by Phil Callaway
When our kids turned into teenagers, we wanted to hear the pitter patter of little feet once again. So we got a dog. They’re cheaper and they come with more feet. Now if you’re not a dog person, I forgive you, but if you are, you know that there’s nothing more endearing than a dog’s capacity to forgive and forget. One evening, I noticed our pup Mojo sitting by her empty dog dish staring at me, modeling two divine attributes: patience and hope. I finally loaded her dish to the brim, and she began frantically wagging her tail. All was forgiven and forgotten.
I don’t know if it’s because this dog is so small or because she’s forgetful, but vengeance is not on Mojo’s daily planner. I accidentally stepped on Mojo’s tail in the kitchen and her ears fall backwards and her tail plummets. I reach for her and say, “Sorry!” and she wags everything. This dog is positively eager to not wait one more moment to forgive.
I needed that example when a long-time business relationship soured. Things agreed to by phone and never put in writing were denied by the other party. I had no recourse but to watch as my ideas were put to work and a sizable income lost. At night I lay awake steaming and stewing and imagining conversations in which my brilliant comebacks made perfect sense, humiliating my foe. A little voice said, “Hey, take it to a judge. He’ll see things your way.”
At four one morning, I paced the house. A dog has nothing scheduled during that hour, so Mojo paced behind me, her claws click-clacking the hardwood. I sat on the sofa and she hopped aboard. Dogs are great listeners, so I told her everything. The resentment. Regret. Thoughts of revenge. As I heard myself talk, I knew that continuing along this path would cause me to spiral downward. Psychology Today reports that there is one sure-fire way to be happier and live longer. It is to forgive. But if we want to profit from the life-extending benefits of forgiveness, we shouldn’t wait for others to apologize, we must start the process within us.
Back in twelfth grade a girl I loved more than anything on earth dumped me. One day I was the best thing since sliced bread. The next, I was toast.
One night I found sleep impossible, so I picked up a Bible my mother had left by my bed, and thumbed through it, hoping for words of comfort. Instead I read words that seemed impossible: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger.”
Come on, God, I thought. I’m hurt. Rejected. But for some reason I kept on reading: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” But God, I thought, I’m humiliated. Angry. One word kept coming back to me. It wasn’t audible, but it was just as clear: Forgive.
You can’t forgive without loving. You can’t love without forgiving.
The Bible teaches us that Jesus canceled our debt when he died on the cross, and we in turn must cancel the debts others have built up against us. At first, forgiveness can feel like you’re rewarding your enemy. But one good look at the cross where Jesus died, and forgiveness becomes a gift from one undeserving soul to another, a gift that frees us from the prison of our own anger and bitterness.
It made no sense to me until I experienced this forgiveness myself, through my wife, my kids, my dog, and through God himself. Everything changes when we focus not on what has been done to us, but what has been done for us. The first leads to bitterness. The second to thanksgiving.
“Thanks, God,” I said out loud. “Thanks for your forgiveness. Help me spread it around.”
I lifted the sleeping dog from my lap, and gently placed her on the floor. Then I climbed into bed beside my wife of many years, that former girlfriend I had learned to forgive.