Jesus talked a lot about forgiveness.
Forgiveness is essential to being a whole person and can be remarkably difficult to do.
Most people who try to follow the teachings of Jesus have gotten the message that God is forgiving just because God is, well, God.
God forgives us before we can even begin to feel remorse.
God won’t withhold forgiveness, even in response to our uneven records of forgiving others.
It’s very hard to forgive someone who has injured us deeply. But even for those who have made forgiving a habitual practice, there often remains one-act of forgiveness that continues to elude them. They cannot forgive themselves.
In other words, somewhere deep within a voice is muttering that they do not measure up. And they don’t know how to silence that voice.
I get that. I’ve been there.
I’ve struggled with shame. And while I have worked on, and am still working on, forgiving myself for specific things done and left undone in my past, I have needed a different strategy to silence the shame-voice within me.
Deep within, this voice of shame continued to mutter about my flaws and inadequacies for many years.
For a long time, I tried to ignore it.
I was consumed with shame for a divorce that happened over 25 years ago.
I lost my ministry and I placed myself on the sideline.
While I know and accept forgiveness, I still sit on that sideline, while I see others who have been able to move on from their divorce and get involved in ministry.
But make no mistake, I am grateful for the life I have lived.
From the perspective of dealing with shame, life is a growth process. God continues to reveal things that I have buried deep in the recesses of my heart. He reveals these things so that I can deal with them properly and in the context of His forgiveness.
It has only been the last few years that I have been able to take communion.
I am growing, even after all these years.
Again… life is a growth process.
A messy and imperfect, frequently beautiful, sometimes terrible growth process. And, crucially, we are not alone in the growing. God is in it with us, not sitting back and waiting for us to hammer ourselves into an acceptable shape.
Jesus put it this way:
A man noticed that one of his fig trees wasn’t bearing fruit. He wanted to chop it down, but his gardener talked him out of it. “Look,” says the gardener, “let’s work with the tree and give it some time. Believe it or not, this tree will grow right through all the manure that gets heaped on it.”
Notice that the gardener does whatever it takes to promote the fig tree’s growth and fruitfulness.
In other words, God is up to the divine elbows making something for us from life’s manure… the very stuff of new life.
That includes a life… including my life… worth living, even if it, in the back of my mind has been covered in the manure of shame.
That’s what God has done in my life, specifically in the case of my divorce. I am not grateful for the shame. But I am grateful for my life—with my admittedly on-again, off-again participation— that God has made of it.
For the past few months, I’ve been experiencing gratitude in a way that’s new for me. It’s changing me. I’m grateful to be alive. I’m grateful for this life.
When we accept ourselves as imperfect, we open ourselves to the love and the life that will help us grow.