“Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”
Mark Twain may or may not have penned those words, but he often receives credit for them. Regardless of who created the metaphor, it is a lovely one. Yet forgiveness is not always so easily defined.
What if the violet is the one needing forgiveness, blaming itself for the crushing?
Years ago, I knew a teenage girl who, in a heated disagreement with her father, shouted, “I wish you were dead!” Of course, she didn’t mean those words, but with no apology, she stormed off to her bedroom and slammed her door shut.
She would never see her father again.
During the night, he suffered a fatal cardiac event. His grieving daughter held herself accountable for crushing his heart with her bitter words, both figuratively and literally. Dawn arrived with no opportunity for her to apologize. Her guilt was so great she couldn’t bear to attend his funeral. She couldn’t ask for his forgiveness, and she refused to forgive herself.
Young Livi Wilson, opposed to the raging Vietnam War, feels inner tension mounting when her brother Buddy is drafted into the army. At his going away party, Buddy receives accolades from guests while Livi fumes. Finally, she lashes out at the crowd, funneling her disapproval of the war and her brother’s approaching involvement in it into her outburst.
“’Buddy is going off to spray innocent women and children with napalm, and you’re treating him like a god. I hate you. I hate all of you. I hate this war.’ Her chest heaved, and she faced her brother, muscles tense. “I hate you, Buddy.’”
She may hate the war, of course, but she doesn’t mean the rest of those words. Still, with no apology, she storms off to her bedroom and slams the door shut.
When Buddy is killed in action, Livi not only loses the opportunity to apologize, she also blames herself for his death. She fears her bitter words caused Buddy to hesitate, a fatal pause, on the battle field. She can’t ask Buddy’s forgiveness, and she won’t forgive herself. Her self-condemnation sends her life into a tailspin. This inner conflict clouds her judgment and affects her relationship with others for decades to come.
So where does an offender find forgiveness when she struggles to forgive herself? Who brings delivery from such a heavy burden?
Ephesians 4:31-32 holds the answer.
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
Guilt can arrest our emotional growth. It can eat away at every aspect of our lives. It can deny us relationships with others and with God. But we can know something young Livi didn’t understand. Christ died for us even while we were sinning. His blood washes us clean. His love offers the most fragrant forgiveness of all.
But He doesn’t force that upon us. We must first humble ourselves with changed hearts and ask for it.
Have you ever spoken angry words you didn’t mean? Has self-condemnation affected your relationship with others? Has it kept you from growing your relationship with God? What advice would you give to someone whose life, weighted with guilt like that of my teenage acquaintance or the fictional Livi, has plunged into a downward spiral?
On another note, we at Faith-filled Friends are launching another book give-away! Same rules apply as last time. We will randomly select a winner from the comments left on each post published from now to May 1. (See prize list below and view details about May’s gift basket prizes here.)
Engage often and receive numerous contest entries.
Please note: Winners who live outside the continental U.S. will receive e-books only, when available. In that event, books without e-versions will return to the “gift pot,” and we will randomly select a runner-up who is a continental U.S. resident.
Our May gift basket includes:
Delivery by Diana Prusik, Jasmine by April McGowan, Hear No Evil by Mary Hamilton, Rodeo Hero and Rodeo Song by Shannan Taylor Vannatter, Angel Falls by Connie Mann, The Shepherd’s Song by Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers, Marriage Takes Three