For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. –Matthew 6:14-15
Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the most widely read and respected poets of the Victorian period. In 1846, a romance between her and fellow poet Robert Browning led to their marriage and a move from England to the Italian Peninsula. Elizabeth’s father was not in favor of the marriage of his eldest child or any of the siblings. He never spoke to her again.
Although a recluse who had spent five years writing in the bedroom of her father’s house, Browning was a prolific letter writer. She and Robert exchanged 574 letters during their courtship and she continued to write her father regularly throughout her married life. Upon his death a box arrived at her home. When she opened it, she found all the letters she had written him — unopened.
The story that weaves through Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s relationship with her father is a story to which so many can relate. It’s a human story of disappointment, control and lack of forgiveness. When Jesus taught about forgiveness, he did so with utter clarity. He taught that if we don’t forgive someone from our heart — releasing him or her from the resentment and judgment of our minds — we can’t be forgiven ourselves. Perhaps a better way to look at it would be that if we don’t let go of the grudge we hold so tightly in our closed hands, our hands aren’t open to receive anything from God.
Forgiveness has a theological component: God’s forgiveness saves us from sin. Forgiveness also has an immediate practical component: when we give it, we release others from our wrath, but we really release ourselves. And letting go of anger makes way for the joy of God, which is our daily strength.
The real tragedy of this story is not only that Mr. Barrett missed out on having a relationship with his daughter. He also missed out on the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Don’t miss out on the great relationships that grow in the lives of those who forgive much. And don’t miss out on God who has forgiven us for things far greater than what we have forgiven others.
1. Is there anyone in your life who you have not completely forgiven?
2. How does your life demonstrate thankfulness for being forgiven by God and others?
Matthew 18; Mark 11:25