A couple of weeks ago I attended a conference in Oxford that took place next to the canal. I walked past the nearby lock a few times each day, coming and going, sometimes stopping to watch as a boat passed through.
I took a few photos but I wish I’d recorded the sound of the sluice gates closing and the water rushing in, like filling up a giant boaty bathtub. Thanks to YouTube, I found a video that captures the action (but not the sound) here.
More than just being fascinated by it, I felt the lock somehow had a message for me, but I wasn’t sure what it was.
I remembered that there was a story in the news during the summer about a stretch of the Avon and Kennet canal near us that was completely drained because the people who were passing through were in a hurry and left all the lock gates open. A big section of the canal was completely drained leaving lots of boats stranded in the mud. The people who did it moved on without realizing the damage they’d caused.
I’m a big fan of forgiveness; feel moved by stories about forgiveness. I love that the heart of the gospel is all about forgiveness, but that doesn’t make my own forgiving easy or automatic.
The general advice is that it takes time. Some people say that writing down the thing that has caused hurt will help you to move on. I’ve tried sitting in prayer with my hands open as a gesture of handing it over to God, but still found myself with resentful thoughts creeping in.
I think the lock was speaking to me about forgiveness. I realised that even my most prayerful efforts can still focus on the other person, wishing that they would say sorry or change or at least notice the damage that they have caused so that I will be able to respond with grace. I’m not saying this is a bad thing to want. However, when it doesn’t happen, when they don’t apologise or even notice, it leaves me with the ugly burden of unforgiveness, the heavy weight of something not resolved.
Somehow I needed reminding this summer that in order to move on, my own heart needed to change. Not all situations are the same and mine isn’t serious, but in this case, I know now it wasn’t really about the other person, it was about my response. Other people may not change but I can choose to let God change me.
Someone prayed for me at the conference and something shifted. It changed my prayer into a desire to be able to respond in love, regardless of the other person. It had the effect of shutting the sluice gates so that a new perspective could come flooding in. I’m not suggesting it will be all smooth sailing, but for the moment, I’m thankful that the river ahead seems smooth and I don’t feel tethered to what was holding me back.