There are some words that speak purely out of malice and evil intent. They are painful. They were created for the purpose of bringing hatred, destruction, anger, betrayal, pain, jealousy, and darkness. The words themselves create a space that cultivates sadness, doubt, and pain. They are daggers, forged for the purpose of cutting hearts and splitting friendships. We spit them out into the world as assailants of trust, courage, forgiveness, and love. And yet, more than these words of hostility, more than these words spoken in irrational momentum, there is a string of words that hurts more deeply, that shakes our soul more severely.
There is however a sentence that has the power to transform a man humble the highest of kings. It will redeem a prostitute and sanctify an addict. It will cover every wrong and patch up every wound. It raises up orphans to become fathers and mothers. It causes the hopeless to abandon suicide and traitors to to return to their victims. It will cause you to sacrifice life and purpose. It cuts more deeply the sharpest words you will ever hear and yet it will not kill you.
When we find ourselves in the depths of misery and an overcast of guilt and hopelessness surrounds us, it makes its entrance. When we are at the brink of defeat and the last ounce of our will has been depleted, it will ready its attack. In that moment, when everything seems to teeters on the edge of surrender and failure. In that moment, when we can’t bear to look at our mistakes or to remember our failures. In that moment when our very existence disgusts us, the words are spoken.
At first we might not recognize it because of the unexpected tone. It is light and unassuming. There is a levity and gentleness that falls on us like a comforting hand. The harshness we feared is nowhere to be found. We listen for the accusation and find none. We hear it out, all of it, and at that moment, the moment it registers in our minds, a searing pain begins to rise in the confines of our hearts. The hurt is gradual yet unyielding. It grows steadily and powerfully until it grips our entire being like a fire intent on burning the entire forest.
Chaos begins to ravage the mind as it fumbles with the nonsense of such a response. The heart is racing trying to find composure in the impossible. There is no logic that can testify to it, no reason to explain it.
Over and over again our mind can only utter, “How is that possible? Why? Why? Why me?”
I remember so clearly the hateful look you had in your eyes when you shouted to your parents. It was me who refused to attend the funeral of my family or to respond to letter of a forgiveness seeking friend. I mistreated the oppressed and the poor. It was me…
Everything we are ashamed to claim crosses our minds in a cascade of memories.
Those promises? I broke them. I’m all too familiar with lies and I was sober when I played with those hearts. The money I stole is still in my pocket and my addiction created that bruise under her eye. If I look in the mirror, every snicker, every curse spoken and unspoken lingers there.
No one made us. It was us who told ourselves to become one of them. It was us who chose to walk away from God.
As these images fill our mind, we toss and turn, gripping our stomachs as if we could extract the sorrow in our spirits. And as the tears roll down and the throbbing dies down to a dull reminder, we hear it again.
“It’s OK, I forgive you.”
Forgiveness is truly both the most stifling and most liberating feeling we will ever get to experience. In the moment when conviction is absolute and shame is ready to imprison us, forgiveness wields a weapon far more terrifying than any punishment we could endure. We are in that moment of humility, obliged to shudder at the generosity of God, the love of family, friend, and foe.
By those words we are inspired to become anew and to venture down a different path, a path truer to our hearts. We leap to our deaths at the junction of shame and mercy because we know we have Him to catch us when we fall.