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.
I was once told by another pastor (whom I had previously never met) that I would be the downfall of the Baptist Bible Fellowship. Why? Because he and I did not agree on secondary issues like Bible translations, music styles, and church labels. We had just discussed all the things that made us “Baptist” all of which we agreed on to the most minute detail. But the way he treated me, you would have thought I denied the resurrected Jesus! He didn’t care about me. He had a personal agenda, other than the kingdom of God. Instead of taking an opportunity to speak life, he stereotyped me as “young and rebellious” without knowing anything about me, or wanting to know.
The longer I’m in ministry, and the more God increases my influence for Him, the more people I inevitably come in contact with, some of which won’t know my heart, or care to know. I was challenged once on how to deal with these situations by this statement: “Refuse to fight battles where there are no spoils.” I got it… Because I have wasted far too much of my time, effort, and good temperament trying to argue my way through a battle that would result in no gain even if there was a way to win it. Even Jesus had critics and people whom He would never convince. Notice how little time He spent trying to deal with them! Almost all of His time was spent on the people who would receive His words.
I am blessed to be a part of a great church family that responds to the message of that Word every week with faithfulness. Most of those who follow the blog are either the same way, or curious about this Christian walk. However, I’ve found that in life, ministry, and certainly the internet, that the more exposure you have, the more people you’ll meet that like to pick fights. I fought many philosophical and theological battles in 6+ years of ministry and have had to learn some important lessons the hard way. You’ll never change some people’s mind. Whether they are attacking you to try to prove you wrong, voice an opinion, push their own agenda, or just cut you down – some people will always misjudge you. I’m not talking about a brother or sister in Christ who approaches you to express their concern over a choice that you’re making. That’s just biblical confrontation and you should consider their concerns carefully before outright rejecting it. I’m talking more about the type who probably don’t even know you – or care to know you – but make broad assumptions and accusations about your character or motives. And while pastors can sometimes attract these type of critics, you don’t have to be in ministry to know what I’m talking about.
Don’t get all worked up when someone who has no love toward you treats you poorly, calls you names, or judges your heart. You and I will not answer to them. Live your life as God would have you, and hold yourself accountable to people who truly have your best interest at heart, and are following the Lord. There will always be haters. You and I can waste our time and good mood trying to correct them, or we can do good where it can really count. Let the haters hate on. But let us decide to be known by our love for one another and not give in to stooping to their level. You can’t throw mud without getting covered in it yourself.