There are several small keys on my keychain, but their size doesn't reflect their importance. One very small key opens our safe-deposit box – not a key I want to lose!
One of the “small” keys to intergenerational relationships is equally important. Forgiveness may seem insignificant, but this key opens a treasure. When we lose this key, relationships become stuck.
Every relationship will eventually experience difficulty; it's inevitable: the wrong things are said, or the right things are said the wrong way. Someone is insensitive or even deliberately mean. We forget to pay attention to what the other person is feeling, or needs, or wants from us.
Someone don't listen, doesn't call, doesn't seem to care.
Occasionally there is thoughtlessness, or jealousy, or competition. We neglect to nurture a relationship we claim is important to us. Or we simply give up, overwhelmed by the work required to deal with a difficult person.
All kinds of things can go wrong: the end result is a damaged or broken relationship.
Forgiveness opens the door to a renewed, refreshed relationship.
That doesn't mean it's easy, though.
Sometimes forgiveness requires us to overlook negative things – a grouchy conversation, a forgotten birthday, a lack of thoughtfulness. This requires discernment: when is it important to speak up honestly and gently about something that bothers you, and when should you simply forgive and forget, bearing the cost of the offense your own self?
Other times we need to confront another person, with a willingness – even an eagerness – to forgive.
Then there are times we ourselves need to ask for forgiveness. Whether we have deliberately offended or inadvertently offended another, asking for forgiveness isn't easy, especially the part about asking without offering excuses or explanations to subtly justify our own bad behavior.
This requires good communication skills, humility, and grace. It means loving someone other than our own self. Forgiveness is about setting things right, and sometimes that requires heavy lifting.
Sometimes our apologies aren't accepted. Sometimes we don't feel like asking for forgiveness. Sometimes someone who has offended us doesn't apologize or act as if they are sorry for what they've done.
In those cases, love is our only resort. Love calls us to forgive, to ask forgiveness, to turn away from our own hurt, to turn away from hurting others. In Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, he says, “Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn't want what it doesn't have. Love doesn't strut. Doesn't have a swelled head, doesn't force itself on others, isn't always “me first,” doesn't fly off the handle, doesn't keep score of the sins of others, doesn't revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end . . . we have three things to do . . . trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.” 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7, 13 -- The Message
Love enables us to forgive when we need to, and to seek forgiveness when we should.