Some Practical Problems in Forgiveness - Part 5

Forgiveness & the Missed/Nonexistent Opportunity

by Amy Alexander

As a seventeen-year-old, I unintentionally offended my grandmother by writing her a thank you note for birthday money that bought "half a skirt."  I vividly remember what that skirt looked like.  It was olive green linen with a peplum hem.  I never apologized for hurting her feelings, and she died that September.  Every time I wore that skirt, I thought about the missed opportunity to apologize and restore a relationship.

Almost a decade later, my debit card number was compromised and bank account drained in a matter of minutes by someone I never met who went on a shopping spree in Virginia.

What do these two examples have in common?  They are opportunities for forgiveness that never happened.  In the first, though I did not know it at the time, I had 2.5 months to ask for forgiveness.  I instead chose to act like I did not need to apologize.  In the second, a nameless, faceless person stole thousands of dollars from me.

How does forgiveness occur if you avoid or never get the chance to offer forgiveness?  While I cannot begin to explain forgiveness in an impossible situation, I do know that as a human being, I am limited in my knowledge and have no idea what the future holds.  The two concepts that give me hope are that forgiveness is not dependent on another person's reaction and that our God is not confined by time and space even though we cannot comprehend reality in any other way.

The scriptures promise us a future restoration of the world as it should be, and I hope that part of this healing will be closure on the opportunities we never seized or had in the first place.  Revelation 21:4 states: "He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."  1 Corinthians 13:12 says, "For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."

Maybe later in my life, I will be given the chance to forgive a thief directly, much like the bookshop owner who forgave me for stealing the magnet.  Here's how I hope the encounter will play out: law enforcement officers will bring the thief to me and laughingly say, "He claimed you gave it to them."  And I will say that I gave the thief the money.  After the law enforcement officers have left, I will tell the thief: "Don't ever forget: you've promised to become a new man.  You no longer belong to evil.  With this silver, I've bought your soul."  Watch this powerful scene in Les Miserables.

I will see my grandmother again one day.  With my luck, she will look like she is seventeen years old and will be wearing an olive green skirt with a peplum hem.  She might even look like the 1944 version of me because my grandfather always said I looked just like her when they first met.  The first words I will say are, "I'm sorry."