God put a word on my heart today: “Forgiveness”. Every time I pray the Lord’s Prayer, the line that stands out the most to me is the prayer to forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. For me, this is the most transformational concept. Why is it so important, so critical for our spiritual growth and maturity, to learn it? Because it can truly have the power in our lives to set us free.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version, Romans 12.14-18
Forgiveness is a way of life, a sign of humility, a path to freedom. When we can truly forgive ourselves and others for all sins and past mistakes, we are no longer slaves to bitterness. Grudges keep us in a form of bondage, otherwise referred to as “trauma bonds”. When we forgive others, we break the chains that bind us to the people and events that have hurt us. When we ask God to examine our hearts for unforgiveness, we are developing a healthy habit, in pulling out any dead roots in ourselves and giving a gift to others in the process.
In daily life, learning to forgive can prevent us from overreacting to the minor offenses of family, friends, co-workers, strangers…even ourselves. It’s the easiest way to demonstrate the grace we have received from God and maintain peace both inwardly and outwardly. Tests, trials and tribulations you experience in life are opportunities to show your growth. When we are tempted to judge or be angry towards others, we have the chance to look at them with new eyes. Eyes that understand that others make mistakes, just as we have. When we feel attacked or unloved by others, we can remember how many times we may have lost our own cool or may have come across as aloof. I could be angry about someone else’s sin, but I can’t forget how God has forgiven mine. I know God wants me to give this gift I have been given, generously. When I think of some of the worst behaviors in this world, I pray to God to show me how to forgive these. How do we forgive what seems unforgiveable?
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’, says the Lord. No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this, you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version, Romans 12.19-21
We can forgive what seems unforgivable, when we can surrender the need to judge others. We surrender the need to judge others, by remembering who the Judge is. When we remember that God sees and knows all things, we can give Him the person or situation in prayer and surrender the burden to Him. We can ask God to heal them and bless them and let it go. Let God decide what to do with them and focus on who God wants you to be. God asks me to be patient, kind, loving, peaceful and gentle. I can’t control the behavior of others, but I can control my own thoughts, energies and actions to align with the person I know God wants me to be.
When we sincerely endeavor to forgive ourselves and others, there are helpful habits we can put in place to ensure our success. Those places of unforgiveness within us, are some of the mountains God can move, if we allow Him to work in us. Along my path, it helped me to remember that forgiving others is not the same thing as condoning or excusing their behavior. I learned that I can forgive someone and still create healthy boundaries in the relationship that work for the highest good of everyone involved. At times, I have asked the Lord, “How many times can I forgive this person or behavior if they continue to do the same thing?” God pointed me to Matthew 18.21-22:
Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.’The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version, Matthew 18.21-22
I know that God expects me to forgive everyone, for everything, every day. Not because they deserve it. But because I desire forgiveness from God for any mistake I may make. How can I expect forgiveness I won’t give? God desires for me to forgive others so I may be at peace with everyone. If someone refuses to be at peace with me, for whatever reason, then that will be their choice. But I can rest in the knowledge that it is not because of my own pride or stubbornness. When we love other people, we owe them our honesty. Sometimes our honesty can be delivered in ways that provoke unpleasant emotions. Even when we do our best to correct others gently, they may respond in hostile ways. When I want to forgive someone for their hostility, it helps me to remember that every person’s behavior and perspectives has more to do with them than it does with me. We each have our own unique life experience that shaped us, our own brain chemistry, our own energy. If I let people take responsibility for their behavior and the energy they put out, it allows me to focus on my own.
When we practice forgiveness daily, we grow in compassion, automatically. Instead of jumping to anger or defensiveness, we become calmer and more understanding in our responses to others. We soften our hearts toward others. Even those we see as our foes and frenemies in the world serve a purpose in God’s plan. If God can take away your sins, he can take away another’s. If I remember that we are all one in the body of Christ, then I must also remember that refusing to forgive my brother or sister is really refusing to forgive myself. Even people who have sinned against us or made poor decisions that impacted us have redeemable qualities. When we remember that God sees us as His children, we can begin to see everyone as a child of God, equally deserving of mercy. We can have compassion on those who lack compassion because of who we are in Christ, knowing that everyone in our path is designed to help us learn something. Everyone in our life serves a purpose.
As regards the gospel they are the enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version, Romans 11.28-32
As part of my practice of forgiveness, I have learned to ask God, “What am I meant to learn from this experience,” rather than asking, “Why is this happening to me?” I know that every person and experience in my life serves a function. Sometimes the most challenging people and experiences in our lives are the very experiences that give us the greatest opportunities to grow in forgiveness. While we may experience pain and heartbreak in life, the peace we keep and the forgiveness we bring to the table is akin to bringing Christ into the room. Do you have some unforgiveness within you that you wish to resolve? Please try the prayer below. I wish you peace in your practice of forgiveness. May God bless you.