Last month we addressed the impact of trust or lack thereof on our relationships, and that trust is a gateway to love. As is often the case when praying and pondering about writing this article, I usually have to experience what I’m writing. Candidly, sometimes I tell God I don’t want to write about “that subject” because I know he’ll expose me to the cracks and crevices and sometimes caverns of my brokenness and require me to experience or revisit some element of the subject. So, this month we’ll move from trust to forgiveness. And yes, both topics I’ve experienced painfully in the last 45 days. Not a fun journey but necessary.
We’ve all had/have problematic relationships, and we all have been the offended and the offender. So, what is real forgiveness? Does it mean we don’t wince when we see their name pop up on our phone or screen? Does it mean we aren’t hurting anymore? Does it mean we’ve forgotten all the harsh, hostile words? Does it mean we continue to overlook bad behavior and forge ahead? Does it mean we have to continue to share life with them? The answer is NO.
So how do we do forgiveness if we don’t have the warm fuzzies of forgiveness? There is a practical side of forgiveness, and that’s BEING & DOING. Being comes before doing. We can demonstrate forgiveness and depend on God for the doing. In other words, out of obedience to God we can respond to our offender in a manner pleasing to Him and rely on Him to heal our wounds and bring us to a place of peace, release and heartfelt forgiveness. We don’t have to grit it up and gut it out. We obey, and He changes our hearts. We can learn and practice forgiveness, but it’s a process that may take courage and always takes time.
Give them to God
Unforgiveness binds us to the offender. We think about it often. We take it with us everywhere we go. It’s like a ball and chain we can’t escape. Imagine yourself dragging your ball and chain to God and asking him to take the ball and unlock you from the chain. Release you from the burden and release the offender to Him. God can do whatever He pleases with the person. Take comfort in that God is trustworthy, a God of judgment, but the verdict is HIS. The Scripture is clear that vengeance is His, and He will repay. Forgiveness doesn’t mean the offender shouldn’t be punished, but it leaves the “sentencing” to God.
Remember Who the Real Enemy Is
Even though it feels like the enemy is the offender, and it looks like it’s the offender, it’s not. They’ve become a tool in Satan’s hand. Satan is the God of confusion and chaos. When you find yourself in a relationship place filled with confusion and chaos, the real enemy is behind the scenes. The secret is to recognize it for what it is and put ourselves in God’s hands. Again, we’re back to obedience. What does God say to do during times of conflict? Put on the full armor of God.
We can’t control or change our offender, but we can control our response, and that includes not enabling perpetual lousy behavior. To quote Lysa TerKeurst, “Forgiveness releases our need for retaliation, not our need for boundaries.” Boundaries are two-fold protection; they keep others at a distance, and they keep us safe. Forgiveness is not allowing injustice to continue; healthy, mature people have boundaries, and God’s truth provides parameters. Find a godly mentor or counselor and ask them to help you define the appropriate boundaries necessary to maintain a heart of forgiveness and then communicate those boundaries to those involved.
Forgiveness Doesn’t Equal Healing
God requires forgiveness. It’s an act of obedience by us, but it takes time for our feelings to catch up with our decision to forgive. The actions of the offender have an emotional cost to the offended. It could be a $50-dollar cost or a $5,000,000 cost. The higher the emotional cost, the longer the emotional healing will take. Forgiveness doesn’t always fix our relationships, nor does it mean reconciliation, but it does help mend our heart.
Satan never wants you to forgive – when you are angry and bitter and unwilling to forgive, the door opens wide for sin and gives the devil a foothold in our life. One of the most deceptive snares Satan uses to get believers out of the will of God is an offense. Unforgiveness restrains countless Christians, severs relationships, and widens the gulfs between us. Jesus said, “It is impossible that no offenses should come” (Luke 17:1). Although you will encounter offense, you can choose how you will react. Our responsibility before God is not the behaviors of my offender but my responses to those behaviors. Forgiveness is both a command and a decision.