To tackle a topic that is untouched by many, I’m going to attempt to comment on the big “F-word” (another one) in the Christian faith. I’ve written about the f-word of fear, and tonight, it’s Forgiveness.
How many people in your life do you hold something against? For most of us, myself included, the number is higher than we want it to be. Not to mention the fact that it is higher than it should be! So why is forgiveness so hard? Why does it seem to be easier to hold onto a grudge than to let it go?
I think there are a few main things to know about forgiveness, in my opinion.
It’s all about us not wanting to let go because we think we’re “losing.” In my life, the times I have held grudges for a long time ended up being about holding the grudge instead of being permanently hurt by the original offense. I think that we are more afraid of letting the other person “win,” and we overlook the fact that withholding forgiveness really ends up hurting us. I heard it said once that “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” This was really powerful to me, and I’m assuming it will knock you down too. It’s radical to think about forgiveness in such terms, but when you think about it, holding back forgiveness really is just more work for yourself!
Secondly, I think forgiveness is hard because (at least in the Christian faith), when you achieve a point of full forgiveness, the sin is essentially washed away. The person is washed clean of what they have done. Though it doesn’t mean that you cannot be more careful around a person who has hurt you in order to protect yourself, forgiveness does demand (by definition) that you hold nothing against the person anymore. This is not an easy task, because it points once again at the common problem of trusting God. When someone has offended you, it’s human to want to be in control of what happens to them as a repercussion. Yet when you think about it, it’s not up to us anyways. Forgiveness takes the responsibility off of our shoulders to deal with the offender, which is simply another benefit of forgiveness. But, it’s one of the things that makes letting go and forgiving someone so hard to do. Even a doctor from the Mayo Clinic wrote, “if you don’t practice forgiveness, you might be the one who pays most dearly.” Yet if we can move to a point of honest forgiveness and embrace it, “you can also embrace peace, hope, gratitude, and joy. Consider how forgiveness can lead you down the path of physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.”
Forgiveness is hard because it is. I know that it sounds like a Captain Obvious statement, but it’s important to remember. We cannot be expected (and are not) to forgive someone who has hurt us immediately, just because “it’s the right thing to do.” Forgiveness is a process that takes time and intentionality. But with the help of God (and time), it is achievable and incredibly healing. Even wanting to forgive someone but knowing that you aren’t there yet is a step in the right direction. And as time goes on, it gets easier. As Lewis B. Smedes wrote in his book ‘Forgive and Forget,’ “When you release the wrongdoer from the wrong, you cut a malignant tumor out of your inner life. You set a prisoner free, but you discover that the real prisoner was yourself.” Something to think about, right?
The last point that I’ll attempt to make about all of this is the following: Let God take care of the consequences. When you’ve been wronged and have every right to be angry and harboring resentment, it’s easy to not want to forgive because the person “doesn’t deserve” forgiveness. But at the end of the day, it’s important to remember that it’s not up to us, and God will judge each of us individually. Don’t worry about what is going to happen to those who have hurt you, rather, rest assured that they will pay for the crimes/offenses they commit. Focus instead on your own self-development so as to not be an offender to others, and that will be more beneficial in the long run. We read in Luke 6:37, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” That’s pretty much clear as day, right? As one blogger wrote, “We can pray for God to deal with the injustices, for God to judge the person’s life, and then we can leave that prayer at the altar. We no longer have to carry the anger. Although it is normal for us to feel anger toward sin and injustice, it is not our job to judge the other person in their sin.”
I should include that God knows that forgiveness is not easy for us as humans. Just as Peter asked Jesus in Matthew 18:21-22, “‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'” Forgiveness is often not a “one-shot deal.” Rather, it is something that may require a lifetime of work, but it is important to The Lord, because we all are sinners, yet are still precious to Him.
I know this one was heavy tonight folks, so thanks for bearing with me if you’ve gotten this far. Did this resonate with you? What is the hardest part of forgiveness for you? How has forgiveness freed the chains from you in your life?
Verse for the night: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as The Lord forgave you.” – Colossians 3:13