Chapter Four: Stepping Out with Love and Forgiveness
Ephesians 4:31-5:2, Colossians 3:12-17, Matthew 6:9-15
The Heart of Forgiveness and the Love of a Sister
My sister and I did not get along when we were together. It was common knowledge that if we were ever in the same house for 24 hours or more there was going to be an epic argument. Pick any topic and it was basically guaranteed that she would say one thing and I would believe the exact opposite. The problem, I informed my husband once, was that “She thinks she’s always right, but she’s not. I am.” I at least backed up my opinions with facts not feelings and whatever so and so might have said once.
It might surprise you to find out that that was not the problem at all. The problem was me and my heart. I was bitter and it was never her fault. It just took me a few years to realize it.
One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of our sins (John 16:8 ESV). For me, the first nudging came when I decided I wanted to have a better relationship with my sister. We seemed to get along great when we lived hours away from each other. Could we not do the same but closer? We shared so much, and wouldn’t it be great to talk about parenting with my sister whose son is nine-months older than mine instead of lamenting that she was the one who got pregnant first which meant she now had something else to be the expert in.
But everything I tried failed and ended in tears, frustration, and fighting.
What Does the Bible Say About Forgiveness
The Bible talks about forgiveness a lot. In Ephesians 4:31-32 Paul tells us to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (NIV).
In Mark 12:31 Jesus tells us that the second greatest commandment after “Lov[ing] the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” is to “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Then in Galatians Paul furthers that thought by pointing out “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (5:15 NIV).
Forgiveness Releases You
Over the fall I did a lot of praying and soul searching to figure out why I was so mad at my sister. I knew I had my reasons, but they all seemed to fall flat. Why was I still so hurt over an argument we had as children if I couldn’t even remember what it was about. And through listening to the Holy Spirit speak and prayer I came to realize that it had nothing to do with my sister. It never did. Not really.
The person I was hurt by was my mother with her constant comparisons and criticisms. As a teen, I eventually decided that I was sick of it and stopped singing when she said my sister sang better than me, and I stopped drawing because my sister was always the better artist.
Then I forgot why. All I remembered was that I didn’t sing in public or paint and it was my sister’s fault. And so I began to resent her.
But now what?
Funny how things work, but the next week I went to Coffee Break and the Pastor mentioned that she was doing this thing with forgiveness. When we all went home I sent her a message telling her about my mother and my sister and asking her help to forgive my mom. We got together and while our children played with trains she talked to me about the steps of forgiveness and promised to pray for me when I was ready to go through the process.
The next time my kids were in daycare and I had the day to myself I went through the heart-wrenching forgiveness process. Once my tears were all spent I began to paint. Something I had not done in a decade. That Christmas, completely unprompted by my husband or myself, my mother-in-law sent me a sketch pad. I cried so much over that gift. It felt like God was letting me know that he heard and that this was the right thing to do.
Forgiveness Releases Them
Maybe a year or so before I realized the actual problem between me and my sister, my mother told me she blamed herself for the rift between us. At the time I automatically told her it wasn’t her fault, it was something that my sister and I simply had to work out for ourselves. But, now that I knew that she was more right than I realized (and probably more right than she thought herself) I knew I had to release her from this guilt.
I thought long and hard about how to do it but decided that it was something better said in person. That opportunity came much faster than I anticipated when we had to head to Ontario for a funeral. I’m not sure I said it the right way, but I still pray that letting her know I forgave her and what I forgave her for helps her to forgive herself. She really is an amazing woman in so many ways.
My sister called me up and invited me out for lunch. Just the two of us. No buffer. No means of fast escape since we’d be driving together. We spent hours laughing and talking about our kids, our partners, life. Neither of us wanted it to end. But it doesn’t have to be over for ever. I know the next time I go, we’ll be able to have a good lunch again.