FAITH AND VALUES: Forgiveness can heal alienation
Those who are a little older will remember the Andrews Sisters, a popular singing group of World War II days. Between 1939 and 1951 they had 46 “Top 10” records, and they appeared in 22 movies. Several years ago they were honored with a star on the sidewalk of Hollywood Boulevard.
When the two surviving sisters appeared for the ceremony, it was the first time they had spoken to each other in 13 years. They admitted to reporters of the Los Angeles Times an estrangement which had separated them for more than 30 years.
There was harmony in their music but bitterness in their personal relationship.
This is not a rarity. Many families, perhaps more than is commonly realized, suffer from similar alienation. During my ministry there has been hardly a week when I did not encounter some expression of this malady.
There were parents who cut off children when the offspring did not follow their wishes; adults who withheld affection from aging parents; siblings who could never shake off childhood rivalry and found new cause when as estate was being settled.
Among the saddest things is to see the living try to tell the dead that which should have been spoken earlier – words of affection, confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Equally tragic was when a friend refused to attend the funeral of his own father, and to this day will not admit that his brother (who had reconciled with their father) is his brother.
Two things necessary in all relationships, especially within the family, are love and forgiveness. To love is to forgive again and again – not seven times or seventy times but as often as needed.
When John Wesley was serving as a missionary in Georgia's first English colony in Savannah, he interceded with General Oglethorpe, seeking forgiveness for a man accused of wrongdoing.
Oglethorpe replied sharply, “I never forgive!”
Wesley responded quickly, “Then, sir, I hope you never sin.”
Dr. Wesley was referring, of course, to the encouragement Christ made when teaching his disciples to pray: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive other their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).
When we refuse to forgive others, we burn the bridge over which we ourselves must pass.
The causes of alienation in human relationships are multiple – varying viewpoints, differing priorities, unthinking hurts, implacable wrongs, selfish seeking, and intentional slights.
For all of these the cure is the same – the willingness to forgive and to accept forgiveness; and as much as possible, to love and care.
Dr. Robert J. McCracken became famous as the pastor of the Riverside Church in New York. However, in one of his earlier churches he had a terrible time with an elderly spinster who did not like him and told everyone she did not like him. Finally, he decided he had to go talk to her to see why she was so opposed to him. He paced back and forth in front of her building, trying to work up courage to go in. Finally, he knocked on the door, hoping she would not be home.
No one came to the door, so he knocked again. Hearing a noise, he knelt down and looked through the keyhole and to his surprise he saw an eye staring at him. With a chuckle, the woman remarked, “Pastor, this is the first time we have seen eye to eye.” “Yes,” he replied, “and we had to get down on our knees to do it.”
We need to enter the no-man's land between ourselves and others to speak and to receive the potentially magical, healing words, “I am sorry.... Please forgive me.... I forgive you.... I accept your forgiveness.”
Even if rejected, you can live with clearer conscience. And if accepted, you can know the real joy of reconciliation.
Dr. Fred Andrea is the pastor of Aiken's First Baptist Church.