If life were a Hallmark card and every second a Kodak moment, there would be warm and fuzzy times throughout each and every day.
Bitterness, jealousy, hostility would be nonexistent, or at the very least resolved quickly, and serenity would prevail perpetually.
However, life happens, people may change, mean-spirited souls are amongst us and many times during our lifetime we are called upon to offer the gift of forgiveness.
In order to properly be able to forgive someone, we need to understand what forgiveness is not:
- Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Forgiveness is something we can, by the grace of God, offer to someone, but never experience the joy of reconciliation, due to the response of the other person. Some people sincerely, but mistakenly, assume that if they forgive an offender, they must re-establish the relationship. Unfortunately, this mistaken mindset has kept countless victims from forgiving their victimizers. Forgiving someone does not mean "let's just bury the hatchet and go back to the way things were."
Many have suffered unspeakable crimes against them. Forgiveness is one-way, but reconciliation is two-way. Reconciliation is a process that succeeds only when both parties are willing to work at it. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is a personal decision on the part of the victim regardless of the offender's decisions. We can truly choose to forgive, even if it is never sought or deserved.
"How," you might ask, "is it possible to forgive someone who has wronged you terribly?" This, my friend, is only possible through the grace of our Lord.
It is he who enables us to make the decision to forgive and then it is he who sets the example of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not a feeling. Forgiveness is a decision and an act of will. Feelings are not at all necessary to forgive someone's debt against us. This act of the will begins with the decision to forgive and to "let go" of the desire that someone needs to pay for what they have done toward us.
I do not know how to write without being transparent. Transparent is who I am, and with that in mind, I must tell you I have found a secret in my own life concerning the area of forgiveness. I begin on my knees. I choose to forgive someone when I sense bitterness taking root, and then I tell God, "God, I choose to forgive this person for such and such." I may or may not instantly experience relief, but I know through faith that God is working even when I cannot see him working. Is this a once for all thingy with me? Wish I could say, "Oh yeah, I never have to deal with this again." But that would be a falsehood. There are some things that just haunt us and threaten to ruin our lives. But the bottom line is this: Unforgiveness can ruin your life and the lives of your family. I overheard my daughter tell my son something that I have told her over and over again throughout the years: "Bitterness is the one acid that will eat its own container." If someone wants to self-destruct, all they need to do is allow bitterness and unforgiveness to fester within them and literally physical/mental/emotional ailment will be the result.
Forgiveness is not excusing the wrong or letting the guilty "get away with it." All wrong behavior is wrong. All wrong behavior is without excuse. So many people think if they forgive, they will be saying that the offense against them was never wrong. No! Forgiveness never implies, "What you did is OK - no big deal." That is not the mindset of true forgiveness. Forgiveness is not letting them off the hook. Forgiveness is moving the guilty from your hook to God's hook.
Forgiveness is not being a doormat or a weak martyr. Forgiveness is a sign of courage, and courage is doing something even when you are afraid. Letting go of bitterness is not for the faint of heart. It means relinquishing your right for revenge. By forgiving, we align ourselves with God - it is he himself who offers full forgiveness to us, and who are we to do any less for someone else?
Now we have discussed at length what forgiveness is not, so what exactly is forgiveness? The New Testament was written in the Greek language. The Greek word in the Bible for forgiveness is aphesis. This word means "pardon, cancellation of an obligation, punishment or guilt." Forgiveness is one person canceling the debt of another person.
Unforgiveness is a link that binds two people together. Forgiveness frees you and the other individual. You can actually forgive and experience the awesome freedom from the choice to forgive without the other person ever reciprocating. They may not even think about the wrong against you. Then, again, they may seethe in it and ruin their life, but you do not have to ruin your life, my friend.
Learning to forgive someone is nothing short of learning to think and act like God! We may not ever see the results of our forgiveness but we will experience freedom as we've never known before.
Interestingly, several years ago, I heard something, and now being much older and a tad bit wiser (sometimes) I believe it to be true. You may never reap the love you've sown into someone from that very person. However, God being all knowing, will see to it that you reap that love from himself as well as other people. This was right in the middle of my pity-party-pit and I will never forget the freedom this gave me. I knew the Biblical principle of reaping what one sows. Now, that can be the bad stuff we sow and that can be good things we sow. Prior to this time in my life, I assumed if you were loving and kind to an individual, you will reap love and kindness from that individual. Sorry, but that was only in "Kim's little perfect world." But the Biblical truth stands true: we will reap what we sow, but we may reap in an entirely different way than what makes sense to us!
Also, along the same lines I remember a story about a woman who went to a counselor. She proclaimed bitterly, "I hate my husband and I want a divorce, but I desire to hurt him really bad."
The wise counselor begins, "OK, here's what you do, you go home and you pretend to love him. You do everything you would do if you really did love him. You be an actress and you act like you love him. Then, at the end of the month you announce your plan to divorce him."
The woman rubbed her hands together and said with glee: "I'll do it." A month later the same woman appeared at the door with a softening to her countenance. "So," the counselor asked, "are you going to divorce him?"
"Oh, no" the lady replied, "I love him so much, I could never do that!"
When we act like we've forgiven an individual even if we do not feel like it, a change in us will occur. Walk in that way and your feelings will change. Now, please do not misunderstand me, boundaries are essential and we are not talking about tolerating abuse, and many times physical distance is imperative for health and safety purposes, but that's another topic for another day.
The Unforgiving Heart is ...
-Judgmental-focuses on the past wrongs that
the offender committed.
- Merciless rehearses the reasons the offender does not deserve mercy.
- Resentful begrudges the successes of the offender.
- Condemnation is intolerant of any present failures of the offender.
- Contempt looks down without mercy on the offender.
- Envy covets the accomplishments of the offender.
- Vengeful rejoices when the offender experiences failure, difficulty, or hurt.
- Maligning talks to others about the faults of the offender with the intent to hurt.
- Prideful elevates self above the offender.
- Bitterness harbors hostility toward the offender. (Jealousy is most often the root of bitterness)
- Impatient exhibits little patience while being easily provoked.
- Annoyance feels easily irritated by the offender.
- Bitter feels weighed down with unresolved anger.
- Haughtiness acts with arrogance toward the offended.
- Profane verbally abusive toward the offender.
On the other hand, What does a forgiving heart look like?
- Loving does not keep a record of the bad things the offender has done.
- Joyous takes to heart the goodness of God and His sovereignty over all events in life, even the painful ones.
- Peaceful seeks to resolve any difficulty, hurt, or division and wants the offender to be right with God and to be blessed by him.
- A peaceful demeanor that lowers the guard of the offender and paves the way for reconciliation.
- Kind looks for and acts in practical ways to express kind deeds and to meet needs.
- Patient accepts that the offender is not "fixed in cement" and could possibly change.
- Good holds to moral principles and purity even in the midst of controversy.
- Faithful prays that those who have caused pain might have changed lives.
- A kind deed on behalf of the offender that is unexpected, unforeseen, and unannounced.
- A faithful commitment to pray for those who have been hurtful.
- Gentle takes into account the woundedness of the offender and responds to harshness with a calm gentleness.
- Self-controlled decides ahead of time how to respond when conflict arises.
Lists from the book, "How to Forgive ... When You Don't Feel Like It" by June Hunt, published by Harvest House publishers.
(Kimberly Short Wolfe, MA, is the counselor at Cornerstone Christian Counseling. To contact her, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.)