23So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. —Matthew 5:23-24
We have already discussed forgiveness as the starting point in family harmony. We’ve confronted the crucial need to be forgiving. So far, we’ve looked at the internal struggle, between you and God, and the fact that you’ve got to decide to forgive. You’ve got to release the people in your family from the debt incurred when you were hurt.
Now it’s time to go public in your family with this matter of forgiveness. It may be harder, in fact, to ask people to forgive you than to forgive them. I’m not talking about the quick “sorry” that passes for requesting forgiveness. That’s not even asking for anything; it’s telling someone how you feel and not really giving them a chance to respond.
The most effective (and scary) way to ask for forgiveness is to actually ask. To admit what you did wrong and then say only, “Will you forgive me?” and stop there, not, “If I did something wrong”—you know better. Not, “I didn’t mean to”—excusing what you did. And not, “I know you got hurt”—subtly shifting the blame for being too sensitive on them. It’s got to boil down to, “I was wrong; will you forgive me?”
Why does this scare us so much? Because we instinctively try to avoid putting ourselves in a vulnerable position. It’s much easier and safer to take forgiveness for granted than to actually stand there waiting to find out if someone we’ve hurt will forgive. We’re terrified of that moment when someone we love could look us in the eye and say, “No, I don’t forgive you.” That would hurt. It might be as painful as the hurt we caused them! But that’s the reality of forgiveness in the family—we have to give it and ask for it.
Notice in today’s passage that Jesus told us to take responsibility for the hurt we have caused. Preparation for worship often brings to mind unsettled sin. How can we approach God when there is brokenness between ourselves and others? God won’t receive our worship if He knows we have no intention of loving those closest to us. We can fool others; we can’t fool Him. We can ask for His help as we seek forgiveness, but we have to ask those we hurt to extend mercy to us. The family that forgives breathes life into one another!
Prayer – Father, I realize the difference between asking others in my family to forgive me and asking You to forgive me is You’ve already promised to have mercy, but I’m not sure I have that promise from my family. Help me, Father, to be so ready to forgive those I love that they don’t hesitate to ask me. And give me the courage I need to face those I love and make forgiveness a bigger part of our family life, starting with me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.