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“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13)
This past Sunday I shared from Matthew 18 about forgiving those who have hurt us. There are few things harder in life than extending forgiveness to someone who has wounded us, because to forgive someone is essentially to suffer twice. The first time, you suffer because of something that is done to you; the second time, you willingly choose to suffer by forgiving instead of making the other person suffer by taking revenge on them. But in the end, forgiveness is the only way to freedom, the only way to not let our heart become hard or our spirit become bitter and angry.
Forgiveness is a process, one that can take years for the person who has endured significant abuse or betrayal at the hands of another person. I ended this past week’s sermon by encouraging everyone to take a step towards forgiving another person, and gave five possible steps to take. I wanted to use this space to elaborate on that by briefly sharing about eight possible steps that you take towards forgiveness and freedom.
1) Decide you are not going to kill someone – Sometimes, that is the best you can do. And sometimes, that in and of itself is a miracle. If that is where you are at, then I applaud you for that decision.
2) Decide that you want to work towards forgiving someone – Many people walk around with hurts that have been stuffed down, way down, inside. Perhaps you have found a way to cope with your pain, to get through the day to day, but only because you have developed elaborate defense mechanisms that allow you to keep your pain stuffed down. God wants more for you than that – He wants you to be free, and that only comes through forgiveness. Maybe a step you can take is to decide you want to begin the process of forgiving the person who offended you instead of ignoring it and hoping it goes away.
3) Pray for them – Often, when you have been hurt, you can’t even stand to be in the same room as the other person. Thankfully, you don’t have to be near them to pray for them. Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44), and sometimes the best thing you can do for your heart and spirit is to pray for the person who wronged you. And I don’t mean “God, please smite them down, and preferably in a very public and painful way,” but “God, I pray that you would bless this person and increase their understanding of your love and grace, that they might be transformed to be more like you.”
4) Do an unexpected act of kindness for them – when someone knows he has hurt you, he is probably waiting for your revenge. But if you believe that God is the judge, you know that visiting justice on the offender is not your job. Your job is to love your enemies, to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). I was driving someone home the other day when she spotted someone with whom she had a conflict walking home by herself. My friend instinctively hid her face, so the other woman would not see her. What if instead we had pulled over and offered the woman a ride? Would that not have possibly lessened the tension and brought good will between them? Maybe for the good of your heart, the best thing you can do is to do an unexpected act of kindness for someone who least deserves it.
5) Pray and entrust them to God, the only wise judge – Peter writes that Jesus, when he was wronged, entrusted himself to Him who judges justly instead of retaliating (1 Peter 2:23). What if, instead of dwelling on what the other person did and thinking of ways to make them pay, you spent some time in prayer with God and, in your imagination, lifted the person up to God, entrusting him or her to the one who alone has the right and the perspective to judge. And then leave the person there, in the capable hands of the Judge of the universe, so that you can be free to love and do good to them.
6) Remember the depth of your sin and the undeserved forgiveness that is over you – Nobody deserves your forgiveness. If someone has hurt you, betrayed you, or let you down, they deserve to be punished. Your natural inclination to hurt someone back is just that, the natural thing to do. So why don’t you do it? Because the offense that has been visited upon you is nothing compared to your offense against God. Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18:21-35 makes that clear, that through the death of Jesus on the cross, our debt, which we could never repay through any amount of piety or good works, was completely cancelled by God. We stand here as people who deserved death but have been given freedom and new life. And we are forever changed by that amazing grace. Now, we have the privilege of doing the same to others, pronouncing “not guilty” when they deserve punishment, giving them just a small picture of the grace that is offered in Jesus. The more you reflect on how much you’ve been forgiven, the easier it becomes to forgive.
7) Stop talking to other people about what someone did to you – When someone hurts us, most of us immediately want to tell other people what has been done, in order to garner sympathy and get people on our side, outraged at what the offender has done. There may be a small number of people with whom you should process hurts, so that you can find the resolve to forgive and do good to them. But often, we just share with people who are not involved and can not help the situation, simply out of a desire for retaliation, to tear the other person down. Perhaps the step you need to take is to seriously examine your motives regarding who you talk to, and to stop talking to some of those people if your motives are not right.
8) Tell someone that you forgive them – And maybe there is someone who needs to hear those beautiful words, “I forgive you.” I think that so many of us long for a fresh start, to know that the past is in the past and that we can begin again, trying harder to do what is right and to rebuild broken relationships. If you have been withholding forgiveness from someone, maybe it is time to tell them that you forgive them for what they have done to you, that the past is in the past, and that you will no longer hold those offenses against them.
If you have been hurt, I am sorry for the suffering that you have experienced, and I am sorry that in order to find freedom from the pain, you will have to suffer again by forgiving the offender. Remember that forgiving someone is not condoning what they have done, but declaring that even though what they have done was wrong, you will pay down the debt yourself and will not punish them for what they have done, just as in Christ you have not been punished for your offenses against God. Take a step towards freedom and peace today by deciding to take a step towards forgiveness.
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