I have spent some months at the end of this year frustrated about a relationship with a family member that had gone badly. I'd done my best to help with a problem and it hadn't been well received and there was a lingering resentment on the other side that I hadn't done it "right." I felt sick over the whole thing, but kept thinking I would just have to wait it out. I prayed about it regularly, hoping God would show me the way to improve things, but mostly thinking that it wasn't my fault and that the fix would have to be on the other side.
Of course, I found out that I was wrong. It was my fault. Much of the problem was my need for the solution to the problems in the relationship being on someone else, and wanting to be the one in the position to forgive rather than being forgiven. I've learned it before, but somehow I had to learn again that when there is something wrong, it is almost never the other person's fault and wanting it to be is part of my own need to not have to do any work in changing myself.
I don't like to change. I really don't. I don't like any kind of change. I don't even like vacations because they take me out of my regular, comfortable routine. And the worst kind of change is an inner change when I have to poke around and rearrange things, throw some old things out and put some new, better things inside there, as if I were rebuilding an old piece of furniture, except that I have no idea what the finished product is supposed to look like, let alone what it's supposed to do. Only that it isn't supposed to do what I thought it was supposed to do or what I had been trying to make it do.
Christ talked about how easy it is for us humans to see the mote in someone else's eye and how difficult it is for us to see the beam in our own eyes. What this means is that we enjoy sitting around and talking about other people's problems, which seem so clear to us, and we don't like to spend time thinking about or doing anything about our own much larger problems, which we often can't even see. Pointing the finger at someone else is a reflex, but it's one that protects us from the growth necessary to become better, more Christian people.
When we talk about forgiveness in church, I think we often imagine that it's about one person saying "I'm sorry" and the other person saying "It's OK, I forgive you and love you," and then moving on. And while there are definitely situations in which one person is wronged and the other person is the victim (I don't mean to give excuses to abusers here), it's also true that for me, it's usually more complicated than that.
What real forgiveness is about is complete change, about taking all the motes and beams out of our eyes and other people's eyes and seeing TRULY, as Christ would see. Instead of looking at problems, maybe we will see love and acceptance. Instead of viewing the world in terms of "us" and "them," maybe we can see ourselves as equally in need of help.
Forgiveness is less about a trial where there is a defendant and a prosecutor, where we're looking to see a number figure at the end of the day that defines exactly who holds exactly how much blame, and more about a revolution in our way of thinking and seeing and loving in this world. We're all to blame and we're all in need of change, whether we know it or not.
Being caught in a system of seeing one person as the "broken" one or the person who needs to be "fixed" is a backward way of thinking. It's being caught in the story of the debtor who is forgiven 10,000 talents and then goes around trying to collect on a much smaller debt because he hasn't given up the idea of debt and payment. So long as we're stuck in that system, the parable teaches us that we're going to end up in prison, because that's the only place people who see the world in black and white terms can go. We're sending ourselves there if we can't stop blaming and seeing fault.
Who knows, maybe this time I've really understood what forgiveness is and how giving it to others means giving it to myself and changing the whole system of exchange so that it's not about debt, but about love.