A few days ago I had a very frustrating day at work. There wasn’t anything definitively ‘bad’ about the day, it was just… well… frustrating. Nothing seemed to go right. My best laid plans seemed to unravel without provocation. I spent the entire day playing catch-up, attempting to gain control of plans and activities that had decided to do their own thing. I should be used to such days. They happen from time to time. Still, it frustrates me to no end. I become sour and grumpy, and I don’t handle these days very well.
This day was no different. I arrived home bitter and angry, hoping that I could just retreat from the people and noises of my life. Thus, when my son kept asking me what was wrong, and what had happened throughout the day, I snapped at him. “It was just frustrating OK! Leave it alone!” I barked. Not my finest hour by any means. Instantly my gut fell.
It took me a little while to calm down, but when I did I knew that I had to apologize to my son. He had wanted to go to the park so I offered to take him. As we walked along the side-walk I made my confession to my 8 year old confessor. “Dad had a very frustrating day at work, but I shouldn’t have yelled at you. I’m sorry.’ “I know dad.’ He said.
“Forgive me? I asked.
At this point my son offered the best words of absolution that I have ever heard. “Of course! Let’s play on the teeter-totter!’
He had already moved past my little outburst. He understood that my crankiness wasn’t based on anything he had done. He seemed to know that the volume of my voice, and the harshness of my words, spoke to an unsettling within myself. He seemed to intuit that, as my frustration came exploding out of me, that it was an action that I deeply regretted, and wished I could take back. Thus, by the time that I had simmered down enough to acknowledge my fault, and confess it, he had already fixed forgiveness in his heart. He felt no offence and carried no ill-will. The offer of playing on the teeter-totter communicated that he had moved passed the frustration-infused interchange—and invited me to do the same.
This got me thinking about how we understand forgiveness. Forgiveness is the way of God’s kingdom. We are instructed to pray about it, to offer without tally-mark or record keeping. We live out forgiveness: expressing it to others, as much as we live in forgiveness, receiving it from our Lord. We simply cannot live in the Kingdom of God without it. Yet this is far more radical than the simple interchange of words; one party says ‘sorry’, another says ‘It’s OK’, that is that. Because let’s be honest, we can exchange these words without any internal reality of forgiveness taking place. We may say we forgive, yet still keep record of the who, when, and how of past offences. Similarly, we can ask for forgiveness yet be devoid of any desire to amend our life or change our ways. This makes forgiveness a farce; it sounds nice but carries no weight. It views forgiveness as the ability to get off the hook due to some religious technicality—while we don’t enforce any punishment, we still see the person as guilty nonetheless.
Yet the dynamic between confession and forgiveness, as we see it in scripture, is much more radical. Confession must involve the desire to amend our life, to move away from the dynamics and habits that produced the negative consequences of our sinful actions in the first place. Forgiveness, conversely, is the open door way by which we enter into that new life. In forgiveness, we do not receive our absolution and then go back to our regular manner of livings—a way of life that will eventually produce the same occurrences with the same outcomes. We amend our life. We ask for the Spirit to shape us, to change us, to mould us into deeper images of Christ our Lord. The invitation to live in forgiveness is an invitation to live in a way that is impossible outside of an active relationship with our Redeemer.
The teeter-totter was an invitation to new life, for it was an invitation to relationship. It not only signified that the slate was clear but it opened up a freshness of intimate connection between us. We could laugh, we could play, and we could love with nothing hanging over either one of us. The teeter-totter was not only a removal of the sins of the past, but it was a vision of how to move forward. It spoke of a life and an intimacy to be cultivated as we lived our lives together. Such freedom cannot be artificially produced. It is found not it mere words but only in the undefinable love connecting those who live amid God’s kingdom.
Jesus once said that we must have the faith of a child. Along with every other parent in this world, I am beginning to think he knew what he was talking about