“Revenge is a dish best served cold”. And the colder, the more calculating and hurtful it is, the more appealing it is to my enraged soul. This vicious spiral of harm-generating-harm makes the world spin from injury to injustice and from grievance and bitterness to payback, vengeance and war.

Only forgiveness can break the chain.

The Lord’s prayer gives us a shape for down-to-earth spirituality that puts destroying the bitter roots of judgment and revenge at the centre of our discipleship.

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”, Matt 6:12, is where we are going on Sunday- buckle up! This is a tough command to practise, yet it is a pivotal act to find freedom and maturity.

I have been convicted personally to address a particular kind of forgiveness- feel free to join me! Here goes:

“Taking offence” is a human superpower. It works like this. We mind-read other peoples’ motives and then tell ourselves a story about their agendas and characters. We read the shape of their smile, we grab a snippet of a conversation, or we sense the “cut of their jib” (whatever that might look like). Soon we have a pen portrait of their underlying character and a vision of their cunning plans.

Assumptions become opinions, opinions become judgments and before we know it, we have created a conspiracy theory about an unsuspecting human worthy of a Nordic Noir binge-watch. And all this without so much as a conversation. Soon our narratives are the content of coffee shop conversations and dictate our decisions and actions. All on the whiff of an assumption. “Assume” as I was once reminded makes an “ass” of “U” and “me”.

Perhaps it’s just me? Just in case other convicted souls have stayed with me thus far. Can I remind us:

The ninth commandment says: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour”. Sadly, I find myself breaking this on a regular basis as I leap to conclusions about the intentions and ideas of my fellow believers.

Now, as Matt 7:1,2 reminds us, naivety, blind ignorance and denial are not the solution. We need to listen to our feelings and intuitions, make assessments, test what is good, spot evil and ungodly thinking, and indeed, ensure we are not being manipulated. However, Jesus tells us that in doing so we must remove from our own eyes that which is distorting our vision. And that may just mean the carefully constructed narrative I tell myself about another person.

So, I am trying to discipline myself: “stop mind reading“. Stop the story-making already. Slow down! Don’t leap to a conclusion based on a scrap of evidence.

Instead, I am trying to be curious, check things out and think the best of people. However, over time, I may just have stored away one or two judgments, opinions and stories in my library of grievance. The fact is that a bitter grievance stewing on the back burner of my mind has a habit of spilling over now and then and messing things up. (Apologies for that metaphor mash-up)

So back to forgiveness. Forgiveness simply means to “release”. To forgive, real or imagined, or (let’s be honest) exaggerated grievances is essential for our spiritual and relational well-being but it is costly, painful and hard.

I suspect that perceived offences, jacked-up judgements and simmering hurts have been amplified by our lack of connection in the last few years through the isolation forced upon us all by the pandemic. All the more reason for an interpersonal amnesty, for a moment, a daily practice, to lay down our judgements of others upon the crucified Jesus. To forgive, as God in Christ has forgiven us.

He has already been falsely accused, publicly misrepresented and wrongly judged. All our sins, sorrows and suspicions he has borne.

The other person may not even know the story you tell yourself about them so don’t burden them with it, allow the power of a load lifted from your shoulders to speak for itself.

And let’s remember none of us are called to be the accuser of God’s people. That job has already been taken … and his days are numbered.

Much grace and courage