Recently we held a memorial for Phil, a long-time member of the Network community. As we went around the room for a time of open sharing Sam quietly expressed, “He was my best friend. We had a lot of fights but Phil always came back and apologized first.”
He apologized first.
Throughout this year one of the strong themes around our community has been the grace and power of friendship. I’m convinced that the gift of friendship is the mortar that holds the bricks of Network together.
In my best long-term friendships there are times when I have contributed to a fracture by saying or doing something careless or offensive. Strong friendships require the work and discipline of forgiveness and reconciliation.
In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul encourages the community like this, “Be kind to each other, be tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God through Christ forgives you.” (Eph. 4:32)
One of the pastoral tasks around Network involves setting boundaries. When a guest compromises the safety and dignity of the community we have to give them a time-out. But as we do this, we always invite them to come back and reconcile with the person or people they’ve offended. Humble efforts at forgiveness and reconciliation are central disciplines within any beloved community.
Asking forgiveness can be humiliating. It makes us feel vulnerable and powerless.
What does forgiveness and feeling vulnerable and powerless have to do with Christmas? Christmas reminds us of how divine power chose to enter earthly existence… in the form of a vulnerable baby. In fact, the way Jesus came into this world and exited it was in a very powerless expression of humility. Both Christmas and
Easter reveal that vulnerability—being willing to change for the sake of love—is the route toward long-term redemptive relationship.
In the business of forgiveness here’s a sample of the questions that allow the rubber to meet the road:
“How have I hurt you?”
“Has there been a time when I’ve shut down your voice?”
“Do you feel heard by me?”
Asking these questions then opens you up to hearing responses that are not easy to absorb. This is the way of friendship – the way of Christ.
If we’re interested in keeping the Christ in Christmas let’s start by strengthening our friendships through the work of forgiveness. How sweet it would be to one day hear these words, “…he always came back and apologized first.”
A most joyous and meaningful holiday to you and yours.
You are seen. You are known. You are loved.