was quite a mixture, particularly when it came to counselling. With Chris I knew that I always had to stay on my toes and listen intently, both to what she was saying as well as to the gentle whispers of the Holy Spirit.
Almost from the time Chris gave her life to Jesus, we were aware that there were many issues in her life which caused her pain and that most of these stemmed from difficult relationships, both past and present. Although she made great leaps and bounds in her new life in Christ, the shadow of these painful relationships always seemed to be lurking over what was an otherwise very bright future.
Eventually the day came when she was ready to deal with the unforgiveness she had toward those who had hurt her in the past and in typical Chris fashion, came to see me with her best "let's get down to business" attitude.
Not surprisingly, she also had her latest Christian reading material, which was absolutely bulging at the seams with post-it notes. The book was all about being able to forgive and had been exactly the right spur to move Chris to the point she was now at.
I listened carefully as she began to share what she'd discovered in the book and how she now wanted to get rid of the burden of unforgiveness that she'd been carrying.
Finally I asked one simple question, "Chris, who is it that you're having trouble forgiving?"
I could think of at least two people that she would mention, but wasn't prepared for what happened next.
Again, in her typical "no nonsense" way, Chris pulled a large piece of note paper out of the book and unfolded the sheet on her lap. There in her neat handwriting was a two page list of people who had "done her wrong".
This was much bigger than I'd anticipated and although I knew what had to be said, I started to pray for God's wisdom as to the best way to say it!
I decided to start small and build up.
"Okay, who on that list do you think you can forgive right now?"
With great seriousness Chris began to methodically work through the list and with her totally matter of fact manner, weighed each of the guilty parties and judged whether or not pardon should be granted.
As I listened to her reasoning, I was amazed at how seemingly trivial some of the grievances were. Yet, it didn't really matter what I thought of them. Each name on the list carried the memory of at least one painful moment in this dear lady's life.
Finally, with about half of the list members excused, Chris looked up to wait for my next suggestion. Taking a deep breath I started to say what God had put on my heart.
"Chris, the most important thing you have to do right now is ask God to forgive you for having that list."
Her eyes widened just a little as she sat back in surprise. This wasn't what she'd expected at all. Even the book had advised writing a list, yet here I was telling her that she was the one who needed to ask for forgiveness.
"You have to understand that God holds no record of wrongdoing against you," I continued gently as the light of understanding began to shine in her eyes. "I'm awfully glad that He isn't like us, but the fact is that He expects us to forgive others in the same way."
Chris looked down at the paper in her hands as I opened her Bible and asked, "Do you know the parable Jesus told of the unmerciful servant?"
I then shared the story of the man whose Master had shown him unconditional mercy and grace by forgiving him of his enormous debt (Matthew 18:21-35). The debt was completely cancelled, to the immense relief of the servant.
Yet, this same man walked straight out the door and immediately met another servant who owed him a very small amount. When he found out that the money couldn't be repaid, he ignored the other man's cries for mercy and had him thrown into prison.
When news got back to the Master, he called the servant in and said, "You wicked servant ... I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?"
The punishment that the Master then meted out was far beyond that which had originally been required and, in fact, made it totally impossible for the amount ever to be repaid.
Jesus left his listeners with this sobering statement:
Reaching over to take Chris' hand, I gave it a gentle squeeze and said, "I know it isn't going to be easy and I know it may not all happen overnight. But we need to be asking God for the ability to forgive those who've hurt us; and then be prepared to actually do it."
As a final suggestion, I took the list and placed it on the open page of the parable, then closed the cover. "The next time you feel unforgiveness toward any of these people and want to start chewing on that list, you'll have to open your Bible to this page to get it. The reminder of Jesus' words should be enough to make you think again."
It was a quite different person who left our house that day. The wall of bitterness wasn't completely broken down, but some very large bricks had been removed.
As Chris worked with the Holy Spirit in the months ahead, He gave her the strength to let go of all the stored up anger and resentment which had not just been crippling her emotionally for years, but had also been physically and spiritually debilitating as well.
In their place He put a deep well of compassion, which has been a constant source of inspiration to me ever since. Today, Chris is one of the first to reach out and minister to those who are in pain or hardship; and she does it without a second thought.
For this dear lady, the days of being a reflection of the servant in the parable are long gone and I would imagine that the same is true for that infamous list. Now Chris is a wonderful reflection of her loving and gracious Master. In fact, now she's a quite beautiful example of what it means to be a merciful servant!
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