Forgiveness: One of the Greatest Gifts Given or Received
We have all heard about the importance of forgiveness and how unforgiveness can cause greater harm to the one who is unwilling to forgive than to the person who is "unforgiven". We are told that forgiveness is for our sakes and not an approval of what was done or in other words to let the offender "off the hook". We are told that forgiveness is more for ourselves than for the offender. We are asked to look at who the unforgiveness is really harming. This advice is sometimes given to soften the blow that we feel at the suggestion of forgiving something that we deem to be extremely hurtful, upsetting, and well, unforgivable. As if we need the sugar coating of how unforgiveness can benefit us while diminishing it's significance on the life of "the offender."
We can sometimes get caught up in the urge or the "need" to justify why we would even consider forgiving someone who has violated us in some way. I have found myself riding high on my horse, head up, shoulders back proclaiming that I forgive this or that person. That person who has done something wrong. That person who has hurt my feelings. That person who has violated and betrayed my trust. That person who should have known better. That person who could have and should have made a better choice. That person who was selfish and self-seeking. That person who was inconsiderate. That person who chose not to tell the truth because it benefited them. That person who only thought about themselves and didn't take my feelings or my well-being into consideration. That person who became to look more and more like me. Maybe not in the same way. Possibly very different circumstances. But I have surprisingly also done things that were wrong. I have hurt other people's feelings. I have betrayed a trust. I have done things that I should have known not to do. I have intentionally made wrong choices. I have been untruthful when it suited me. Even in my "willingness" to forgive, I only thought about myself, how I looked, how I appeared, how it affected me without wanting or being willing to take the well-being of the "offender" into consideration.
Eager to acknowledge that conviction and grow, I began trying to recall the scriptures about forgiveness and ended up searching the internet as I was convinced that it would be much quicker than flipping through concordance and then back to the main text. Before getting to the scriptures, I found the following definition of forgiveness:
Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.
I recognized my need for that type of forgiveness and with focused vision I headed straight for God's Word because I knew that I needed the truth that would set me free from my foolishness and I felt totally incapable of doing it on my own up there on my high horse. I prayed for God to speak to me through His Word and to heal and change my heart towards those who I had held some level of bitterness towards though I had been unwilling to admit it outloud, and even most times in private.
I searched and read. Searched and read. Searched and read again. Then I sat back on my couch in deep thought and reflection striving to decipher what all of these truths would or should look like specifically in my life. What did they mean for me? What would I need to do? How much would I need to change? How could I do it? Where would I start?
Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.." ~ Psalm 103: 1-5
"And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses." ~ Mark 11:25
"Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven." Matthew 18: 21-22
"Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little. Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Luke 7:47-48
"For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive,
And abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You." ~ Psalm 86:5
"The Lord is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth,So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us." ~ Psalm 103:8 - 12
My forgiveness didn't look anything like God's forgiveness. God's forgiveness completely takes us into consideration. His forgiveness is rooted in love. Sure I could make my forgiveness sound holy and above board but underneath that board was bitterness, judgment, self-seeking, self-righteousness, I-forgive-you-for-me-but-you -don't-deserve-it-ness.
We can say that we forgive but what are we holding in our hearts. What do we reflect on when we think of the "offender." Why are we still labeling them with the stigma of "offender" as if offending others is foreign to us? Don't we all offend at some point even if unintentional? Somewhere underneath our unwillingness to completely forgive is the idea that the offender doesn't deserve it. Somewhere underneath that feeling is the truth that neither do we. Yet, we still ask for and want to receive forgiveness. And when we ask God for forgiveness, He forgives us without hesitation. And that forgiveness is one of the greatest gifts we have ever received next to life and His love for us.
I struggled with the question, "How am I reflecting the sincere, transformative love that I've received from God when I'm not willing to extend true forgiveness?" How can the phrase, "I will forgive but I won't forget" resemble God's words when He said, "I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins (Isaiah 43:25)."?
I kept asking myself the same questions over and over. What would all of these scriptures that I'm reading, these truths look like if I took them to heart and applied them to my everyday life and how I interact with everyone? What did they mean for me specifically? What would I need to do? How much would I need to change? How could I do it? Where would I start? Thinking about myself again yes, but with the intention to change for the better, for the blessing of growing in my walk with God and in loving others as we are commanded to do. Ready to be "under construction" until molded into who God was calling me to be (a process that will undoubtedly continue throughout my lifetime), I pressed forward. I was ready. But I wasn't. At least not as much as I thought I was. I soon found that with growth, there are growing pains. Wins and losses. Victory and defeat. There is a word called conditional and I found that despite MY efforts, my forgiveness was conditional.
I decided that I didn't want to forgive just for what it does to and for me, though I have found that discussions about the affects of unforgiveness are true and beneficial. I didn't want to just forgive if this or that. I want to forgive to glorify God, to encourage and inspire people to seek His face and to receive His sincere transformative love, to give people a glimpse of God's grace, to extend the same mercy that I pray daily to receive out of sheer necessity, and to well, obey my God, my Father, my Lord, my Source, my Creator, my Redeemer, my Savior, my Provider, my Comforter, my King of Kings. In a world that is "all about me", I want to be all about Him. I fall short daily, but I am not willing to give up. Most importantly, God does not give up on me. I need that. I'm thankful for that. I'm not perfect and He meets me where I am. When we receive genuine forgiveness like that at Calvary, something begins to change and transform on the inside, if we allow it. We become new creations blossoming into something beautiful from the inside out. We can see first hand the benefit of forgiveness on us, "the offenders". The life of the offender is as precious as mine for I too have offended. I want my forgiveness to affect the life of the offender because i am thankful for how God's forgiveness has and is affecting mine.
I have decided to make it a point to continue to study the scriptures, pray for guidance, discernment and revelation and to allow God to do His work in me rather than asking Him to change me and proceeding to try to do it all myself. This article marks the real beginning of my journey on the road of forgiveness, one that I will revisit here from time to time.
The struggle is real but it is also worth every bit of the fight. Let's put on our armor and prepare for battle from the inside out.
At The Humble Butterfly, we are working on a line of "I forgive you" products and baskets and we are eager to see where God leads us and what comes out of this creative adventure. Stay tuned and remember to love, seek God, and forgive like you mean it. And in all of your forgiving, remember to forgive yourself, be transformed and enjoy the journey.
I will leave you with Romans 12: 9 -21:
"Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,”says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."