Forgiveness in the Messiness

It is no secret one of my greatest strengths and weaknesses is my ability to see the best in people. It serves me well, but it also has come back to bite me on occasion. I will spare you the details, but one time I was blindsided by some friends. I trusted them. They undercut me. I assumed my friends would follow Jesus’ directions in Matthew 18 on how to deal with conflict. My assumption was wrong.

I was hurt. It hurt others around me. It affected so many people. And I am sure it was not fun for my friends either. The truth was I was mad. Yet, I knew I needed to forgive. Through the experience I learned (or was reminded) of three myths about forgiveness.

Myth #1 – Forgiveness is dependent on their apology.

If you wait on an apology to forgive, you may be waiting forever. Just when I thought things were beginning to settle down, I received a letter from one of my friends. They obviously had been hurt as well. But instead of seeking to forgive and understand, they simply ended the friendship.

The truth is unforgiveness changes you. You go into other relationships guarded. While forgiveness is not the same as trust, without forgiveness trust cannot be rebuilt. It will only create uneasiness and even fear of trusting others.

Another way it changes you is bitterness begins to grow in your own heart. Once bitterness takes root, it affects you physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Bitterness can make you toxic.

Myth #2 – Forgiveness is an event.

It is true, forgiveness is a volitional choice. There is a point where you choose to forgive. However, forgiveness is a process. It is a series of choices to forgive. Forgiving and forgetting is not a real thing. God doesn’t even forget. Oh sure some minor infractions we may forget, but not ones where we or someone we love is hurt.

Here are four choices we make in the process of forgiving others:

  1. I choose to absorb the cost of the infraction against me. Just as God absorbed the cost of my sin through Jesus’ death on the cross, I follow His example and seek no vengeance.
  2. I choose not to dwell on the hurt. This is very difficult our selfish nature has a hard time letting go. But to forgive is to choose, to move on.
  3. I choose not to use guilt to manipulate others. We have not really forgiven someone if we continually shame them in order to control the relationship.
  4. I choose not to gossip about the situation. We are often tempted to retell the story over and over highlighting the hurt inflicted on us to make the other person look bad.

Myth #3 – If I forgive, I am saying it is alright.

When our children were small, we emphasized forgiveness. We made our children apologize when they had hurt one of their siblings or friends. But we would not allow the  other child to say it was okay. Rather we would have them say, “I forgive you.” This was the path to reconciliation.

Jesus died for all, but not everyone will be in heaven. This is a sad truth. Those who do not choose to reconcile with God through the sacrifice of Jesus waste this precious gift.

Here is the truth: Forgiveness is costly, but unforgiving comes at a greater price.

Forgiveness requires sacrifice. Jesus’ death and our absorption of the hurt we endured.  But not forgiving invites bitterness here and separation for eternity. Jesus said we will be forgiven with the same measure we forgive others!

Lane & Tripp, tell a story in their book, Relationships, a mess worth making, about a young nurse who saves the life of a military officer. The back story, when she was a young girl, her parents were killed during a military raid on their village. The officer enslaved this girl and gave her sisters to his staff. She was later able to escape and learned the trade of nursing. The officer, near death, was placed under her care. After he recovered the doctor stood with the nurse and told the commander that he owed his life to his nurse. At that point he recognized her, and asked,  “Why didn’t you kill me?” She answered, “Because I follow the One who said, ‘Love your enemies!'”

Unforgiveness enslaves you. Forgiveness gives you freedom!

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