Firey Lessons in Forgiveness

Rebecca Montgomery

 He said it was just a joke, but I was furious. I wished I could smite the smarty pants who implied my preacher father was a money-grubbing phony then made him the butt of his joke.

I knew the truth. I really wanted to unmask him in front of everyone who laughed at his “joke.” I knew how often Dad and Mom took groceries to his wife and kids when he drank up his paycheck.

But Mom’s voice echoed through the gray valleys of my mind: “Give your anger to the Lord,” she urged, “and heap coals of fire on his head.”

Heap coals of fire on his head? At that moment, I would have happily set his hair on fire.

“Heaping coals,” Mom had to repeatedly remind us, “is a poetic picture teaching us to smother our enemies with so much kindness they are embarrassed and ashamed of their misbehavior. Don’t think of taking revenge. ‘Vengeance is mine,’ saith the Lord. ‘I will repay.’”

Living in the parsonage fishbowl, heaping coals was a way of life for us—at least in theory. Loving our enemies did not come any more naturally to us than to anyone else.

As children of the preacher, we reluctantly practiced shoveling coals when a kid in Sunday school class said unkind, untrue things about someone in my family.

In our heart of hearts, we may have hoped that kid would be kicked where it counts by his 4-H calf before a cheering grandstand, but we choked back our resentment and tried to treat him as if he wasn’t the lying cow pat we knew him to be.

Praying for our enemies often resulted in schizophrenic prayers under Mom’s supervision. While we prayed aloud, “Help me to forgive him and treat him with love,” in the secret place of our hearts we were praying, “Smite him, Lord!”

Yes, we were far from perfect.

Okay, I sometimes thought, I’ll pray for my enemy: “Lord, I recognize that guy is precious in Your sight, but to be completely honest, I’m not sure why. If you ask me, I think he could use a good old-fashion smiting!”

God didn’t ask me.

Whether your father was a preacher, plumber, or postman, heaping coals and praying for your enemies is difficult because often forgiveness is not a one-time event—especially if you have a good memory which I do.

Forgiveness is an ongoing process—like ridding your yard of dandelions. You think you have forgiven the person who wronged you; that’s you’ve jerked up unforgiveness by its roots. Then it pops up again with resentments old enough to apply for Social Security benefits.

I honestly don’t want to remember the time I walked into the church kitchen and overheard the potluck mafia gleefully eviscerating Mom. But I do. When they realized I heard them, one woman blurted, “Oh Becky, I’m sorry. We didn’t mean for you to hear that!”

Despite their shame-faced apologies, their actions left an injury that robbed me of the ability to trust female friendships for a long time. It took my Heavenly Father repeatedly reminding me that although what my enemy did was wrong, I am imperfect, too, but He still loves and forgives me when I do wrong. He is willing to forgive those women, too. After all, He loves my enemies as much as He loves me.

The point is this: While it does not seem fair that after someone wronged you, you are required to do the heavy lifting of forgiving them.

Until we become like our Heavenly Father who buries our sin in the Sea of Forgetfulness, we may need reminders that the grace God extends to us is nothing short of miraculous.

Since He can forgive and forget our sin, He can also empower you to forgive and forget the wrongs done to you.

Although in agony, with the crowd shouting for His blood, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Amid your pain, when you pray that prayer, expect God’s miraculous deliverance.

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