I Can’t Do The Sum

“Your integrity is in question and will be monitored!”  Those were the words I read through a red haze a couple of nights ago.  I had come into my business to take care of some late night tasks before sitting down to write for awhile.  The email I found was from a customer who thought they had ordered a particular CD and had been charged for it, but that we had never sent it.  Normally, these questions are easy to clear up and the customer is served with respect and hopefully returns to purchase more items.  This time it didn’t look as if that would be the result.  The customer had added those nine fateful words as a postscript to the email.  You might say that I was not a happy camper.

I realize that to many of you, I seem to be mild-mannered and level-headed, but there are a few people who know differently.  I do, on occasion, come unglued.  On this evening I was furious.  This was the first time this customer had contacted us regarding their problem.  It would seem to make sense to assume that an error had occurred and to attempt to have it rectified, but they were actually questioning my integrity!  I was ready to fire off an equally offensive missive, but was drawn up short unexpectedly as I researched the issue.

I found that the customer had indeed placed and received an order, but that it had been for a different item than what was referenced in the email.  It was obviously an error on the customer’s part, but it was the title of the song they had actually ordered that drew my attention.  The song was a popular Christian title from a year or two ago entitled “7 X 70”.  Seeing the title was all it took to stay my hand from typing the angry words that this person deserved to hear from me.  Many of you will immediately understand why.

Peter, the Rock, came to his Teacher and asked, “How many times do I have to take flack from people and still forgive them before I can respond in kind?  What do you think?  Seven times?”  His Teacher responded, “No, not just seven times.  Put up with it and forgive them seventy times seven.”  The number, of course, was of no consequence.  The meaning was that forgiveness should be offered as many times as the offense was committed.  The hard man, Peter, wanted a finite number to be able to count to and then retaliate.  The Teacher needed him to understand the meaning of true grace and He made that number so high that no one would be able to keep track of when the limit was reached.

My customer had offended me once.  I wanted to retaliate.  At first.  The “7 X 70” in front of me was a slap in the face, waking me to my own offense.  I admit that I was shamed.  No.  I am ashamed.  I had indeed taken offense at this customer’s words, but not only that, I now see the way I act toward many people on a daily basis.  I assume the worst, when probably more often than not, a simple error has occurred, possibly even on my part.  It is the way of the world today, is it not?  Expect perfection and accept nothing less.  The person we trample to achieve that goal is of no consequence; only our own satisfaction matters.

Illustration by Vectorportal.com

By retaliating and refusing to forgive, we place ourselves in the offender’s power, chaining ourselves to them with a bond that can be broken by only one thing…forgiveness. Again and again, I hear people tell the stories of growing old and realizing that they have carried bitterness with them all the way from childhood into their senior years.  I love the reports of how they can gain freedom, though.  I have heard of people crossing the country to find an estranged friend, perhaps phoning a parent they have refused to talk with for many years, or even writing a letter to a stranger at whom they took offense.  The key, the one that unlocks the prison in which they have confined themselves or the one that releases the shackles they have placed on their own wrists and legs, is a tiny one.  That key is just three little words, albeit so very hard to say…“I forgive you.”

I don’t ever want to be held in such a prison. 

As I considered these things, my mind went back to the problem at hand and I started over again on my note to the customer.  I explained what had transpired, suggesting that they were mistaken about the title they requested.  I pointed out that as Christians, we had a responsibility to treat each other with respect and asked them to contact me again.  They did.  A short note of apology arrived the next day.  Our accounts are clear with each other.  There are no handcuffs, no chains, not even a scrap of rope with which to tie us.

Whew, what a relief!  I’m just wondering, though.  If we’re trying to keep count, is that one against them?  Or, one against me?  Oh well, 7 X 69 then.  I can live with it…

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
(Lewis B Smedes~American author and Reformed theologian~1921-2002)

“…and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
(The Lord’s Prayer~from the Book of Common Prayer~based on Matthew 6:12)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012 All Rights Reserved.

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