ARGH! It’s a little too early to have tech problems—but I’ve literally lost a copy of this post 3x. My first draft I wrote waiting for my flight out of LAX this morning; my chromebook complete crashed. My second draft I wrote on the plane; my chromebook failed to recognize it as an offline document, and it’s gone. This is my third complete rewrite, and it lacks the emotion of draft 2. ARGH!!!!
I still feel convicted to share it, so here it is.
I can’t believe I am still so worked up! I am still so frazzled about the Mosaix / Lifeway thing, and I very much want to rid myself of this nervous energy but there was no time to do it. This morning, after four hours of sleep (thanks to my decision to start this blog), I had to smash everything into my ridiculously small “roll-a-board” suitcase, say my goodbyes to friends, get gas, return my rental car, remember to charge my cell phone—which I never got around to.
It wasn’t until I was on the rental car shuttle to LAX that I had a breather to reflect on why I was so jittery, why I was so worked up. I didn’t know why, but all I knew was that I wanted to get rid of my nervous energy. I wanted it gone—but I was so jittery, I couldn’t pray. The best I could muster was: LORD HAVE MERCY ON ME.
And then God reminded me of something, of something he told me years and years ago. He told me to delay forgiveness because I had still not yet understood enough of what had happened and what I was feeling.
Years ago, I was an Asian token at a prominent evangelical organization. My white boss made things very difficult for me time and time again, so much so that by the time I left, despite my good work, despite my great relationships, I left without a reference. It was a really painful three year season, and I prayed and journaled and read up on ethnicity and faith and race and cultural expectations and all that as much as I could. To be fair, while race/culture/ethnicity did play a very large role in my difficulties, it wasn’t the only reason, or really, I think the main reason. (But that is for another post.)
Anyway, long story short—5 or 6 months after I left, honestly because of God in a far better way than I could imagine, I thought I had moved on. I was two time zones away. I was making my life a new, opening myself up to new things. I was making new friends. However, one Sunday during worship, I remember feeling distinctly in my heart that I had not moved on. I was still chained to the injustice of what had happened to me, I was still, well, frazzled.
I knew by then that to be unfrazzled, to really move on, to be at rest with God, to have peace, to be able to be more fully used by God, to be able to live the full life that Jesus died to give me (John 10:10b), I needed to forgive.
I learned this during that hard, hard season, particularly from one African American elder sister who told me that forgiveness is an act of the will. It is a choice. It is something I can and already have power to chose to do because God had already forgiven me through his son Jesus. I can forgive even if every feeling I have desires otherwise, because it is an act of the will. It is me choosing to put God’s desires first. It is me choosing to put Jesus first and trust in him and his ways.
I learned also that it is also best to forgive specific things.
So after feeling distinctly in my heart that I had not moved on, I immediately tried to think of things and people to forgive and I realized I really had not forgiven my old boss. This is who I needed to forgive. And as I sang in God’s presence, I remember a very different idea forming in my heart. Don’t forgive yet.
It was such a strange idea to me—not to forgive yet. Isn’t that my part, what I need to do? Isn’t that loving to my old boss?
I remember feeling scared—because I knew, if I didn’t forgive I’d be bitter, I’d get a hardened heart, I’d lose out on God’s best for me, and I wouldn’t be able to move on. And then God reassured me. I will tell you when it is time for you to forgive.
I realized later the wisdom of this. When anyone’s in the midst of a hard situation, it’s very hard to see the big picture, to see the nuances of things, to get some distance to have a bit more objectivity. While I did what I could, I still needed to survive, I had to get work done, as people were counting on my part! I was now elsewhere—and now in an ideal place to see things anew, to access and pray through the situation anew. There was no magic bullet to moving on. I had to pray and sort through my feelings of unease and anger. I had to let God show me what really happened. I had to know how to name what really happened. There was no other way.
Sure enough, 8 or 9 months later, I remember it was during Sunday worship again, and I felt a whisper in my heart. It is time to forgive your old boss.
By then, I had pieced together the things I had been blind to, that I did not want to admit happened—but really did. I was angry and every bone in my body did not want to forgive. But God said it was time. It was honestly very, very, very hard to forgive, to choose to forgive. It felt like dying, like letting go of justice.
But it made all the difference. Sure enough, I was able to move on, though at times, God tested my level of forgiveness.
The first time was when I was in a panic about references for job applications. Surely, I needed my last direct supervisor! And God convinced me that it was not unreasonable for me to ask for a reference. I felt God encourage me actually to ask, to email and make a phone call. This—this was a scary thing for me. I was not raised to ask for anything for myself personally. I could ask for someone else, if the request was reasonable. But to ask for myself was extremely frowned upon. I had a hard time feeling like I deserved anything, really, even a reference for a job well done. Anyway—I emailed and called, and I did not hear back. This made me mad again, because by now, I was convinced I deserved a reference. And God called me to forgive my old boss again.
Ten years later (like Lifeway?), out of the blue, my old boss emails me. It is a long rambling email that describes in way too much detail the trials and pains of this person’s last decade. In the midst is an apology, a request for forgiveness. At first, I’m immediately touched—I see the grace in this—-and then I read further, and I’m incensed by how this person gets things all wrong! This person remembers me as a weakling, as someone powerless. While my old boss had significantly more power than me, I was not without agency or God! I was really offended, and it just brought everything back. This time I seemed to be more angry than the first—I could see even more of the bigger picture, I could see the injustice. This email asking for forgiveness is not really for my sake, is not really because this person is sorry for me, but that this person is sorry for his or herself. This person just wants to feel better about his or herself!
I thought too about the implications of this email—what does this mean? Does this person want to be in relationship with me again? Does this mean I have to have long and involved conversations about the past over and over? Does this mean I have to work through our decade old conflict with her item by item? I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to get back into things—I had put them behind me. And I didn’t really want to be friends with this person again, not that I had the time. I had a full and busy life.
Basically, I could do no other work that day—this email brought up that much. Had I not forgiven this person so many years ago? What is happening now?
With the help of a friend and after much prayer,I realized I needed go back to my first reaction, that this was a grace from God. The overall crux of the situation is that here is a person after 10 years apologizing and asking for forgiveness. I realized that I did not need to be best friends with this person, nor did I need to have an involved back and forth with them. I did however need to be open to relationship, to whatever God might birth. This is a grace not too many people get in life for someone to come back and apologize for their hand at hurting you. This is a grace to me, a gift that affirms that what I experienced and what happened to me was real, was not something I dreamed up, and that it was indeed wrong.
After much prayer, I wrote back a short, short, short email. It was something like this: I forgave you many, many years ago, and that forgiveness still stands. Go in peace. And I let it go.
Months later I realized more what a grace it was. My old boss’ apology gave me the faith to start a new season of ministry. My old boss’ apology gave me the faith to know that God indeed remembers and knows. As I write, I am realize that I keep calling it a grace because it indeed was unmerited favor from God. This out of the blue gift is really from God and not my old boss. God is the one who knew the timing, the timing that would serve both of us best.
Forgiveness is a process, a continual choice. But first we have to know what we need to forgive, what we feel disturbed about, what our frazzled feelings are all about.
This is blog is to sort out my feelings about the Mosaix conference. The extremes.
Lord have mercy.