Church in my study today I found this and felt compelled to share. It is the most common affliction that robs our Joy so needlessly.
Unforgiveness. I pray "Dear Sarah" will help those that struggle with that self inflicted pain. Pastor Tom
Why Christmas? Why did Jesus come? For people like Sarah....
Dear Sarah: A Letter About Forgiveness at Christmastime
Pastor Ray Pritchard
(A few days ago I received a letter that took over a month to finally reach me. It came from someone I have never met. Because of the unusual nature of the letter, I began to think about the question, “What does forgiveness mean at Christmastime?” This week’s message is actually the letter I wrote to her. To protect her privacy, I have changed her name. I am passing it along because many people struggle with hard questions of forgiveness. In this case, “Sarah” waited too long to forgive. What do you do then?)
December 14, 2006
Although you wrote me over a month ago, your letter did not reach me until a few days ago. Thank you for writing and sharing your story with me. It is quite unlike any other letter I have ever received. After I read it, I thought about it for a while because the question you raise is very challenging:
How can you let somebody know you still love them and forgive them, and you’re sorry and live with it every day, when they’ve gone to be with the Lord?
I know from your letter that you are over 80 years old, and that your husband died eleven years ago. The two of you were married for 49 years. But there was an issue of forgiveness that stood between the two of you. This is how you put it:
There really wasn’t anything to forgive, only a little white lie he told over 48 years ago.
And then you add: “We had a great marriage.” I do not doubt you when you say, “I loved him dearly.”
You didn’t say what the white lie was, and after so many years, perhaps it doesn’t really matter. Perhaps he did something foolish and then tried to cover it up. Or maybe he didn’t tell the whole truth about something. But whatever it was, it must have really bothered you because as you said, “I didn’t let it go.” You made a very human mistake, one that all of us have made many times. You held on to whatever it was. Forty-eight years is a long time to hold on to a “little white lie.”
But the hardest part, the saddest part, comes next:
“He asked me to forgive him two weeks before he passed, and I wouldn’t say the words. I grieve every day that I didn’t forgive him. I would have but he passed suddenly.”
Now your dear husband has gone to heaven to be with the Lord. And you are haunted by the memory, not of his “little white lie,” but of your unforgiving spirit. As a result, you are still carrying the burden of what you wish you had done but didn’t do. That brings me to your bottom line:
“I know that at over 80, I could go any time. I just need to know the Lord will forgive me. And where to look in the Bible. This is urgent.”
You are right on all counts. You could die at any moment. And you do need to know if the Lord will forgive you. And you need to know what the Bible says about this matter.
Finally, I note that you even enclosed a stamp so it would be easy for me to answer your letter. That touched my heart. I would have answered anyway, but I’m going to use your stamp when I send this letter back to you.
Your letter illustrates a truth that is as old as mankind. Generally speaking, as we look back on life, our greatest remorse comes not from the things we did, but from the things we didn’t do that we should have done. I have often thought that there is no pain greater than a self-inflicted wound.
Others rarely hurt us as deeply as we hurt ourselves. And sometimes the pain comes, not from foolish things we did or said, but from a time when we could have shown kindness but didn’t, when we could have shown mercy but were harsh instead, when we could have reached out to someone in need but turned and walked away. As we journey through life, all of us end up with a long list of things that we wish we had done differently.
Often our deepest pain comes from knowing that we should have forgiven when we had the chance, but we didn’t do it, we let things fester, we nursed our grudges, we hung on to remembered hurts, and we ended up the loser because the time comes when we can no longer say to someone we loved, “I forgive you. It’s over. By God’s grace, I have put it behind me. Let’s move on from here together.” I know you wish you had said that to your dear husband.
Your letter is like a modern-day version of the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35. It’s all about a man who had been forgiven an enormous debt being unwilling to forgive a small debt owed to him. The shock of the story is that he was so unforgiving after having received such mercy himself. The man ended up being thrown in jail until he paid all that he owed. Jesus applied the story to his disciples in verse 35: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
You have already experienced this at a very personal level.
Jesus told this story in order to impress us with several truths: First, the greatness of God’s forgiveness. Second the enormity of our own sins. Third, the relative lightness of the sins of others against us. Fourth, the simplicity of forgiveness. Fifth, the danger of an unforgiving spirit.You see, we are like the unforgiving servant. We stand before Almighty God with our sins piled up like a mountain. The mountain is so tall we can’t get over it, so deep we can’t get under it, so wide we can’t go around it. That’s every one of us. Our sins are like a $25 million dollar debt we could never pay in our lifetime or in a thousand lifetimes. We come as debtors to God, come with empty hands and say, “I cannot pay.” And God who is rich in mercy says, “I forgive all your sins. My Son has paid the debt. You owe me nothing.”