His sermon was on forgiveness, a common enough theme for a Sunday sermon.
Until he defined forgiveness.
"Forgiveness," said Pastor Grant, "is choosing not to exact revenge on another for a debt they've incurred." He then went on to explain that when someone hurts you there's a debt, and so you have the option of forgiving the debt or paying back the person who hurt you.
But paying someone back for something they said or did to you won't settle the score; the person you paid back for their hurt has now been hurt by you for which they'll exact payback for which you'll exact payback, and on it escalates until someone decides to stop seeking payback. In other words, forgives.
Pastor Grant told us the story of a woman from the congregation of his previous church who came to him seeking spiritual guidance.
"The bruises on her face were still visible," he said. "But she said she was a Christian, and the bible said to forgive, so she believed that she had to forgive him and go back to him."
And it was from his encounter with this abused woman with her deep faith and sense of commitment that the true meaning of forgiveness came to Pastor Grant: here was a woman who had had a terrible wrong done to her for which she could have sought revenge. She could have found someone to do to this man what he'd done to her. But all she wanted to do was to forgive him.
Pastor Grant told the woman that she already had forgiven the man and that she should under no circumstances ever go near him again. He then directed her to a women's shelter.
Pastor Grant emphasized that forgiveness does not necessarily lead to reconciliation. It just means not exacting revenge. It means seeking healthier options.
This interpretation of the meaning of forgiveness came as an illumination to me. It brought back to me old hurts, words, stings and arrows that I thought I could never really forgive but now realize that I forgave long ago by not returning the meanness that was done to me. I realized that not returning a hurt that's been done to you isn't a sign of weakness; it's a choice to forgive.
Forgiveness isn't letting another person back into your heart, though that can certainly follow; forgiveness is just letting go.