In my last post, The Forgiveness Challenge, I wrote about the misunderstandings regarding our ability to forgive others. Forgiveness is not condoning what someone has done to us. In fact part of forgiveness is to acknowledge how I have been hurt by the actions of another.
Forgiveness does not mean that trust, love or friendship will automatically be restored. I can forgive someone and still avoid situations where the person who harmed me might repeat the action. An example is a wife whose husband is abusive to her and her children. She can for forgive his actions, but needs to physically remove herself from the relationship to avoid future abuse.
So then, what is forgiveness and its blessing?
The blessing is that the one forgiving is able to let go of the heavy burden of resentment, anger and desire for retribution. She releases the anger and resentment toward the person who wronged her so that she can continue a vibrant life of faith and love. Forgiveness frees the person who forgives, regardless of what happens to the person forgiven.
The opposite of forgiveness is to bear a grudge, to carry an ongoing memory of the hurt/wrong and to seek some form of retribution. “I have been hurt and I want someone to pay for it!” The grudge may come from a tragic one time incident (like a horrible automobile accident) or from countless encounters (such as a co-worker who is constantly using verbal put-downs). The grudge becomes a burden that weighs on our hearts and minds. It grows as we feed it more resentments and negative thoughts and in time the grudge can absorb our whole life. What a blessing to lay that burden down.
The best way to lay that burden down is a three-fold path.
First, recognize that the resentment and anger has become a toxic burden that is destroying your life.
Second, pray that God will give you the ability to forgive and give up the burden. Jesus promised, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
Third, pray for the one who hurt you and for God’s power and love to surround them. Visualize them as a child of God, broken and flawed, but still loved. Jesus said, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matt 5:44).
This is a process that takes time. Rarely is it one fervent prayer and all resentment is gone. Rather forgiveness is like a muscle that needs to be activated and exercised regularly. No wonder Jesus place it in the center of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive the sins of others” (Luke 11:4).
When and how has forgiveness been a blessing to you?
Lord Jesus, continually teach us to forgive one another.