great southern white butterfly - collared dove - giant swallowtail
Get rid of all bitterness, passion, and anger. No more shouting or insults, no more hateful feelings of any sort. Instead, be kind and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ. [Ephesians 4:31-32 (GNT)]

It’s the hardest thing to give away And the last thing on your mind today. It always goes to those that don’t deserve. It’s the opposite of how you feel When the pain they caused is just too real. It takes everything you have just to say the word…Forgiveness, Forgiveness …

Show me how to love the unlovable. Show me how to reach the unreachable. Help me now to do the impossible. Forgiveness. I want to finally set it free, So show me how to see what Your mercy sees. Help me now to give what You gave to me – Forgiveness, Forgiveness. [“Forgiveness” by Matthew West]

Those words by Matthew West were the final words of Sunday’s opening prayer. “I want to finally set it free,” echoed in my mind as I looked up to see several butterflies fluttering throughout the park in what appeared to be a dance of freedom and joy. The previous day the local hospice had their annual butterfly release and several of their releases had remained in the park for Sunday’s worship. That event was the organization’s way both to raise funds and to offer an opportunity for people to channel their grief and loss. Following the remembrance ceremony in which loved ones’ names were read, the butterflies were set free. As they flitted off through the trees, these flowers with wings served to remind those attending of the beauty and fragility of life.

Once home from church, I listened to West’s song and, while looking up the lyrics, learned the story behind it. One of twelve songs on his Into the Light album, it was inspired by a letter he received from a woman whose daughter had died at the hands of a drunk driver. The letter told of her journey from hatred and bitterness to forgiveness. Realizing that her anger toward the young man who caused the accident kept her as imprisoned as was he, she chose forgiveness and even reached out to her daughter’s killer. As she shared with him that her God commanded forgiveness, he found his own faith in Christ. While still in custody and wearing shackles, he appeared with this mother as they gave drunk driving awareness presentations. Free from her own prison of rage and animosity, this mother even appeared before the judge to ask him to reduce the young man’s sentence. Truly, she had “finally set it free.”

Sunday morning, as the remaining butterflies danced in the air, our pastor continued his message series on forgiveness. Where once I saw butterflies only as a message of rebirth and resurrection, I began to see them as reminders of how we must release the darkness, resentment, and bitterness that can grow malignantly in our hearts. As the sermon concluded, I noticed that another one of God’s creatures, a dove, had joined the butterflies in their frolic. Perhaps this symbol of peace was just enjoying some leftover crumbs dropped from the previous day’s event. Nevertheless, its presence reminded me that releasing our hurts and anger will bring us peace. Holding on to our injuries keeps us trapped in the darkest of dungeons with no chance of parole or amnesty. Forgiveness is the key that opens the cell door and brings us into God’s light, love and peace.

Most of us will never reach out in forgiveness the way that mother did and I’m not sure God expects us to. Nevertheless, He does expect us to forgive and forgiveness isn’t easy. Chances are the people we need to forgive don’t even deserve it. Deserving, however, has nothing to do with it since we certainly don’t deserve God’s forgiveness for all of our failings. Forgiveness is something we desperately need both to receive and to give. As the butterflies remind us of the beauty and fragility of life, they can also remind us that life is too beautiful and fragile to waste a single moment in anger or resentment. As we release our hurts and offer forgiveness, it’s not the perpetrator who is set free—it is us! And with that beautiful freedom will come God’s peace.

Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else. You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you. And to all these qualities add love, which binds all things together in perfect unity. The peace that Christ gives is to guide you in the decisions you make; for it is to this peace that God has called you together in the one body. [Colossians 3:13-15 (GNT)]

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