“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear” – Dr. Martin Luther King
Those who have followed my writing career for a while know that forgiveness is a huge part of my worldview and giant theme in my own life. I first learned about the concept of forgiveness when I converted to Christianity at the age of 14. Before then I had no real understanding of what it meant to forgive someone.
Learning that sin is not an act but a condition, and that Jesus’ sole purpose was to rescue us from that condition through the very act of forgiveness changed my life. In Christian circles it is cliche by now, but “forgive as you were first forgiven” is one of the most transformative commandments of the New Testament.
I grew up in rural Canada in the 1980s, where I faced a painful amount of bigotry and racism. I had a father who left me to fend for myself, a step-parent who deeply resented my very existence and a growing, burning, deep anger that I hid well from others but nonetheless consumed my very spirit. I have no doubt that had Christ not rescued me I would be in jail or dead today. I feel quite strongly about that.
The love of Christ was the catalyst for real change in my life, but forgiveness was the principle that propelled me toward real joy and prosperity. After years of living with racism and all its consequences, one would think I’ve come to master the idea of forgiveness. But years later as a grown woman with a husband and kids I still struggle with my own sense of entitlement and the need to see what I perceive to be justice.
There were the church “friends” who took advantage of us and our home. There were the new neighbors in California who didn’t want our kids to play together because we were black. There are the 1,001 tiny infractions of my long-suffering husband in my 18 year marriage, the disobedient kids, the judgmental PTA mom, the criticism of family…the list goes on and on and I know I am not alone.
Forgiveness isn’t a gift, it is a skill and like any other skill it takes practice. Lots and lots of practice.
Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. day and we’re all well aware of his legacy. My family – like every other black family in America – has directly benefited from his efforts. King was complicated, like any hero. He was no saint, but I’ve always admired his adherence to scripture in what is one of the most tragic times for black Americans in the history of our country.
King was a force to be reckoned with, but had an intimate understanding of the Gospel. His most powerful weapon was peace, and its prized companion was forgiveness. He understood that when we did eventually earn the restoration of our constitutional, God-given rights we would need to forge a new path forward. Holding on to the anger and bitterness of our struggles would not benefit us, nor would it move our enemies. Forgiveness would be our path to prosperity.
I say it often – forgiveness isn’t forgetfulness…it is choosing not to treat someone the way they deserve to be treated. This is exactly what Christ did for us. He did nothing wrong, and bore the consequences anyway.
When I look at the “race conversation” in America today I see a lot of anger, but not much in the way of forgiveness. Too many of us are talking about what we are owed and not what we owe others…what we owe God. How would this country change if all of us stopped leading with, “I’m willing forgive…but YOU FIRST” and started leading with, “I forgive.”
I’m always accused of suggesting that we simply stop holding others to task for their transgressions. I am not. I am saying that healing is difficult and most people do not have the fortitude for it. We are a country of the walking wounded because we are unable to let go of what we think we are entitled to in the name of “justice”. Most of us cannot even fathom of making the decision to not treat others the way they deserve to be treated. If we do that, how can we expect to ever be compensated for our pain and suffering?
The answer to that, of course is that we may never see that full compensation. Frankly, that is perfectly fine with me. As a student of the human condition I know that the human soul will never be fully satisfied because sin has created a bottomless pit in the heart of man. The only bridge across is the Cross.
This never-ending race conversation is “progress” wrapped in blame, bitterness and unforgiveness. Please don’t make the grave mistake of assuming you know “which side” I’m talking about. I speak of us all, with utter sincerity. We will never move forward if we bear hate as our burden, no matter how justified we believe that hate to be.
You may think God is pleased when you hate the hateful, but that is a terribly weak understanding of His unmatched love. Pity is no substitute for hate either. It is only more condescension. Jesus broke bread with the most hated people of his day. He did not cry about “not tolerating the intolerant” or say, “I will sit down them but first they have to [insert demand here]!” It isn’t hard to walk with people you like. It is nearly impossible to do with people you hate.
And yet, we are commanded to do exactly that because that is what transforms the world around and the world inside us. As we look forward as black Americans and white Americans and the entire, glorious spectrum of Americans from all walks of life, let us look back to these words of the complex but courageous Dr. King.
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear”
Let us be the first to serve instead of scold, listen instead of lecture, help instead of hate.
There can be no greater legacy for the man himself or our blessed country.