This is a difficult topic partially because it touches on painful areas of our lives. But it is a subject that comes up repeatedly in conversations with friends. Most people struggle to forgive and possibly, you are not exception. It's impossible to get very far in life before you run into a situation/person that requires you to forgive.
Even Christians, who have experienced God’s gracious forgiveness themselves, struggle to forgive as they ought. Many times it comes from a misunderstanding as to what forgiveness actually means. What does it look like? A clear understanding is necessary in order for those who have been hurt to forgive as God commanded.
I'm not claiming to be an expert in this area, but I can say I have had lots of practice!
Between the Truth in God's word, great books, and wise friends, I've come to understand forgiveness in a way that allowed me to forgive the deepest hurts of my life and set me on a path to freedom.
Notice, I said 'path' because the first thing you should know is that forgiveness can take awhile. It is a path you choose to take....whether or not you reach your destination in one day is NOT the point! The point is that you repeatedly choose the same path until you reach your destination....healing.
It is somewhat like building a home. You make the choice to build a house but the process is a combination of progress and setbacks....sometimes you don't seem to be making progress at all! But with time and effort, you eventually reach the goal.
I have also learned that not all forgiveness is equal. It's relatively easy to forgive a small slight; a careless word, a broken promise, a hurtful morsel of gossip, but much more difficult to forgive the deep wounds in our life.
Some wounds are embedded into our souls it would seem - scarred by an event or person that has fundamentally changed our lives. These wounds are often hidden as we try our best to bury them and cope with life as best as we can. All the while, they silently grow and eventually reveal themselves in different ways. Often we are unaware that our pain is leaking out
We will never heal from these wounds until we sit down and take the time to work through the process of forgiveness. I can say from experience, that it's one of the hardest things I have ever done! Digging deep to forgive is messy…but oh, so important!
There are 3 very important reasons as to why we need to forgive:
1. Unforgiveness creates a wall between God and I.
God requires that we forgive and our unwillingness to do so creates a barrier between Him and I. It also quenches the Holy Spirit from fully working thru me. My unwillingness to forgive stunts my spiritual growth and hinders God from using me to His full and good purpose.
2. I can only be forgiven by God to the extent that I am willing to forgive others.
This is a hard teaching to swallow but Matthew 18:35 states "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."
I know I am in desperate need of forgiveness, and so I need to be willing to extend the same grace that I long for myself.
3. Unforgiveness hurts the one who is unforgiving.
With unforgiveness, I can expect a life full of bitterness, resentment, shallow relationships, stunted ministry, suspicion, depression, and physical ailments such as headaches, high blood pressure, sleeplessness, etc. My mental and physical health is severely impacted when I hold on to bitterness.
My greatest hindrance in my willingness to forgive was the misunderstanding that I thought I was 'GIVING UP' my pain, and I couldn’t do that because my pain was precious! I clung to it because I was afraid that if I let go, it meant it was unimportant. Eventually I realized the truth: I was not 'giving up' my pain, I was 'GIVING OVER' my pain to a God who was going to take very good care of it! He understood how deep the hurt was, and He understood how important it was to me. He was asking me to trust Him with my deepest hurts.
"Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay', says the Lord.” Romans 12:19
God is the best lawyer you will ever have!
If you have been hurt, God will take care of it. He has a plan for those who have caused hurt and destruction, and we need to trust in that and leave it to Him. When I realized this, I began to feel sympathetic to those who hurt me and haven't asked for forgiveness because they are no longer dealing with me, they are dealing with the God who loves me and who has my back!
When I forgive, I leave the case in God's very capable hands. I get to walk to freedom and allow Him to work out the mess.
On a sobering note, the reverse is also true. If I have hurt without asking forgiveness and repentance, I too, am subject to God's judgment.
Understanding the importance of forgiveness is just the beginning, but the act of forgiveness itself, is a completely different story. Forgiveness is a choice....not a feeling!
I can tell you that in my biggest struggle to forgive, as I sat in the counselors chair, I literally could not breathe. Every time I opened my mouth, the weight on my chest would increase, and I could not speak. I don't know how long I struggled, but it seemed like an eternity.
When I finally forced the words out of my mouth, the change was instant. As the tears flowed freely, the weight lifted immediately and so. much. pain. flew away! I can also tell you that my circumstances didn't change.
My relationship with the offender was not healed. But it was the beginning of a healing in my heart to which God is still faithfully attending. I can also tell you that it's been the beginning of a walk with God that is deeper, richer, and more meaningful than I had ever experienced before....and continues to take me in a direction that surprises!
The question of forgiveness isn't really a question at all. This is what we, as believers, are commanded to do, but there is a misconception on what forgiveness really looks like.
Do offenders need to say they are sorry?
Are reconciliation and forgiveness the same thing?
Does our forgiveness differ than God's forgiveness?
Those answers deserve an entire post on their own....so I will leave it for another time.
My prayer is that you would begin to start the process of trusting God with all the pieces of your broken heart which He longs to heal. He can't begin until you choose to forgive...the choice is really up to you.
You can read Part 2 of this article here.