The kids have a picture book called “We Honestly Can Look After Your Dog.” It is a somewhat awkward title, but once you get into the story it makes perfect sense, as the main characters are clamoring for dog-sitting duty and one particular dog owner puts them through verbal calisthenics with a series of questions about their abilities and dedication to looking after his dog. Ultimately they promise to honestly look after the dog, and then of course picture book hilarity ensues.
Well, as much as a picture book can tickle the funny bone I suppose.
Look, I have all the forgiveness I need by the sacrificial blood of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I am a sinner. I was made in God’s own image, called to be holy, but I am a sinner in need of a Savior, and it forever takes my breath away that God loves me enough to not simply forgive me, but to send His only Son to blot out my inequities as if I’d never committed them in the first place.
With mankind it is not so simple.
The Bible – God’s Word – calls on us to forgive one another, and it does so multiple times.
-Luke 6:37 says to not judge or condemn, lest we be judged or condemned, and it calls on us to forgive, and we will be forgiven.
-Ephesians 4:32 tells us to be kind to one another and to be tender-hearted while forgiving one another just as God in Christ forgave us.
-Matthew 6:14 reminds us that if we forgive others their trespasses our heavenly Father will also forgive us.
So why is it exactly that we struggle with forgiveness? To me, holding onto an old grudge due to a past offense is some sort of sick and twisted bit of power and control we seem to feel. Perhaps it serves as an excuse for our inability to move forward and take the difficult and humbling steps toward reconciliation.
I have certainly been guilty of this multiple times in my life and will likely struggle with it until I am finally called home. I’ve been selfish and scared, angry and hurt just like everyone else, and many times in that critical moment when the Holy Spirit prompts me to forgive I ignore and move into my room of victimization where it is safe and comfortable to blame others for all of my problems.
It is not until God softens my heart and removes the blinders of selfishness that I move on to the point of forgiveness and the bondage is over.
And it really is that simple.
Oftentimes what you just read occurs instantly, where the supposed injustice transpires, I’m wounded and want to grab ahold of that pain and bottle it, but then God in his loving kindness reminds me of His mercy, which brings about my own mercy and the issue is immediately resolved. But sometimes that whole process takes days, months, or sadly, years.
So it should not surprise me that when I hurt someone with my words and actions that the person may not immediately forgive me and move on in spite of repeated requests for forgiveness.
And trust me when I tell you that I really hurt this person.
You don’t just get shot with a shotgun from a short distance, fall into a puddle of your own blood while clutching ahold of your own intestines to preserve life while onlookers and police curiously look on and not come away from the situation without a bit of hatred for mankind. It is completely understandable. The fact that my friend from long ago walks around with his life intact today, with a pleasant disposition and refreshing take on life – albeit with considerable discomfort and scarring – some 18 years after the incident is remarkable to me, and I have in fact told him as much to his face.
This was during a short interval when we rekindled friendship over meals and often times funny conversation.
There was one story that I told him while we dined on some nice steaks one night that I was happy to be able to finally pass along to him. It was a story about when my Dad had passed away long ago when me and my old friend were still just kids. I have vivid memories of those days and especially of the funeral and the inevitable gathering at our home following the services where it felt to me like everyone seemed like strangers who were struggling with what to say and many just seemed like they were there for the free food. My old friend was not among them, and a few weeks later he made a point to come up and tell me that he was truly sorry for my Dad’s passing, but that he had simply wanted to mourn on his own and not be like the gawkers who show up to those kinds of things.
That always impressed me, and still does to this day, as he was someone with incredibly deep thoughts and amazing integrity.
My wounded old friend carries around a significant battle scar and health issues that are directly related to being cruelly blasted with a shotgun. In the interest of disclosure you have to know that I am also friends with the shooter, who struggles with his own demons, but the bottom line is that he opted to pull the trigger that evening and that is a decision that he has to live with. In separate conversations with both of them a few years back I had pitched the idea of writing their stories, trying to paint a word picture of a friendship that ended abruptly and what had transpired since that awful night. Both were sincerely open to the idea and the conversations with both soon morphed into something I hadn’t even considered – that there was a genuine interest from both sides to reconcile. But just as the three of us were making some progress on that road, life began to intervene, and it was mostly on me. My day job was quickly crumbling and the writing was on the wall that I was about to lose the job I’d had for more than 15 years, and at the same time I had two little kids that as you might imagine were taking up a considerable amount of my energies in the evening.
And our old shooter friend would disappear from my radar for months at a time, and it would be impossible to reach him.
Before you knew it, months and months had gone by and I hadn’t spoken to either of them and I had essentially moved on. I thought about them often, but I made no attempt to reach out to either of them, not even a “Happy Thanksgiving,” or “Merry Christmas.”
No excuses. I just stopped.
Which makes my next move seem foolish, perhaps curious. To some it would be cold-hearted and thoughtless.
One evening not quite a year ago, I received a message from a close friend advising that the wayward shooter was now on Facebook. Like most people presented with exciting Facebook news of the sort I immediately logged-in to confirm and of course sent the requisite friend request and waited. But then it dawned on me: What about my old friend who he shot? What is he going to think once he sees that the guy who betrayed him with a cold and calculated act all those years ago is on Facebook? What is he going to think about the fact that the guy who permanently altered his life all those years ago is suddenly reconnecting with many of the same people he himself had reconnected with through social media?
If I had to do it all over again I would not have sent a text.
Text shows no emotion (in spite of emoticons), and it has no rhythm or cadence, but when you read a text you personally add the missing emotion, rhythm and cadence and interpret it as you may. My text message that night was simple. I mentioned the fact that our old friend was now on Facebook and by now he likely already knew it, and I was checking in to see if he was okay.
The problem with that approach is that I hadn’t communicated with my old friend in a good long while, so I was making a couple of pretty big assumptions. First, that he actually was in fact aware of the shooter’s existence on Facebook, and second, that my intrusive and out-of-the-blue text would be welcomed and actually viewed as a caring and sympathetic one.
What followed was understandable nastiness.
I won’t go into the particulars but I can tell you that there were lots of words from him and a few photos. This went on for a while, and in spite of my repeated apologies – again, foolishly via text – there was no forgiveness, rather, there were accusations questioning my integrity as well as my Christian faith. Ultimately the hurtful messages to me dissipated, but they resurfaced again once he read a blog post that I’d written about our old friend the shooter from a few years ago. It was a story of regret and redemption, hope and faith, and it was penned during a time when our old shooter pal was accessible, vulnerable and remorseful, but the positive and hopeful words I had written about the guy who’d pulled the trigger only served to reopen wounds rather than heal them, so the harsh correspondence restarted.
I stopped responding long ago and the messages from him have essentially ceased.
I sit here today thinking about what transpired and perhaps one of the dumbest acts in my personal history – and you could write novels about most of them – was sending the text that night.
If I could do it all over again I would have simply picked up the phone and called my old friend rather than callously peck away on the keypad. I would have said hello and spent some time catching up, and then hopefully by the sincere and genuine inflection of my voice he would have known that my check-in was truly a meaningful one.
I really wanted to make sure that he was okay that night. That was all. Nothing else. It was a troubling situation and I knew it had to be difficult to be made aware that the guy who’d shot him was now in his same social media universe.
Ah, but I sent the text…
And while I make no apology for the thoughtful piece I’d written years ago about the shooter, I can definitely understand how it would be received in light of my insensitive text.
“We honestly can look after your dog.” A funny way of assuring a picture book character that his dog would be well cared for. Too many words jammed into that title, and here I am yammering away in a blog post. Sheesh.
But maybe there is a simple lesson to be learned from the clumsy title, so I’ll try it.
I honestly, truthfully and sincerely apologize for the insensitive nature of a cold text sent under the cover of night’s darkness. I wish I could take it back, but I know that I cannot. All I can say is that I am really sorry for it, and I don’t blame you for the fire you sent back in my direction. I really don’t.
I deserved it.
My only hope is that this message finds you well and that you can find it in your heart to forgive me some day.