Intentional Forgiveness

Forgiveness is hard…but not forgiving is harder. Let me explain. It’s really hard to forgive someone who has done you wrong. It’s hard to let go of the anger and bitterness. But NOT forgiving them, hanging on to the anger and bitterness is hard on you as a person. The Bible tells us that we are to forgive. It says that if we don’t forgive others, He won’t forgive us. That’s tough. {cue whiny voice} “But God, You don’t know what they’ve done!” Wait…that’s not right…He knows everything. “But God, You don’t understand how much they hurt me!” No…that doesn’t work either because He, too, has been hurt by those who do wrong…including me. “But God, I don’t WANT to forgive them!” Yeah…that’s more like it. We like to say that forgiveness is too hard, that it’s not humanly possible, that God is asking too much of us. But in reality…we just don’t want to forgive. If we forgive someone for the horrible thing they have done to us, then it feels like they are getting away with it. We feel like we’re letting them off the hook for the hurt they caused us. I was in college with a guy who once spent an entire theology class arguing that God does not command us to forgive someone if they don’t actually ask for forgiveness. Sometimes I wish that was what the Bible says. I wish I could justify my anger and unforgiveness by putting the responsibility back on the guilty party. “You know, God, I would forgive them if they would just ask…it’s their fault I haven’t forgiven them…” Yeah…I wish that was how God worked. Instead, He simply says FORGIVE.

God has really been teaching me about forgiveness in the last couple years. I wish His method of teaching was more like read-this-book-and-write-a-report kind of teaching rather than the let-someone-be-mean-and-see-what-you-remember-about-forgiveness method. I’m much better at book learning than I am at living it in my day-to-day life. I’m still figuring it out, but I thought I’d go ahead and share what I’m learning with you…even though it’s a work in progress. (Besides if I wait til I have it figured out before I share it, I will probably be too old to type…or remember what it is I was supposed to be sharing…)

1. Forgiveness is not forgetting. Whoever said “forgive and forget” was just quoting platitudes and not truth. God doesn’t say “forget” because He knows that even though we all tend to forget many things…we cannot wipe specific memories from our minds by sheer force of will. Some hurts go so deeply that the scars will never be erased. Don’t beat yourself up over not being able to forget an offense…just chose to forgive anyway.

2.Forgiveness is intentional. It doesn’t happen naturally and it certainly doesn’t happen without a good amount of effort on our part. We have to CHOOSE to forgive. In my experience I’ve had to take each individual hurt to God and ask Him to help me forgive. Then every time that hurt resurfaces and I feel like reminding myself (or others) the wrong that’s been done to me, I have to take it back to God, reminding myself, instead, that I have already forgiven that offense, and ask Him to take it away. Every. Single. Time.

3. Forgiveness is a process. It takes time to go through all the hurt and give it all to God. It takes time to let go of the anger or bitterness that has been allowed to grow in our heart. We choose to forgive, but then we run into that person at the grocery store or we find a picture from the past.  We are reminded about what happened, and we get angry again. So we have to choose to forgive. Again. Every time we rehearse in our head or out loud for others to hear, we allow unforgiveness to come back into our life. Forgiveness is a daily choice…something we do over and over again until the hurt is healed and the anger can no longer take root in those wounds.

4. Forgiveness is good for you. I’ve heard it said that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. How true is that?! My not forgiving someone doesn’t hurt them, it hurts me. I’m the one with the high blood pressure and heart burn. I’m the one who stews over what has been done. I’m the one who boils in anger and shoots steam out of my ears when I talk about what happened to me. The other person just goes on about their life, not tasting the bitterness in my mouth or feeling the daggers I’m shooting from my eyes. {deep breath…sigh…let it go…} But when I chose to forgive, my turmoil turns to peace and my bitterness transforms into joy. I am able to see the good around me and the ones who did me wrong no longer control my thoughts. I am free from hanging on to the past and able to step more confidently into the future.

5. Forgiveness is worth it. Choosing not to forgive is saying that I would rather get revenge on my enemy than get forgiveness from God. I don’t think any of us would willingly reject God’s offer of forgiveness, but that’s what unforgiveness is doing to us. Our great and powerful God loves us and wants what is best for us. He sees each tear that we cry. He knows each hurt we have suffered. We are His children! And He says “Vengeance is mine; I will repay!” When I think about it that way…I’d much rather vengeance be done by God. My power and influence is limited but God’s is not. Whew! I sure wouldn’t want to be standing next to certain people when they stand before God! (Is that mean to say? Well…I told you I didn’t have it all figured out yet…)

So, that’s what I’m learning about forgiveness. There are multiple books out there that I’ve recommended to people in our church to read and many experts who know so much more than I do about the subject. But I’m hoping that if I write down what I’m learning then I will be reminded how far I’ve come and not allow myself to be sucked in by the temptation to hold grudges. I’m also hoping that my experiences will help someone else who is going through hurt and anger. Bad things happen to good people all the time…especially people in ministry leadership. I know from experience…just a couple years ago, some people in our church…Wait. I can’t tell you what happened because I promised God I would stop rehearsing it. Sorry, Lord. Help me to forgive them. Again. See? I told you it’s not easy…but it’s definitely worth it!

Thank You, Lord, for Your forgiveness!

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4 thoughts on “Intentional Forgiveness

  1. Stephanie, it never ceases to amaze me, that what God works in the hearts of men stretches abroad. This has been what God revealed to us in prayer this week. I guess we are all a work in progress. Forgiveness, may I to learn this gracefully.

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