A couple of Wednesdays ago I took a long lunch so I could meet with a recruiter from another company. I was disappointed with a recent raise from my employer, and I thought I would at least see what other opportunities were out there. I had my own preconceptions about how the meeting would go, and braced myself for the difficult task of being honest about my abilities yet putting my best foot forward.
At the very outset, my interviewer (who I’ll call ‘Bob’) identified himself as a Christian. This happens to me a fair bit in direct-hire interviews, since the first line in my ‘Personal Information’ section reads: “I am a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ.” I’ve been told that this may close certain employment doors to me, but I’m OK with that. (When I go through contracting firms, I usually find that they have edited that line out of my resume before presenting it to prospective clients … sort of pathetic, but not surprising.)
It rapidly became apparent that the potential position would not offer the salary I was seeking, and so I prepared to gently disengage myself from the interview and head back to the office. We had originally made plans to go to lunch, but I didn’t want to hold to that plan since I was of no further value to Bob or his company.
We chatted for a few minutes to save face, and I seized the opportunity to ask Bob about how his faith made a difference in the workplace. Coming up on the age of 40 as I am, I worry about accomplishing something in my life for the Kingdom of God, and wonder how I can make my work meaningful in an eternal context.
Bob had little to offer me in that regard, but it turned out that God had placed him in my path for an entirely different purpose.
For a long time I have been harboring bitterness and resentment against several people whom I felt had wronged me. The Holy Spirit has been convicting me of my sin in this regard for some time, now, and just this last Communion Sunday I felt that I needed to confess my unforgiving and grudge-holding spirit. Bob gently reminded me of Hebrews 12:14-15:
“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”
He went on to tell me about a number of things that had happened to him, ranging from years of chronic pain culminating in the loss of a limb, to the death of relationships and betrayal on the deepest levels by close relatives. I trembled to think of how penny-ante my issues were compared to the gut-wrenching offenses that had been perpetrated against this man.
He told me about a vision that he had received from God. It began with a view of a three-tiered prison block with a guard standing on the walkway of the middle tier. As the image zoomed in, he saw that the guard was himself, complete with uniform and nightstick, and that the occupants of the cells were each of the people who had wronged him. He remembers feeling a deep sense of anger and a fierce anticipation of nightfall, when he would be able to harass the occupants of the cells with his nightstick. Then suddenly he heard the Lord say, “This is how you see it, but THIS is how it really is.” The scene changed, and he found himself a prisoner in one of the cells, and Jesus was the guard. He could feel the solidity of the bars and the tightness of his confinement, and a longing to be free. The Lord came to his cell door and asked him if he wanted to come out. “Yes!” was his answer — but the Lord only replied, “Good, I’ll be back.” Three times this happened, and on the third time the Lord told him to reach into his pocket and hand through the bars the keys to the other cells. “Once I’ve let them out, I’ll come back for you,” He told Bob.
This story impressed me deeply, because I could see that Bob wasn’t showing any bitterness against these people. Even when telling me of the wrongs and betrayals, he was matter-of-fact and did not leak outrage the way that I do when I am nursing a root of bitterness.
Then he looked me in the eye and said to me: “There are two things you need to know about forgiveness. One, forgiveness is not about their worthiness. Two, it is not about how you feel … forgiveness is a choice.”
The idea of forgiveness being a choice really resonated with me — something I have long understood to be true about love. My ethics professor (most colleges have at most one of these) always used to say, “Love is a choice. The best one-word definition of love is commitment.” All marriages have their ups and downs — the ones that are based on feelings don’t tend to last very long. Some days I just don’t ‘feel’ like loving — but my love for my wife is steadfast, a choice I made regardless of how I feel. It seems that forgiveness is a decision as well … not some fluffy feeling I need to sustain every day.
We talked a while about the availability and abundance of God’s grace when we are obedient and choose to forgive, and how useless it is to try to forgive someone in our own strength. Sitting in a busy food court over a bowl of corn chowder, I realized that God had slowly been bringing me to the point where I was willing to release my resentment and bitterness against these people, regardless of whether they ever apologized or even knew or understood that they had wronged me. In light of my own sin and desperate need for forgiveness, how could I not release these fellow prisoners from my petty resentful grudge?
Thinking about this encounter the rest of the day, I planned for some decisive and dramatic moment that evening when I would ‘officially’ lay down my bitterness on the altar and make the choice to forgive. Driving home from the train station, I realized that I had already made the choice and was feeling the absence of the burden of that grudge I had been carrying. It is a pretty good way to lose 20 pounds, I think.
It is strange to go off to an interview expecting to be asked all kinds of technical questions, and instead to encounter two hours of intense spiritual counseling … just another reminder that so many of the events in our lives are according to God’s appointment book, not ours. I wonder what the Holy Spirit has penciled-in for me today?
5:48 am … wake Tim up with a song about my faithfulness
6:22 am … give Tim a choice between running a yellow light or developing patience
6:38 am … give Tim a chance to exercise courtesy in holding open a door for an older woman
6:40 … 7:05 am … teach Tim about my plans for the New Jerusalem during the millennium
7:25 am … convict Tim about being mean to his wife yesterday
7:50 am … meet Tim on the corner of 8th and King disguised as a homeless person
… and so on.