Intersection of Life and Faith

Forgiving Before Confronting

  • 2001 23 Jan
Forgiving Before Confronting
By Elizabeth Maddrey

I wrote a letter the other day to one of my sisters in Christ. I wanted to confront her about some things she has done that have hurt me. I prayed before I wrote the letter, consulting Matthew 18:15 for encouragement that this process was necessary. As I wrote, I felt the pain of remembered hurts resurfacing, bringing with them a self-righteous anger that grumbled in my mind, "I have never done anything to hurt her. I do not deserve to be treated this way. I must confront her and point out where she has failed as a Christian."

When I finished the letter, the trickle of anger I felt had blossomed into a rushing river, so I set the letter aside to re-read when I was calmer. I thank God that I did. When I read it again yesterday, I was ashamed. In my hurt and self-righteous anger I had forgotten the most important thing of all, to love. As I read, memories of other wrongs I had suffered at the hand of Christians filled my mind.

Having grown up in a fairly large church, there were usually visitors on Sunday mornings, and kids brought their friends from school on Wednesday nights. Most of these visitors on Wednesday were not Christians, as our program was designed to be an outreach. I can still remember how openly everyone embraced them, treating them with special attention, making them feel at home, all because we wanted to be good witnesses. And there I stood -- a regular attendee -- at the edge of the crowd, my heart crying out for a friend. But no one even acknowledged me.

These were the thoughts that fueled my anger at my sister as I wrote this letter. I had even included some suggestions of how she might improve so that we could get along better. With the best intentions in the world, I had written a letter that was designed to destroy. I had omitted the most essential ingredient: love.

I would not have written that letter to someone who was not a Christian. I would have found kinder ways to say what needed to be said, a way to show forgiveness through my words even as I tried to reach an understanding. But, buoyed by the instruction in Matthew 18, I left behind the words of Christ in Matthew 19:19 when He said to "Love your neighbor as yourself." Who is more my neighbor than a sister or brother in Christ?

I have tried to look back at the times when I have "confronted a brother in love" to see if I have been as hurtful then as I was prepared to be this week. I honestly can't remember all the instances, but a few came to mind when I was unjust. I will probably still speak to this sister about some of my hurts, but only after I have forgiven her, when I can approach her in love with an honest desire for reconciliation rather than a need to parade "superior spirituality." My prayer for myself and for other Christians is that we would learn to love our brothers and sisters in Christ as well as we love our neighbors and ourselves.

Elizabeth Maddrey is a digital products analyst at META Group in Virginia. She met her husband, Tim, while they were both completing computer science degrees at Wheaton College in Illinois. After graduation, they had many interesting experiences while Tim served four years in the Army. Their family, at this point, consists of two spastic Shetland sheepdogs.