Have you noticed how the things God asks of us, the hard things, the humbling things, the character-building things, are always, always for our own good? I am in a season where God is teaching me a whole lot about forgiveness. It started when I came across this quote: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.” Lewis B. Smedes wrote those words, and when I first read this quote I was thinking that I’m actually in a season right now where I am not harboring anything. And it feels so good.

But then I remembered yesterday. I was on the phone with a friend and something was said that felt like a slap. It wasn’t meant to hurt, but in an instant it sucked the energy out of the conversation and I became short and clipped and ready to get off the phone. So I ended the conversation, but not before I let my change of temperature be very known.

I hung up, brooded for a while, felt every muscle in my body tense and then did something very rare. I picked up the phone and hit redial. And I named the entire thing. “Hey, I want to apologize because I just got short with you. When you said x, I felt…because… But then I got rude and impatient with you and that wasn’t fair.” The friend quickly replied, “Oh I know. The second I said it I knew it was heard wrong. I am so glad you called back.” And we each forgave the other, me for what was said, she for how I treated her after it was said.

I hung up and my muscles relaxed and all I could hear, ringing in my ears was “And the truth shall set you free.” It did. It always does.

In the Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis paints a vivid picture of hell. He describes it as a city where no one forgives, no one reconciles, no one tries to find common ground. Instead, when a person quarrels with their neighbor they pack their bags and move to a new street…where they will likely find a new fight and pack it all up again and move further and further away. He imagines that in hell you can just wish a new street and a new home, so that in the end there may be just one person living on each abandoned street, having isolated themselves from ever having to deal with another companion.

I’ve always thought of hell as ‘apart from God’ but this offers such a visual of what existence would be like without the relational tools God has give us such as forgiveness, reconciliation, patience, honesty and kindness. Without these gifts, we are only left with our selfish demands while trying to live with everyone else’s selfish demands. In our own lives we see our own and everyone else’s selfishness every day, but thank God for the ability to work things out, for honesty and truthful communication, and for a God who created us to be relational beings, set up in communities so that we must learn how to use these God-instructed gifts.