As a former pastor, one of my last sermon topics was on forgiveness. I was dealing with letting go of the bad relationship I had with my father and also trying to help Angelica deal with her friend back home who had committed a sin. I searched Scripture to find out what was the right thing to do and the steps to take toward forgiveness.
Now, I’m living a life that needs forgiveness from others, one that has been granted forgiveness by God, and one that still holds onto the need to forgive a few people in my life.
One of my favorite phrases to use when writing this blog is, “I’ll be honest.” Usually, when I say that, I’m about to share something that comes from deep within me. Blogging anonymously gives me the ability to write about something I’m thinking but wouldn’t tell some of my closest friends. It enables me to tell you things I would have never told people when I was a pastor. So here I go.
I’ll be honest, I’m having a hard time with forgiveness right now. Especially in how others deal with it.
Now, let me be very, very clear. Ultra clear. Crystal clear. Cancun/Gulf of Mexico clear before the oil spill hit. I sinned. I hurt a lot of people. Do I stand here feeling like those people owe me something? Not really. But let me say it this way – there are a ton of relationships that I and my sin destroyed overnight and I hold out hope that they can be restored.
Do I believe they can be restored? Absolutely. The Bible tells me nothing less. Angelica has already reached out to me in forgiveness. I’ve had a couple of former church members reach out to me and tell me they don’t hold anything against me.
Here’s where I am today after talking to a bunch of fallen pastors. Please bear with me. Churches get hurt badly – very badly, by fallen pastors. I’ve seen it first hand and I’ve seen it through stories others have told me. It’s awful. Their spiritual leader betrays them and they typically (or at least in my case) are disillusioned and lash out often in hurt. That hurt turns into bitterness, anger, and sometimes outright meanness.
I see that. I get it. That’s how they feel. I’ve been hurt before. I’ve been angry before. I’ve lashed out before for a long period of time.
But you know what? I was wrong to do it.
Let me put it another way. When a church endures the fall of a pastor, they’re typically hurt for a long time. Most of the fallen pastors I’ve talked to get pushed out the door and hide in shame for some period of time (don’t hear me trying to get your pity, I’m not. You should know me by now if you read this blog at all, I’m just stating how things are). After that time of shame, a lot of them write a letter to the church of repentance (if they already haven’t in their resignation).
What I find and what I’ve experienced is that their former church members don’t want to have anything to do with them. Some have been out for 10-20 years and have heard nothing from former church members, despite attempting to reach out. One online article I read said that the pastor had been gone for 30 years and members were still holding on to their anger.
Guess what? Hurt takes time. Every fallen pastor and non-fallen pastor has told me the same thing. They tell me, “Most of them will never come around. They probably will never speak to you again. But give them time, maybe one or two of them will.”
I understand all of that. I had my own father hurt me and it took me two full years to get back to where I’d talk to him. Was it right? No. I was unforgiving and sinful in my actions toward him. But even if I had been moving toward forgiveness, it would have taken me time to reconcile. So yes, I’m human, I get it.
I’m going to ask three questions right now and ponder them a little that I hope to answer in the next few blog posts. But they trouble me.
How long should people go before waiting to forgive? In that waiting, what does Scripture say about how long we should wait? And just because the typical pattern is 20-30 years (or never) to wait for forgiveness, does that make it right?
How is hurt tied to forgiveness? We don’t forget like God does. Forgiving doesn’t mean we’re saying that what the person did was okay. But is it possible that our hurt keeps us from forgiveness? In that same vein, is forgiveness a legal transaction while hurt is an emotional response to what happened?
My final question for thought is one that makes me think. When two people have an issue between them that needs to be dealt with and forgiven, is it enough for one of them to say, “I’ve forgiven them in my heart. But I don’t need to speak to them ever again.” What good does it do to forgive someone if that isn’t shared? Is it Scriptural?
I’ve got a lot going on in my anonymous brain and I hope to hammer some of it out with your help. God bless.