A few years back, someone did some painful and undeserved things to me at church. Since the offense was public, the pressure was on for him to make it right with me. Here’s how it went:
Church Man: So you know that thing that you’re upset about?
Church Man: Well, you’re just going to have to forgive me and move on. You don’t have a choice because that’s what the Bible says to do.
And with that, he walked off. To this day, that’s the only conversation he and I have ever had about it.
I’ve had better apologies . . .
At that point, I had two choices:
- I could hold on to that hurt and refuse to forgive him.
- I could let it go.
Let’s play that tape to the end and see what the outcomes might be.
What would have happened to ME if I had hung on to it? Bitterness, anger, resentment, and unforgiveness hardens the heart. It causes depression, anxiety, and a host of mental, physical and psychological illnesses. It changes your outlook on life and makes you an all around nasty person.
Well, that’s not attractive at all.
What would have happened to HIM if I had held on to it? What effect would what I was thinking and feeling have had on him?
He doesn’t know if I held on to it or not. I don’t know his heart, but he probably hasn’t lost sleep over it. So why in the WORLD would I choose to harm MYSELF over something he did?
I love this quote about harboring unforgiveness:
Refusing to forgive someone is like drinking poison and waiting for THEM to die.
Refusing to forgive the Church Man wouldn’t have hurt him. It would have hurt ME. And that’s why God wants us to forgive. He doesn’t want us to be hurt any more than we already have been.
Here are a few things I’ve learned about forgiveness:
- It is NOT approval of what the person did to you. In the many years I spent in ministry, I heard some horrific stories. Rape, incest, abuse, murder — things that made what the Church Man did to me seem like a Sunday drive. If you forgive something as horrible as those things, it does NOT mean the person should go unpunished. Heck no, those people should have severe consequences to their actions. But forgiving them means you don’t continue to let the act hurt you even more than it already has.
- It’s not forgetting. Remember the old saying, “Forgive and forget?” I think that’s most likely impossible. I still remember the Church Man’s offense — but I don’t stew on it. Life is too short for that.
- It’s not being a doormat. It’s possible to forgive someone while not letting them do the same thing to you again. You can and should set healthy boundaries. Forgiving someone who hurts you doesn’t mean you should stand there and take the next punch.
- It’s not weakness. On the contrary, it takes a very strong person to let go of offense. I have a MUCH harder time if someone hurts someone I love. I can forgive an offense towards me far more easily.
- It’s not necessarily reconciliation. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to go on vacation with them!
- It’s not the result of an apology. Many times an apology never comes. Sometimes the offender has died and there is no chance of an apology anyway. It’s easier to forgive when someone is sitting in sackcloth and ashes and begging our forgiveness. It isn’t so easy when they never even say they’re sorry.
- It’s setting the offender free in your mind.Why in the world continue to live in that misery? There are much more constructive things to spend your time thinking about, things that improve your life.
- It’s choosing not to punish them. There are few things more destructive in a relationship than when someone punishes every wrongdoing.
Forgiveness is an attitude. It’s a way of life for me. I forgive because I want God to forgive ME. Matthew 6:14-15 says,
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do NOT forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
I forgive because I truly believe you get what you give. I want people to forgive ME when I hurt them, I want them to show mercy and grace to me, and if I WANT it, I have to GIVE it. Treat people the way you want to be treated.
Nowadays you hear the word “karma” thrown around a lot. I’ve heard it said that karma isn’t a Biblical idea. Maybe not, but it’s at least pretty dang close. Galatians 6:7 says,
A man reaps what he sows.
If I WANT forgiveness, mercy and grace, I had better be giving it.
I forgive because God will make sure all things are made right in the end. He’s the God of justice. If there are wrongs to be made right, I can’t make it happen like He can.
At its root, unforgiveness is really distrust of God.
When we want revenge, when we want to punish, when we refuse to forgive, it’s because we don’t trust God to make all things work for our good. We are putting ourselves in God’s place. Rest assured, He’s watching, He’s protecting, He’s got it under control, much better than we ever could. He said vengeance is His, and He will handle it in His time.
In the times of my life where I feel justice isn’t being served, I’m being wronged! Life isn’t fair! Lord, the wicked prosper! I remind myself that God is big enough. I love this quote:
In the end it will be okay. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.
Let it go, stop holding on to things that hurt you. Don’t let that mean person live rent free in your head! Pour out that cup of Roundup. Don’t drink the poison. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.