Forgiveness: The power of a single word

Over the past 40 years I cannot grasp the numbers of people that have asked for counseling. So often in hearing the struggles of San Diegans there are themes I can pick out. These themes and patterns of problems and personal issues become noticeable in age groups or gender or position in our society. None is quite so prevalent than memories of the past. Memories that cause dysfunction in friendships and relationships and in sleep patterns.

Many years ago a friend asked if I could help him understand some things in his life. He was very wealthy, and successful, handsome and well-liked by others. We came to an area of his past that seemed to be walled off and not open for discussion. Finally after a while the subject came into the open. It was his childhood relationship with His father who passed away 10-15 years earlier; when my friend was 13 years old. It seems that his father would become verbally abusive when he would get drunk. From the sound of things the drunken bouts of verbal abuse were on a daily basis. His father would berate him and call him horrible names and that tell him that he wished that he had never been born and that he would never amount to anything in life. In reality, he was describing himself not my friend. My friend was wealthy, successful and liked by many people. I asked in our time together what is the worst thing your father could have done to you; He thought deeply about that and told me that he was always fearful that his dad would beat him or kill him. I asked him if anything like that had ever happened to him or even come close to happening. He responded with, “no”, my question followed very quickly. “If the worse never happened why can’t you forgive your father and move on?”

One single word has the power to erase a lot of hurt pain and sadness in everyone’s hearts and minds and memories. That word is “forgiveness.” Forgiveness lifts a person from sadness to happiness. From burdened to free as a bird. Yet, the idea of forgiveness seems so foreign to many. One only knows how often our thoughts and memories hold us hostage to the past.

Ghandi, India’s great leader of peace once said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

Forgiveness is the single most powerful word that can release each of us from the tyranny of the past.

Jesus of Nazareth said, “Forgive and you shall be forgiven.” He has given us lots of hope on many levels. Of course the obvious is that people will know that we are caring people and since we forgive others, they are inclined to forgive us. On a different level forgiveness takes on a significant meaning for each of us. He was saying when we forgive others not only will we find forgiveness from others but we will find eternal forgiveness for our trespasses and sins from God. I am the first one to say to forgive people that hurt you, it is a very difficult thing to do. Yet, when we forgive others there is a peace or serenity that comes to us knowing that this is no longer an issue. Forgiveness allows us to move our lives forward. On the other hand holding onto bad memories and carrying them through life with us is tedious at the least.

Life is tough enough for all of us and why should we not be happy; because of memories? I lived in the past all of my life until I was 26 years old. That is when I found out that God had forgiven me. It became very obvious that if I can be forgiven why shouldn’t I forgive those in my past. Everything immediately changed for me, immediately. I know that it will for you also if you will let forgiveness work. Often I find that I need to forgive myself and that I am harder on myself that anyone else ever is.

The famous Apostle, St. Paul wrote a letter to first century Christians living in a city much like San Diego. Ephesus was known for its medical progress, it has the same balmy Mediterranean weather patterns we enjoy and Education was big and they had a beautiful and large Library downtown. His words remind us that people are the same in every city, every era, every ethnic group and we can learn from one another. St. Paul penned these words: “and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

The first Easter Service I ever officiated at was in 1974 on a mountaintop overlooking Escondido. Hundreds of people came up on the mountain and we all waited as the sun began to rise from the East and blanket San Diego County with a brand new day. This year was my 40th Easter service and during the past 40 years I have been able to have hope for many seemingly hopeless people. Because, I forgave my alcoholic father, I forgave friends that had knifed me in the back. On and on I learned from God’s great love that forgiveness is for all of us. You my friend are forgiven so go back and forgive others.

A young woman, beautiful, witty and sweet came to me and confessed she was hooked on drugs; she sold her body for sex to get the money to buy her drugs. If you saw her surfing at the Ocean Beach Pier you would not have a clue that someone that attractive could have a problem in the world. She would get in trouble and ask me to help her. My heart broke for her because she could not forgive what her stepfather had done to her when she was thirteen or fourteen. She felt that she was dirty, ugly, and useless. He threatened to kill her if she told her mother. You know the story it’s an old story we have all heard before. She had blamed herself that she deserved this to happen to her. There is nothing further from the truth. You must forgive yourself and let God’s love heal you.

One night a SDPD officer called me and she told me my friend was in intensive care. She had been beaten up by two men selling her drugs in an alley and left for dead. When I arrived the officer who was trying on my behalf to befriend this young woman was at the hospital. I went into ICU and saw the bandaged head, swollen eyes, bruised and swollen face and wept. She never woke up again; she never understood the joy of forgiving herself. By faith I believe she experienced God’s love and his forgiveness which I constantly encouraged her with. I look forward to seeing her in heaven forgiven by God’s mercy and grace.

Let this summer be your best ever, let it be filled with kindness, tenderheartedness and forgive one another as God has forgiven you in Jesus. Jesus said, “God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world would be saved by Him.”

When Jesus spoke with a woman who was arrested for adultery He said to her, “woman, where are your accusers?”

Jesus had just said to the crowd of men, “He who has not sinned, you cast the first stone.” They all walked away and the woman answered Jesus and said, “Lord, I have none.” Jesus with a tenderhearted and kind smile said, “Neither do I condemn you, go forth and sin no more.” Forgive and you shall be forgiven.

Mike MacIntosh


— by Mike MacIntosh

MacIntosh is the pastor of Horizon Christian Fellowship in San Diego and a chaplain for the San Diego Police Department.

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