I’ve often spoke and written on forgiveness, and it occurs to me that there is a lot of different understandings on what it is. Some say “forgive and forget” – a near psychological impossibility – while some have attempted to leverage the pain others caused them to prove the haters wrong; using their unforgiveness as a sort of fuel to drive them forward.
But I find that we all know instinctively that forgiveness is important and necessary for our own well being. I’ve often taught that withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison, but expecting it to hurt the other person. Others have said that forgiving is like setting a prisoner free, only to realize the prisoner was actually you.
We know we should forgive. Often, we want to forgive. But how do we forgive someone who has wronged us, and how do we know we’ve truly granted forgiveness to the other person?
- Forgiveness is a choice. That means it starts with your will, and the good news about that, is you have direct control over it. The feeling of forgiveness follows the decision to forgive.
- Forgiveness is a process. It’s not as simple as snapping your fingers, deciding you’ve forgiven someone, and it’s over. This is why it’s harder to forgive some things more than others. The greater the hurt, the harder the process. So once you’ve decided you should forgive someone, you’ll often have to “re-forgive” their offense, as the feelings of hurt, anger, and bitterness try to creep back in.
- Forgiveness is self-care. It’s not simple a matter of whether the person who hurt you deserves to be forgiven. Truth is NO ONE deserves to be forgiven! But love requires forgiveness. Love for the other person, but also love for yourself. Forgiving someone doesn’t just mean that they get to move on, it means you get to move on.
- Forgiveness is not forgetfulness. As mentioned earlier, you can’t! We lie to ourselves when we say “forgive and forget”. Sometimes, forgiveness means I’m not going to trust you again. Sometimes it means, I’m not putting myself in a position where I have to forgive you again.
- Forgiveness has a calling card. You know you’ve truly forgiven when you get to the point where you want what’s best for them, not what they “deserve.” If they get hurt back, and you think “Ha! Karma! Finally!” You definitely have not forgiven them. If instead you hurt for them, that’s a sign you’ve truly let something go, and given them what you would want – what you need – when the role is reversed.
As a follower of Christ, there have been times where I felt like I was a huge disappointment… to God, my family, myself. “How could God ever bless my life? I mean, look at me! He must be so angry at me. I wouldn’t blame Him. I’m angry at ‘me’ too.”
I’m so grateful that God tells us in Isaiah 55, “So high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts.” God doesn’t look at us the same way we look at each other, or even ourselves. As followers of Jesus we will fall, but we are never out for the count because “the Lord upholds us with His hand.” In 1 John 1 and 2, the Apostle John writes to other brothers and sisters in Christ and challenges them to live to the potential that God has placed in them. He tells us to “walk in the light as He is in the light.” But he acknowledges that we will occasionally fail, and in 1 John 1:9 gives us the answer to our sin as followers of Jesus, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from every wickedness.” James tells us that if we will “draw near to God” He will “draw near to you.” God has already poured His anger on His Son Jesus Christ, for our sin. We are free from God’s righteous anger. Because of Jesus, we now have access to God and His love, mercy, forgiveness, and healing.
I can be at my best with God in a matter of minutes when I come to Him for forgiveness and healing. We don’t have to live in fear of the anger of God. We just need to focus on being in a right relationship with the One who took the wrath of God on Himself for us. By doing this, we will “be in the light, as He is in the light.”
My oldest child, Emilee, is cut from the same cloth as her father. She is rambunctious, energetic, playful… and dramatic. She got in trouble the other day, and when I called her to come to me she knew it was not to congratulate her on a job well done. Instead of going to her father, she chose to run to her closet and hide behind a row of hung up clothes. Needless to say, I was less than enthused about her decision. I went to her room, pulled her from the closet and dealt with her disobedience. As I stood her in front of me and talked to her, I told her that no matter what she’s done, no matter how bad it’s gotten, or how much she thinks she has disappointed me, she can always come to her daddy. That I love her so much that she can always come to me. Her infraction was minor. But it was compounded when she ran from me and chose to hide.
Obviously, I found my four year old’s behavior childish and a little on the amusing side. But sometimes I do the same exact thing to my Heavenly Father. I know I’ve blown it, or maybe neglected to do what I know He wants me to do. Instead of running to my Father – the One who can forgive me, remove the guilt, and empower me to change – I run to the closet, tuck behind a row of clothes, and hide from God… or so I think. The amusing thing about my daughter, is that I know exactly where she’s at; her hiding is useless. And so are my efforts to pretend God doesn’t see me acting like my four year old. Instead of crying out to Him, I stop praying, and I get into a spiritual funk of going through the motions. Nothing changes when I run from God. In fact, the stress gets compounded. Things always gets worse the longer I run from Him and avoid dealing with the heart issue.
Maybe you’ve been running from God for awhile. Maybe even so long that you don’t even think that He would want you back. But would you believe today that He loves you so much that no matter what you’ve done, no matter how bad it’s gotten, how much you’ve been hurt, how much you think you’ve disappointed God, you can always come running to your Father? Romans 8 says it best…
31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. 35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.