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Teaching Forgiveness and Staying in Love

Posted: February 8, 2016 by Rob Voyle

My friend and colleague Chris Rankin-Williams said in his sermon on the Sunday
after 9-11, The challenge of this life is not to stay alive the challenge of
this life is to stay in love.

That idea brought into focus what my ministry was about and what it has
continued to be about.

Personally I don't like being afraid and I don't like being angry. They are very
draining emotions and they do not lead to positive outcomes for me or others.
And I have never known anyone to change, for the better, because I hated them.

It seems that at every moment of every day I am confronted with opportunities to
love or to hate. I have given up watching most of the so-called news programs
because I feel often I am being told what to fear and exhorted to hate.

And then there is this Jesus guy who says: "love your enemies." That is about
the most un-American thing I have ever heard and if I was to listen to many
Americans the most unchristian thing anyone could say. Hating has become part of
our culture and our churches. Revenge has become a virtue, something our culture

One of the ways Christians justify the existence of hate in their lives is to
say "love the sinner and hate the sin." Spiritually speaking that makes no sense
at all. Once you are in a state of hate toward one thing it will leak out and
contaminate the rest of our existence. The Jesus I follow wasn't a flip-flopper
between states of love and hate.

I listen to Jesus telling me to love my enemies, and I hear Chris' words "the
challenge is to stay in love."

Teaching people how to forgive is my act of sedition, to overthrow the culture
of hate. Forgiveness however is not simply the end goal. Beyond setting people
from the burden of self-inflicted resentment the purpose of forgiveness is to
open the way to return to living in love.

How Do We Want To Wait Until Others Change?

Think of someone who really annoys you and who is not likely to change their
offensive behavior. How does hating them help you, or them for that matter
beyond fueling their offensive behavior?

The only thing we can do is decide on how we want to wait for them to change.
This is where we meet the challenge to stay in love.

We can wait in hate.

Or we can forgive and wait with a twinkle in our eye and love in our hearts.

This is the kind of waiting that I see in Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama.
They have faced and continue to face major oppression yet they have the ability
to fiercely confront it while maintaining their joy.

Perhaps for most of us there is an intermediate state where we have forgiven and
wait with emotional neutrality without the transcendent twinkle. Here we are no
longer attached to specific outcomes of good or bad for the other and can turn
our attention to other life-giving relationships.

And another, perhaps more enlightened place is a compassionate state where we
can wish good for the other, without being attached to what that good might be.
(From my experience when dealing with difficult relationships my idea of what is
good for the other is always about what would really be good for me.)

Waiting with compassion is one way to meet the challenge of staying in love. As
my beloved Kim says, "compassion, its not just for saints anymore."

Rob Voyle
Director, Clergy Leadership Institute

P.S. Please let me know if you are interested in sharing in my act of cultural
sedition and hosting a Forgiveness Training program in your church.

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