It was 2008. I hadn’t talked to Onesimus in almost two years. Ok, her name isn’t really Onesimus, but the day I randomly opened to the book of Philemon, I saw our story speaking to me in between the lines.
Holding onto hurt–both of us–to the point I decided it was better to take a break. I did my best to write her out of my life, convinced we could live at peace … apart. But there never was peace. And it didn’t feel right living so fractured, no matter how I tried to justify it.
Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. (verses 8-9)
I have no doubt that day, in love, these words time traveled to tell me, and to teach me how, to forgive, even when I didn’t want to.
I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. (verse 12)
How many years would pass in estrangement? The rippling effects of our feud hurting hearts. If I would ever find peace, it would be through forgiveness.
Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. (verses 15-16)
When I swapped out Onesimus’ name and put hers in its place, the message became uncomfortably personal. Maybe it was good for me to try to work it out on my own (and fail), so that when the time came for us to reunite, it could be forever, as dear sisters.
So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. (verses 17-18)
The answer all the more clear: Paul’s example pointing to Christ’s work on the cross. That charge had been paid.
Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask. (verse 21)
I sat there staring at a page that totally changed my life and asked aloud, “More than you ask? I have to invite her to Thanksgiving dinner, don’t I.”
There was no response, but I knew what I had to do: forgive. And then I called her.
It took years of dealing with my own stubbornness trying to find my own solution that had to do with anything else but reconciliation. Relationships can get messy. Comments can still hurt. But unforgiveness hurts worse, and it hurts everyone involved–be it the person unforgiving, the one unforgiven, or the bystanders caught in the middle.
I invited her to Thanksgiving dinner that year. I welcomed her as if the Lord himself stood at my door. I felt freed from a grudge and a hurt … because of a page in my Bible written two thousand years ago and a message of love–and forgiveness–that is timeless.
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! Psalm 133:1
Looking forward to seeing her face at my dinner table again this year. It wouldn’t be the same without her. Thank you, God.