Then Peter came to Him and asked,
“Lord, how often should I forgive
someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied,
“but seventy times seven!”
God wants us to forgive as He has forgiven us. And not just once, but over and over again. But it can be so difficult sometimes, especially when it comes to deep, personal, life-changing hurts that hit us at the very core of our being.
I haven’t always been open to forgiveness. I rebelled against it and didn’t even want to think about it. Concerning the pastor who abused me, I at one time thought, “I will never, ever forgive him.” When I first heard that he died of cancer and had a very painful death, I was secretly happy about it. I even thought – “I hope God never forgave him.” Are you shocked? To be honest, I’ve even thought worst things than that, and I’m so grateful God is so much more forgiving than I am.
Eventually, as I dealt with the abuse, God healed deeper layers of pain. As God helped me work through anger and grief, I became more open to forgiveness, but I still struggled, “Lord, I know I need to forgive, but I can’t. I don’t know how. Please help me forgive.”
One day when it was pressing so hard on me, I threw myself on my bed and cried, “Ok, God, I will choose to forgive.” I went through several people who had deeply hurt me by their slander or rejection and further on to deeper hurts. But finally, concerning the man who completely devastated my life, I said, “Ok, God, I forgive him, too.”
But it still hasn’t been easy, especially when painful memories are triggered. And I have to forgive again. And sometimes I beat myself up, because it feels like I have only forgiven with my mouth and not with my heart.
Part of what made it so hard to forgive is that I had a misconception of it. I thought if I truly forgave someone, I would be ready to trust them and to embrace them. But I now know forgiveness and trust are not the same thing.
What Forgiveness Is
Jesus is the perfect example of forgiveness. We grievously sinned against Him. Our sins deserved eternal condemnation, but He gave us a full pardon, purchased with His own blood.
When we forgive those who have wronged us, we stop focusing on what they have done and no longer hold their sin against them. We cast out resentment, that strong and painful bitterness and anger we hold in our hearts. We no longer condemn them or wish to punish them, but we give over justice into God’s hands.
Forgiveness is realizing the past is something we can never change and forbidding it to hold us prisoner any longer. As long as we don’t forgive, it is we who are bound in chains. When we forgive, we release the power our wrongdoer has over us. We gain back our control over our wrongdoer as we embrace who we really are.
“When we’ve forgiven, we choose not to call a person’s sins to mind against him. Yet until God’s healing is fully worked in our minds, the memory of the hurt and pain may overwhelm us again and again. Each time, we must write “Forgiven” over the person who hurt us. Even though we must sometimes recall painful memories for them to be healed, we must refuse to allow the enemy the luxury of salting them with bitterness.”
~ Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
“Even when we forgive, it can be really important
for the one sinned against to share
how the offender hurt or affected them.”
~ Mark Altrogge
What Forgiveness Is Not
Forgiveness does not mean that what someone did to us is okay. It does not excuse them of their wrongdoing. Neither does it mean we should minimize the hurt and never talk about it again.
Forgiveness does not mean we have to trust. If someone has hurt us, it will take time to trust again and sometimes we never will be able to trust that person again. If someone has slandered us behind our backs, we might forgive them but that doesn’t mean we will trust conversing with them. If someone has abused us, we might forgive them, but that doesn’t mean we should associate with them. Boundaries need to be set to protect ourselves.
Forgiveness does not mean to continue in an abusive situation and make ourselves vulnerable to hurt again. I know someone who was being abused by her husband. She decided to open up to their pastor. He told her to forgive her husband and go on home. She was devastated and more alone than ever. Some years later, after some counseling, she finally realized Jesus would not want her to remain in an abusive situation.
Forgiveness is not forgetting. In order to heal, we need to dig up the pain and remember. Even after some healing, painful memory triggers can still invade our lives. Even further on in our healing journey, being able to recall how God brought us through the storms of life helps us to help others in similar situations. God turns our brokenness to beauty. Past incidents also strengthen us to make better decisions in future scenarios. Through past experiences we develop special antennae that guide us whether or not to trust a person.
“The command to forgive doesn’t mean that it’s easy or that we must forgive quickly. When we are sinned against, it can be devastating, life-shattering, disillusioning, disorienting. Some sins are easy to forgive, but others can take a long time, much prayer, and much help from God. When someone’s reeling in pain, the first thing they need is our compassion and sympathy, not a quick encouragement to forgive.”
~ Mark Altrogge
“Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat……Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. When you forgive someone you certainly release them from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established………Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive.”
~ Wm. Paul Young, The Shack
Forgiveness Is a Process
A process is a continuous action, operation, or series of changes taking place in a definite manner.” (dictionary.com) Forgiveness is something we have to practice continually. Especially when we’re deeply wounded, painful memories can trigger unforgiving feelings, and we have to forgive again. And again.
I believe there are also changes in how deeply we forgive. Some time ago I heard of a pastor who had been wronged by someone. It was so devastating that he finally took a retreat. I was stunned that he learned to pray that God would bless that man. Now I think that’s a further step from letting go of resentment and ill will. Recently I heard of an even further step – to actually pray God will extend grace and mercy to that person.
God knows all our human frailties. Yes, He wants us to forgive, but He feels our pain and is so patient with us. No one can offer perfect forgiveness like Him. But the more we grow in grace in Christ Jesus, the more we will become like Him. The more filled we are with Him, the more deeply we will be able to forgive. And one day in heaven, we will be able to perfectly forgive.
“Losing” by Tenth Avenue North
Lord, please help us to forgive
as You have forgiven us!
Linking up with:
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Jennifer – Tell His Story
Kelly – Cheerleaders of Faith
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