Do you remember when you were a kid, before you got a shot, and the nurse warned you that it might hurt a little, but it the long run it would be worth it? Forgiveness is a little like that…it hurts up front sometimes, but it is definitely worth it.
There is a good chance that if you have been alive more than a couple of years, someone has hurt or offended you. For some of us, that offense runs deeper than what is reasonable to expect in the course of the average day. In an effort to hide from the pain we carry, we bury it down deep but never really forget about it. Do you know what happens with a wound that is not cleaned out and treated properly? Exactly. It festers. It gets smelly. It contaminates the healthy tissue around it. When you allow a hurt or offense to fester, it contaminates every other area of your life. If you don’t agree, ask the people closest to you. Because our own eyes are the only ones we can’t look into ourselves, we sometimes miss what others see clearly.
The cure to the festering, the contamination, is forgiveness. That might hurt a little. We have all grown up hearing the phrase “Forgive and forget.” We feel like we have to move on, hold hands with the people who hurt us, and sing Kumbaya. This just isn’t an accurate picture of forgiveness.
According to dictionary.com, the meaning of the word forgive is:
• to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.
• to give up all claim on account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.).
• to grant pardon to (a person).
• to cease to feel resentment against: to forgive one's enemies.
• to cancel an indebtedness or liability of: to forgive the interest owed on a loan.
Look carefully at the definitions. None of them have anything to do with the offender deserving to be forgiven. It all has to do with releasing the hold that the offense has on us. Forgiveness is a gift that we give to ourselves. Not doing so gives power to the crime or the hurt, and to the person who perpetrated it.
The Bible is very clear on the effect of unforgiveness on our souls. When we carry anger, we make room for the devil to get a foothold. (Ephesians 4:26) We become bitter. We lose our joy. And sisters, you may not know this yet, but we were created, created, for joy. Notice I didn’t say happiness. Happiness is circumstancial. Joy is a gift of the Spirit that comes from relationship with Jesus. (Galatians 5:22). When you are full of anger, resentment, and bitterness towards someone, there is no room for joy.
I love the cup analogy. Picture your heart as a cup of milk. If something knocks into you, what spills out? Right. Milk. Now imagine your heart as a cup of rage. A cup of resentment. A cup of disappointment. A cup of bitterness. When the world knocks into you, and it will, what is spilling out? What is spilling out over the people in your life? Rage. Resentment. Disappointment. Bitterness. The way to empty the cup and start again is to displace the ugliness in it with some God-sized ice cubes. Cultivating our relationship with God, filling up with Him, is how we forgive the things that we are stewing about.
Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. You may not feel forgiving, but it is an action. Forgiveness does not mean the same thing as trust. Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves, but trust has to be earned by another person. You are not required to walk back into a bad situation just because you forgave someone. After you have made the choice to forgive, and you find yourself thinking ugly thoughts about the offense, remind yourself that you have forgiven that person. Take those thoughts captive. Your mind cannot think two thoughts at the same time, so you replace the unforgiving thoughts with God’s truth. You are in charge of your mind, because that is where rational thought comes from, being ruled by emotion comes from the heart, and is not based in absolute truth, but the feeling or mood of the day. 2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us to take every thought captive and make it obedient unto Christ. That means that we take the thoughts that are not productive, but destructive, and line them up with the truth of Jesus.
Philippians 4:8 is an important verse to remember: Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. The promise that follows in Philippians 4:9 is that when we do those things, think on those things, the peace of God will be with us. And that, sisters, is what we are after. We are tired of living in pain and bitterness. We need peace. These verses are where it begins.
I am not saying that what happened to you is not important, and that you weren’t allowed to be hurting; that comes with being human. It is the dwelling on it part that does the damage. I know what it is like to be hurt in a way that there is no excuse for. I also know that the one thing that has enabled me to move forward was releasing the people I was holding responsible. God has promised me in His Word that vengeance is His. The reason He claims it as His own, and tells us to walk away, is because He knows that left up to us, it would destroy us.
If these words sting, or you need a little more convincing as to the necessity of forgiving others, let me direct you to the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:15: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” That, friends, is pretty straight-forward. Remember, there is no hierarchy to sin. Either you sin or you don’t, and we all do. Either we forgive others, or we are not forgiven.
When you set someone free through forgiveness, they lose their power over you. And maybe, someday, you may find yourself in a position of wanting to pray for that very person. I like to remember the saying that “hurting people hurt people.” When it comes right down to it, like it or not, the person who hurt you is just as broken and in need of healing as you once were.
What it all boils down to is this:
• Forgiveness is a choice.
• Forgiveness is not for “them.”
• Forgiveness is a necessity.
"Again, you have life and death set before you today." (Deuteronomy 30:19). Choose to live free.
Thoughts to Consider
• What do you gain by not forgiving somebody?
• How has unforgiveness kept you in bondage to the offense?
• Imagine life without the ball and chain of bitterness slowing you down. How does it feel?
• For freedom, Christ has set you free. Stand firm, therefore, and submit no more to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
• Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:19)
• Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)
I posted over at the Mom Time blog on the fabulous topic of stewing. Who doesn't love a good stew, right...?