Obviously we are several posts into this topic of forgiveness now. If you’re just joining us, please start at the series intro and work your way through. Ok, now where were we? Ah yes, the “how”. I’m hoping at this point, like me, you have come to the conclusion that we really must forgive. Hopefully you even want to forgive. As we know though, it isn’t enough to know we should or to discover that we desire to forgive.
I want to forgive…but how?
I think it’s important to dispel some misconceptions about forgiveness before we go into a “do this, don’t do this” explanation of “how to forgive”.
Forgiveness is not:
- Approving of what someone did to you
- Excusing another person’s mistakes
- Thinking that “it doesn’t matter” and therefore trivializing the offense
- Saying the way you feel is unimportant
- Telling the offending party how angry you are
- Committing to a close relationship with the offender
With these key things in mind, in his book, “The Joyful Christian”, CS Lewis gives us two things he believes will make forgiving others easier.
#1 Start Small
“When you start mathematics you do not begin with calculus; you begin with simple addition. In the same way, if we really want (but all depends on really wanting) to learn how to forgive, perhaps we had better start with something easier than the Gestapo. One might start with forgiving one’s husband or wife, or parents or children, or the nearest N.C.O., for something they have done or said in the last week. That will probably keep us busy for the moment.” CS Lewis
What a novel idea! I typically try to tackle the biggest issue when I set about changing something in my life. I need to start by choosing to forgive something that seems rather trivial compared to other issues. Can you think of something minor you can forgive? What kind of feelings come to the surface when you think about it? Do you feel a sting of bitterness or the twinge of pain? Once you’ve picked something “small”, move on to step #2.
#2 Love My Neighbor
“And secondly, we might try to understand exactly what loving your neighbor as yourself means.”
Lewis goes on to say that he doesn’t have a “feeling of fondness or affection” for himself and that he doesn’t always enjoy his own company. If I follow the lead of Lewis, I too can say I don’t always feel proud of myself or my actions. In fact, there are times I look at myself in horror thinking “how on earth could you say such a thing” (or do such a thing). Maybe you can think of some dreadful thing you’ve done or said; do you love that about yourself? I know I don’t but I also know I don’t hate myself. If I didn’t have some sort of self love then why would I bother to keep living? So, do I love myself as a creation of God’s, that’s probably the case, and with a bit of good old human-nature-like selfishness. After all, wasn’t it partly a drive to “better myself” that sent me looking for answers to this forgiveness question in the first place? If then I am able to hate some of my actions and yet still love my person, could I extend the same to my neighbor? Lewis puts it something like this:
“Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them….But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere, he can be cured and made human again.”
So, if we apply Luke 10:27, wouldn’t it ultimately be easier to let go of our grudges and bitterness? Think back to the person in step one. Can you picture them? Can you choose to love them as a creation of God? Not loving what they did or said but loving the person? Maybe you said, “Yes” because the person you picked is your husband or your kids; but, perhaps you’re thinking “I don’t know if I can”. I believe there are some people in our lives that we could not even begin to love on our own. It’s easier for some to say “well, if Jesus could do it, so can I”. That’s not the case for me though. I personally haven’t the strength it will take to love just anyone, however, as a believer, I have access to God’s strength and love.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
It doesn’t say “I can do some things”, it says all. I think that includes even loving our neighbor as our self. Which brings me to a third step I’d like to add to the two CS Lewis recommends.
#3 Pray Fervently
Have you ever prayed…
“God, please make them pay!”
“Change them, Lord”
“Show so-and-so that he was wrong!”
Ok, so maybe you’ve used different words with the same gist. You figure that you weren’t the one in the wrong so you aren’t the one who needs the prayers. I know I’ve been guilty of this. I’ve even prayed for the opportunity to get even. I know, you can gasp at that if you’d like – it’s absolutely wretched isn’t it? Of course, with that kind of mentality, my focus certainly isn’t on loving them or forgiving them is it? No, it’s on revenge (the ugly side of anger).
We really don’t need to concern ourselves with teaching our offenders a lesson. The Bible tells us that God is looking out for us in that regard.
It is mine to avenge; I will repay.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
Praying Fervently for Me
I’ve often found that while I do need to pray for the person I’m trying to forgive, I need to pray for myself just as much (or more). When I pray for the Lord to heal me, to change me and to teach me through the experience – I can then more genuinely pray for the other person. No matter how you’ve been hurt, you need healing. No matter how “in the right you were”, you will need change. And, no matter how much you think you know, you can always be taught something new. So, be sure to pray for yourself and ask God to prepare your heart before praying for the other person.
Praying Fervently for Him (or Her, or Them)
I’ve prayed before that God would love someone through me because I simply couldn’t do it myself. And you know what, He did. I’ve also prayed that He’ll show me the good qualities about that person. And you know what? It’s awfully hard to focus on the negative when positive attributes are jumping out at you. Now, the times that I’ve prayed for these things, I’ve had to pray them multiple times for the same person and offense (especially if it’s a biggie). My human nature wants to cling to the hurt and not let it go, so every time those thoughts come to mind I have to turn them back over to God (which also reverts back to praying for healing of your heart). Before long, the anger/bitter/fear producing thoughts subside. However, this doesn’t mean I will have a close relationship with someone who is potentially harmful to me (or my family) – we really must draw that distinction.
Discerning Relational Future
This one is tough and could become far too complicated a subject for deep discussion here, but I couldn’t close this without going into it some. I’ll attempt to keep this related to forgiveness as much as I possibly can.
Let’s say I’m going out of town for a month and cannot take my pet gold fish with me. I ask a neighbor to watch my goldfish while I’m gone. When I get back my friend has some bad news for me. My goldfish died while I was away. They did everything they could; fed him, cleaned his bowl…etc but he died anyway. I think most of us would agree that we could forgive this rather easily. It probably wasn’t even our friend’s fault, but the next time we go out of town we might question leaving a second goldfish with this particular friend. In the end, rational thoughts would probably prevail, and our friend would be fish sitting for us again.
Suppose though that the friend failed to feed the first fish and that is why he died – you could still forgive this, but would you leave a fish in his care again? Probably not. You are still friends with this person, but your relationship has changed slightly. It’s not earth shattering, but if you really care whether your new fish survives your next trip out of town, you will likely pick a different sitter.
Ok, so it was a silly fish, but what if it was your car, your house, your…child? Your friend drinks a bit and wraps your car around a telephone pole. She is keeping your son and takes him to a place you disapprove of (or something worse maybe). Would you be so quick to hand over your keys or your kid the next time? No.This doesn’t negate the need to forgive, but it does mean that we need to understand that forgiveness does not automatically restore trust in every case. Don’t let anyone use the argument that you haven’t forgiven them if you aren’t willing to place your child at risk again. I’ve known people who are afraid of offending a friend or relative so they keep placing themselves or their children into harmful situations. We must use common sense. Forgiving abuse doesn’t mean you must subject yourself or your loved ones to continued abuse.
God gives us discernment and we really must listen to Him. He doesn’t desire for you or I to be in a destructive and/or abusive relationship. Please seek His guidance on discerning whether a relationship with this person is in His will for your life. If you are being harmed physically, emotionally or otherwise, please talk to a Christian counselor. There may be more than an issue of “forgiveness” that needs to be addressed. Please don’t mask a serious problem by being a forgiveness martyr. If someone is breaking the law in harming you, contact the appropriate authorities. You can forgive someone and be obedient to God without subjecting yourself to further pain.
When you need to be forgiven…
We all mess up and need to say we’re sorry. If you have hurt someone, do not hesitate to ask their forgiveness. They may or may not forgive you – that’s really not the point. As we’ve discovered, forgiving is tough so cut them some slack if it takes them a bit to reach that point. We must do our part and apologize. You know as well as I do that it is often easier to forgive someone who is truly sorry.
In Relation to Forgiveness
This post series has been on the rather pointed topic of “Forgiveness”. I would love to say that it comes easy for me now that I’ve studied it in greater detail but I can say it’s “easier”. I have no idea what you’ve been dealing with in your own life, but are bitterness, anger, fear and revenge worth refusing to forgive? I don’t think so.
Just remember, no task is impossible for God. He’s the one who offers forgiveness of all our sins and we don’t deserve it any more than anyone else. If you need further convincing that forgiveness is the right way to go, consider the life of King David’s son, Absalom. He was so consumed with anger and bitterness over what was done to his sister that he killed his brother and tried to overthrow his father. We could argue that his feelings in the beginning were justified but 11 years of unforgiveness ultimately consumed and killed him.
Where is unforgiveness taking you?
I would like to close out this series with a song by Matthew West. Be blessed and practice Forgiveness.