Filling the gaps

Originally published as an editorial in the Christian Science Sentinel

My grandfather taught us many things. Life-lessons you might say. For one thing, he taught us how to work – cut grass, pull weeds, rake leaves, shovel snow. It was good experience, and it gave us steady, year-round income as kids. He was also the source of a non-stop supply of bats, balls, hockey skates, fishing rods, and other equipment so essential to kids growing up in Minnesota.

Throughout his life my grandfather was an active outdoorsman. He spent a lot of time in the "field." As a young man he was injured in a hunting accident. We never knew much about it, just that some buckshot had to be removed from his shoulder. I remember asking him about the incident. I was surprised when he told me that he never went back into the woods with the man who let it happen.

As a child, I had trouble understanding why an accident (even a severe one) could separate these men for life. It wasn't until later that I began to see how difficult it can be to forgive when an "unforgivable" act has been committed, and how impossible it can seem to actually forget.

This raises the question: Can we truly forgive and forget some horrendous wrong? Is a "clean slate" ever really achievable? Can trust be rebuilt after an act of betrayal? It's worth considering. Because if it is possible, there is tremendous potential for mending broken friendships, redeeming struggling marriages, healing rifts in families, restoring relationships of all kinds.

Jesus forgave freely, and recommended forgiveness in many ways. He forgave even his enemies. He felt that forgiveness was a key part of prayer. And it was integral to his practice of healing.

Once, when Jesus forgave a man's sins, he sensed the silent criticism of his detractors, who asked, "Who can forgive sins but God only?" His response to his critics was revolutionary: "Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house" (Matt. 9:5–8).

This link between forgiveness and healing suggests that we don't have to live in the shadow of mistakes, or misdeeds, or human failures that occurred in the past and can't be undone. They can be undone through forgiveness, and their effects can be eliminated.

Remember the Bible account of Joseph, whose brothers betrayed him. He was so free of resentment toward his brothers that he said, "Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life" (Gen. 45:5). There was no resentment in him. That enabled him to negate the effects of their cruelty, and put him in a position where he eventually saved all their lives.

A Christian Science practitioner once told me that she was in the "credit business." In her prayers she gave people credit for having, in abundance, exactly what they seemed to lack. Instead of focusing on their failings, she filled those apparent vacancies by knowing that God was already there. If the person acted dishonestly, she credited them with expressing God's truth. If they were unloving or unkind, she credited them with being capable of living God's Love. She actively filled the gaps with good.

A tall order? Maybe. Worthwhile? Yes.

It has been a helpful concept to me. Reminding myself, for instance, that God made each of us honest, has enabled me many times to get past the idea more quickly that I have been victimized by dishonesty.

It's generally recognized that hatred and resentment are counterproductive. A lifetime of carrying this baggage can take a toll. So forgiveness is a big step in the right direction. But to follow Jesus' example and really heal a situation involves the most thorough forgiveness you've ever contemplated. It takes you beyond forgiveness all the way to redemption, to filling with God's love the gaps that seem so apparent and negative and hurtful. Once filled, these gaps cease to exist. Estrangements and separations between friends and loved ones dissolve. Actually, filling gaps may be as simple as understanding that there are no gaps – that God is good. Everywhere. Now.

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