Forgiveness is no easy thing. I think it's safe to say that we've all struggled with harboring unforgiveness in our hearts. We've all been wronged, hurt and offended. The Bible instructs us to forgive those who have wronged us. In fact, it goes so far as to say that God will forgive us our sins to the degree that we forgive those who have wronged us (Mark 11:25, Matthew 6:12, Matthew 6:15). Ouch! I have so much more to be forgiven for than the person that I'm holding a grudge against, and I definitely don't want to stand in the way of God forgiving me. Unforgiveness is a serious sin issue. At the heart of unforgiveness is pride and a lack of trust in God to carry out justice. Pride says "They hurt me and they won't get away with it." When, in truth, yes they may have hurt you, but aren't the sins you've committed against God even more atrocious than the ones you're dangling over others' heads? A lack of trust in God to carry out justice says "It's up to me to make that person pay for what they did." We act as though it is our responsibility rather than God's, so we justify holding grudges, being passive aggressive or even downright aggressive. In truth, God promises in His Word to carry out justice (Ecclesiastes 3:17, Romans 12:19). Nothing goes unnoticed by God and nothing is too trivial or great for Him to care about or handle.
What you may not have realized is that unforgiveness hurts you. Depending on the situation, yes, it may affect the other person; but, the one truly getting hurt is you and you alone. I have known people, including myself, who have nursed grudges for years, thinking it was hurting the other person just as much as it was hurting them. When, in actuality, the other person didn't even realize they were mad to begin with. Unforgiveness and holding grudges not only takes up mental space and energy, but can also adversely affect your health. I came across an article from Johns Hopkins Medicine that discusses the physical ramifications of unforgiveness: "'There is an enormous physical burden to being hurt and disappointed,' says Karen Swartz, M.D., director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, which results in numerous changes in heart rate, blood pressure and immune response. Those changes, then, increase the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions. Forgiveness, however, calms stress levels, leading to improved health." (1) It isn't good for us to hold onto theses grudges. So, let us discuss what forgiveness is not, what it is, and how to forgive.
What It Is Not
Forgiveness is not a means of excusing or condoning the other person's actions or words. It is not a Get Our Of Jail Free Card and it doesn't let them off the hook for what they did to you.
What It Is
Forgiveness is surrendering your right to hold the other person accountable for the sins they've committed against you. It releases you from the hold of unforgiveness, hatred and resentment - all things that Satan uses against you to hurt your relationship with others, your relationship with God and your testimony.
1. Follow God's Lead. God doesn't place conditions on His command to forgive others; He instructs us to forgive period. But, He doesn't simply instruct us in forgiveness; He leads by example. We have sinned greatly against God, and He has the right (as the one wronged) to give us what we deserve - Hell and eternity apart from Him. But, in His infinite love and grace, He chose to surrender His right to justice and instead offer His abundant mercy through salvation in Jesus Christ. We are given a perfect example of how to forgive. It is a choice to exercise mercy over justice; to choose love over hate. So, when we are wronged, we need to immediately choose to forgive that person. The longer we wait to forgive, the longer we nurse the offense; and, the longer we nurse the offense, the more easily it is for Satan to slip in and have a hay-day in your mind. It is a matter of choice. You have a choice, and you have the ability through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit within you to make the right choice - the choice to forgive.
2. Letting Go. This part of the process is quite tricky. Saying "I forgive" is one thing, but letting go of the anger, hurt, hatred and resentment - well, that's an entirely different matter. Some of us have been carrying grudges for so many years that we might feel like they're a part of us, and that we somehow won't know how to function without them. Our grudges have become a crutch that we lean upon so we won't have to learn to walk in forgiveness and mend the relationship that's been destroyed as a result because, let's face it, forgiveness and relationships are hard and vulnerable work. I am here to tell you today that you can let go of the resentment, anger and hatred. Your world won't fall apart. You can surrender your right to justice, and then surrender your anger to the Lord. Isaiah 61:8 tells us that God loves justice. He will judge each of us according to our deeds (2 Corinthians 5:10). So, we can let go of the offense because we know that God's got it. I hate the saying "forgive and forget." It doesn't accurately portray the true picture of forgiveness and letting go of anger. Letting go isn't synonymous with having amnesia. We may never forget what has been done to us and that's okay. But, we do have a choice to let go of our anger. It is only consuming us from within and will eventually wreak havoc on our bodies, minds and relationships.
3. Fight, Fight, Fight! I hear you....I'm tired, too. Fighting takes so much energy, but it is necessary to fight against the Devil and his schemes in order to live a victorious and bondage-free life. I was in a marriage conference several weeks ago where Dr. Mark Rutland was speaking about forgiveness. He illustrated unforgiveness and harboring grudges by using the analogy of holding onto a rope to ring a bell. When we choose to continue holding on to the rope, the bell will continue to ring. When we choose to forgive and let go of the rope, the ringing will eventually stop, but it may take a while. Even after choosing forgiveness and letting go of anger and resentment, we will still experience the ringing of the offense. We may have consequences to deal with depending on the situation, and we may have the urge to nurse the offense by hopping back on the rope; but, if we choose to continue to walk in forgiveness and continue to let go of the offense, then the bell will eventually cease ringing. Forgiveness is a process. And, depending on the hurt and the offense, it may be a lifelong process in certain situations. So, what does this mean? It means we can't forgive and let go and then continue to nurse those offences when they rise to the surface, as the bell continues to ring. It means every time we hear that bell ring, every time we encounter that person, every time we have another experience that drudges up feelings from the past - we are to forgive and let go, forgive and let go, forgive and let go. This is why Jesus instructs us to forgive someone 70 times 7 (Matthew 18:21-22). That person may not hurt you time upon time upon time again, but the feelings from that hurt will rise within you time upon time upon time again. And, when they do we are to forgive them time upon time upon time again. Just because the bells continues to ring long after you've let go of the rope doesn't mean that you never forgave that person in the first place. It's just Satan trying to stir up old wounds again, hoping that this time you'll jump back on that rope and nurse that wound until that small wound is now a gaping hole in your heart. We have a choice to cave in to Satan's tactics and nurse the offense; or, to choose forgiveness time after time after time again.
I was so blessed by the ringing bell analogy when I heard it because I kept thinking that I had no clue how to forgive. I would forgive and let go, but then when the feelings rose to the surface again I mistook it for unforgiveness that I hadn't dealt with. When, in truth, I did forgive and I did let go, but that doesn't mean the feelings will subside forever. I thought forgiveness was a once and done thing, but it's not. It is a process. Maybe you're the same? You never really understood the length of the process and the battle that must be fought continually. Or maybe you really haven't chosen forgiveness in the first place; you have nursed those offenses until they've wreaked havoc on your whole being. I encourage you to confess to God any and all unforgiveness you are harboring in your heart. He already knows you struggle with it; He knows the anger that consumes you. It's no surprise to Him. Once you confess, let go of the anger and the hurt. Simply say the words and then ask God to strengthen you and fill you with His peace that surpasses all understanding. If a relationship needs to be mended, then take the first steps toward reconciliation. And, when the feelings rise up within you again, repeat the whole process because unforgiveness can take root at any time. Unforgiveness is a matter of the heart. It reflects what is boiling inside you, and it will destroy you from within if you let it. Don't let it consume you; don't let Satan win. This is a battle that needs to be fought. Choose forgiveness. Choose love. Choose to extend mercy, as God chose to extend His mercy to you.
Scripture Used in this Post:
Mark 11:25 (ESV) - "And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
Matthew 6:12 (ESV) - "and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."
Matthew 6:15 (ESV) - "but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
Ecclesiastes 3:17 (ESV) - "I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work."
Romans 12:19 (ESV) - "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[a] to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.,”
Isaiah 61:8 (ESV) - "For I the LORD love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them."
2 Corinthians 5:10 (ESV) - "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil."
Matthew 18:21-22 (ESV) - "Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times."
(1) "Forgiveness: Your Health Depends On It" Johns Hopkins Medicine. Johns Hopkins University. December 2017. <https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_connections/forgiveness-your-health-depends-on-it>.