I come from a family of immigrants. We can trace grandparents arriving through Ellis Island in the 1920’s and 1930’s. All four were incredibly proud of their heritage and passed that pride along to their children. But my mother, much to the shock of her four incredibly overprotective brothers, did not marry a fellow Italian. She married my very Hungarian father. My mother hailed from a family of eight siblings, and they were a close- knit group. It did not take them long however, to welcome this 6’2”, red haired, fun loving, adventurous, family man right into their hot pepper eating contests. Each side of my family loved the other. Mom lost her parents prior to my entrance into the world. Before she passed, my Italian grandmother asked my Hungarian grandmother to care for her youngest daughter. Nana did, she embraced my mom and lavished all of us with her brand of Hungarian love.
But it is the Italian side of my heritage that I identify with. I cannot explain it; it just is. I think it is the passion that my Italian family embraced life with. One of my favorite childhood memories is a family reunion where we made a 16mm home movie version of The Godfather before Francis Ford Coppola stole our idea. Both sides of the family were there, and the only remaining 12 minutes of the original scratchy, far from perfect video is a family treasure. The memory of that weekend reminds me of the stereotypically wonderful things of Italians: gathering the entire family, love, laugher, time spent together doing the silliest of things and just enjoying one another. But there were some parts of the movie that my Hungarian grandmother pointed out to me needed to be ignored. She did not agree with “Don Corleone” that revenge was the answer, and she taught me that forgiveness was the better option than to carry a grudge or get even at all costs.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that love keeps no record of wrongs. I was challenged once to exchange God’s name every time the word “love” was used in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. God keeps no record of wrongs. This form of record keeping is the very basis of forgiveness. Not keeping count of wrongs allows us to start the process of forgiveness, and not counting those wrongs keeps us from taking up the issue again once forgiveness has been extended.
If we are honest, we depend on this kind of forgiveness from God daily – well, at least I do. It is the very essence of the gospel. God promises in Psalm 103:12 to remove my sin “as far as the east is from the west”. This truth is why I can approach God with confidence. It is this promise that assures me I will find mercy and grace when I approach him, not shame and guilt. I can only imagine the damage it would do to my relationship with him and my view of myself, if I thought my wrong doing was the lens that God used when he looks at me. But to his glory, it is not; the cross took care of that. When he looks at me, he sees Jesus.
I absolutely understand why Paul tells us to not keep a record of wrongs. It changes how we view people. It sets up barriers to fellowship, to intimacy, and most importantly, to forgiveness. Jesus tells Peter that we are to forgive 7 times 70 times. Jesus, when teaching us to pray, said, “forgive us as we forgive others.” He knew our default position would be to remember everything anyone had ever done against us and make them pay. Make them hurt as they hurt us rather than forgive as we have been forgiven.
We are not to keep a record of wrongs. Yet we do. We allow people’s failures to define them. We let those mistakes keep us from believing that life change can and has happened in their lives. We refuse to see the good and often believe the worst. We view them through the lens of what they have done to us. It is so self-centered. It is so opposite of what Jesus taught. It is the complete opposite of what we want people to do to us. Yet we do it.
I have learned some things about forgiveness, and most come back to this concept of not keeping a record of wrong. I have seen all too often how a lack of forgiveness has kept people in the endless cycle of sadness, despair and anger. They recount the injury, injustice or betrayal over and over in their minds. They become caught in an endless loop of pain because they refuse to transform their minds. We looked at the power of a transformed mind in Romans 12:2. Without a decision to replace that running record of wrong with a recounting of God’s goodness in our lives, this cycle will never end.
Forgiveness does not happen overnight. It is a process. I have found a great place to start is following the words of Paul found in Phil 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Imagine the transformative power of this kind of lens. It is not easy when we have been hurt, but refusing to do so only allows the pain to continue. Forgiveness is not for others; it is for us. It allows us to be free of our past and to live fully engaged in our present. It is a source of peace for our souls.
A fellow teacher once told me that you know you have forgiven someone when you can pray the same blessing on them as you pray for those you love the most. Man, that is a high standard. Forgiveness is refusing to let the evil one have a foothold of bitterness in your life. I have also been told “not forgiving is like someone drinking poison and expecting the other person to die from it.” I have seen too many broken lives from drinking the poison of unforgiveness, lives defined by hard hearts. Too many lives wasted living in the past refusing to let go of past hurts. Too many bitter spirits that block the light of a life living out the gospel. God has modeled what forgiveness looks like; we need to walk in it.
My sweet Hungarian grandmother did not have an easy life, but she knew joy. She modeled daily how to look for the best in people, to overlook deep flaws and deep hurts. She taught me that if we refuse to look for beauty, beauty would be wasted. She was not a doormat, but she also knew that forgiveness was better than revenge. She showered her “enemies” with love and walked in the knowledge that she had done her part in making the relationship right. In contrast, I have some cousins unable to carry on a conversation without recounting everything anyone has ever done to them. It saps the joy from every encounter with them. It breaks my heart that is their world view.
There is power in forgiveness. We can stop the enemy in his tracks by offering and asking for forgiveness. When a watching world sees a believer walking in the knowledge that their God has freely forgiven them, and they therefore, freely forgive…is there a more powerful image on earth to point someone to the cross? That kind love is irresistible!
Tracey Paradis and her husband Jim live in King of Prussia. Tracey serves as the Director of Women’s Ministry at Hope Community Church and does her best to fill her days with people, ministry, and at least one bout of uncontrollable laughter.