Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Struggling to Forgive

If you are like me, you have struggled at times to forgive people. People can say and do a number of things that hurt us. We all like to act tough and pretend as though things don't phase us. This is an act. We are tender people when it comes down to it. 

Things people may do that causes hurts includes: talking about you behind your back, saying something offensive, failing to live up to a commitment or expectation, lying to you, ignoring you, acting rude to you, doing something that brings physical harm to you or a loved one, and on the list goes. There is no end to the things that can hurt us. 

Are we to live constantly frustrated and angered at those who hurt us? Only if we want to live miserable lives. Failing to forgive those who hurt us does not get back at the one who caused the pain, it perpetuates our hurts. Being unable to forgive others only drowns us in a sea of despair and bitterness which leads us to feel worse about ourselves and our lives.

What is forgiveness?

It is important to understand the meaning of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not saying that what someone did is okay. Forgiveness is not pretending that something did not hurt you. Forgiveness is not acting like something did not happen. No, forgiveness understands that someones actions were wrong, hurtful, and did happen, but refuses to be held captive by those actions. 

Forgiveness is about cutting oneself loose from the hurtful actions of others. Forgiveness is about releasing the anger, bitterness, resent, and desire to hurt back. Forgiveness recognizes that no one is perfect, including ourselves, and chooses to pardon people for their wrongdoing. This naturally leads to an important question.

Why should we forgive?

Why should we let people off the hook who have hurt us? This is a question we wrestle with in dealing with forgiveness. We want people to feel the pain we feel. When someone hurts us, we want them to hurt too. This attitude is toxic. This type of attitude does massive damage to us emotionally. When we live to strike back at those who have hurt us, we quit living. 

Those unwilling to forgive others live miserable lives. The reason for this is they are chained to the hurtful actions of others. Instead of living life and moving on, they remain trapped in a state of resentment and vindictiveness. This is emotionally draining and physically exhausting. Choosing not to forgive others is a guaranteed way of being unhappy. 

In addition to the things stated, forgiveness is something God demands we give to others. Christ told us in Matthew 6 that we must forgive others of their trespasses or our own trespasses will not be forgiven. That is a massive reason for forgiving others. If we desire God to forgive our sins, we must learn to pardon the sins of those who hurt us. This is a major part of our discipleship and sanctification process as followers of Jesus.

How do we forgive? 

So what do we do? How can we go about forgiving others that have hurt us? I believe the first important step is realizing how much you have forgiven through Christ. If you are a Christian, all of your sin has been forgiven by God through Jesus. You did not earn your forgiveness, it was given. In light of that, we too should forgiven others. We should not force people to earn forgiveness. We should give it in the same way it was given to us. 

A second thing to remember is that other people have forgiven you when you have made mistakes. Just imagine if everyone you have hurt or offended continued to hold it against you. We would all have a lot of enemies if that happened. We should forgive others just as many have forgiven us. 

Lastly, forgiving others begins vertically as we take our hurts to God. We pray for God to heal our broken hearts. We ask God to give us strength to forgive. We ask for God to be the vindicator where we have been wronged. Once we have taken our issues vertical to God (which could be a long process), we are then able to extend forgiveness horizontally to others (even if we never see them again). 

Closing Thoughts

Forgiveness is something we want others to extend to us, but we often struggle to extend it to others. We act hypocritically when we expect people to readily forgive us and give us the benefit of the doubt, but when we are wronged we want to press full charges. We should be graceful people. Of all people, Christians should be the most eager and quick to forgive. We have been forgiven much.

A last thought: forgiveness does not mean that you pretend to be best friends with those who hurt you. Forgiveness does not always equal reconciliation. In order for reconciliation to occur, there needs to be repentance. Without repentance it is hard to reconcile hurts. The one who has offended or injured is responsible for apologizing and repenting. However, forgiveness is the choice of the person who is wronged. We cannot control people apologizing or repenting from hurting us, but we can forgive. I say, and more importantly, the Bible says we should do this liberally. 

Questions to ponder: Who in your life do you need to forgive? What do you need to do in light of this post to begin that process? Who in your life should you apologize to for things you have said or done? 

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