Have you ever hurt someone when you felt like you were operating in your strengths? Did you seek forgiveness?
Have you ever hurt someone when you felt like you were operating in your strengths?
I’ll never forget how I hurt Sara. She was a team member on a research trip to Calcutta. My creative gifts tend to ebb and flow. On one particular night, my brainstorming powers were at full strength. I began running full steam ahead with ideas on what our team should do and how our research would help millions. In the process, I was oblivious to how my enthusiasm was affecting those around me. I was trampling all over Sara’s ideas and I was treating her like she didn’t matter.
I’m grateful that she came to me the next day to express how she felt under my creative outburst. I sought her forgiveness and she gave it. We were reconciled, but it began a long journey of understanding the importance of keeping short accounts with others.
I wish that were the last time this happened. It’s happened frequently at work, at home, and with friends.
Fast forward fifteen years and I was attending a conference in Orlando. I had just left my job in Chicago and was seeking my next opportunity. I knew there was a pastor in attendance from a church where I was interviewing. I thought to myself, “This would be a perfect opportunity for me to lead in worship for this conference so that the pastor could see me in action.” I took charge and made it happen sensing that surely God had orchestrated this opportunity. Little did I know that I was trampling all over my friend Eric who had carefully planned a different worship service for that morning.
Thankfully another friend was willing to confront me and show me yet again my need for repentance.
Yes, even pastors hurt other people. In fact, we can trample on those closest to us. My counselor friends like to say, “Hurt people hurt people.” We will all eventually hurt those around us with the words we speak. How will you respond when you sin against those around you? What if they don’t see it as sin? What if they won’t forgive you?
I’d like to share a few biblical thoughts on how reconciliation looks on the job.
1: Settle your accounts quickly
In Matthew 5:23-25 Jesus gives two quick exhortations to reconcile and settle matters quickly. One is when we come to the altar to worship. He says that if we remember someone we’ve sinned against to seek reconciliation right then. The other is if you’re going to court to seek to settle the matter before you ever get to the judge.
I recall a New Year’s Eve service when I was single. The pastor was serving communion but when he “fenced the table” (meaning he shared who was welcome) he exhorted us that if we had any unforgiven sin to settle it before coming to the table. I took him literally and realized that I had a colleague who had hurt me and I was harboring anger in my heart. I chose not to partake until I had reconciled with this fellow leader.
I don’t like to live with a guilty conscience. It can lead me to accept guilt for things I didn’t do, but often it leads to very helpful and productive conversations with my family, friends, or peers.
Here’s what I’ve noticed: When you harbor unconfessed sin toward someone it only eats away at your conscience. It doesn’t go away if you ignore it. In fact, it’s like battery acid that slowly eats away at the cables of your heart.
2: Own your mistakes
It’s so easy to want to hide our mistakes or deliberate sins. Especially if it feels like our job might be on the line.
Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”
My daughter works as a server for a restaurant. Recently she had the uncomfortable experience of having to tell customers that the drinks they ordered weren’t available because they had run out of root beer. She was uncomfortable because she knew why it happened. The customers were gracious because they had no idea about the coverup that was taking place.
You see some night workers were responsible for removing the empty kegs of root beer so that the manager could order more. But since the kegs are rather heavy, the night workers hid the fact that the kegs were empty so they could avoid the work. Now their sins were exposed to the embarrassment of our daughter and the manager. Those employees should have owned their mistake before they were confronted about it.
When I make a mistake I seek to own it as quickly as possible. The other person’s response is not as important as my attempt to make it right.
3: Offer grace as you would like to receive it
In my experience, it’s a lot easier to ask for forgiveness than to give it. I can be so hypocritical in this respect.
It reminds me of the parable Jesus told of the unmerciful steward. This man owed the king ten thousand bags of gold (at least 3.5 billion dollars in today’s currency). He couldn’t repay it so he begged for forgiveness. The king relented and forgave the debt. However, when the man left the king’s presence he saw someone who owed him money and demanded repayment. When the man begged for mercy, the unmerciful steward instead sent that man to prison. When the king learned of this he confronted the steward and said, “I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (Matt 18:21-35)
We have been forgiven an immense debt so it makes sense that we would show mercy toward all those who ask and even those who do not. Those who have been forgiven much will show forgiveness in abundance. It’s easy for us to forget how much we’ve been forgiven.
4: It takes strength to seek forgiveness
People often ask if seeking and giving forgiveness is a sign of weakness. Certainly, that’s what our culture tells us. But John Hopkins researchers have found there are tremendous health benefits that flow from forgiveness:
“The good news: Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards for your health, lowering the risk of heart attack; improving cholesterol levels and sleep; and reducing pain, blood pressure, and levels of anxiety, depression, and stress. And research points to an increase in the forgiveness-health connection as you age.”
There are tremendous benefits for those who seek forgiveness from God. According to Psalm 103: we are crowned with good things, we are healed, our life is filled with good things, and our youth is renewed like the eagles. Psalm 1 says the wicked (those who don’t repent) are like chaff blown away by the wind.
In the short term, it may seem like it’s wiser to hide our faults and failures, but in the long run, we will be stronger when we seek and give forgiveness.
5: Forgiveness is a form of evangelism
In a world led by the Father of Lies, our counterattack is to forgive deeply and often. The author of Hebrews tells us, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14 NIV).
Forgiveness is part of the mature believer’s path toward holiness. When people see our holiness it shows them God. God is a forgiving God and every person fundamentally needs to be reconciled with God. We can give them a taste of that by the way we live.
While it would be tempting to focus on the sins and offenses of others, I encourage you to start with your own sins and failures.
Not everyone will receive you as intended, but don’t let that stop you. I’ve had colleagues who couldn’t receive my attempts at reconciliation and I finally had to move on after multiple attempts. But I still show them love and grace despite their response to me.
The entire Gospel message centers around forgiveness. It’s funny that we have no problem celebrating this as part of our Christian story with God, but struggle to forgive our family, friends, or peers.
I remember officiating at a funeral and the daughter of the deceased still couldn’t forgive her mother even after she was gone. It made me so sad. She will carry this bitterness to her grave and it makes it toxic for others to want to be with her.
In the workplace, a lack of forgiveness produces toxicity in relationships. People won’t trust each other and it will lead to constant hiding, lying, and distorting of the truth.
Let’s not hide our failures like the empty kegs of root beer. Instead, let’s do the work of forgiveness so that our kegs will flow with living water.