Yikes! That was my instinctive, not-so-spiritual reaction when I saw this month’s IndiAanya topic. Resolving conflict? Peacemaking? Working through difficult relationships? Ahem. God, could I please take a pass this month and immerse myself in the delightfully pretentious world of social media instead?
Turns out, God gave me the thumbs down on that one. I had the distinctive privilege of writing about a topic that makes my stomach tie up in tight knots that not even Houdini could possibility undo.
From my real-life research into the topic, I’ve drawn a few conclusions. Firstly, when you do life, relationships happen. And the thing about relationships is that they’re messy. Like when you drop a cheeseburger-with-extra-mustard-and-ketchup-on-your-white-shirt messy. How’s that for an aha moment? If you’re blown away, read on. If you’re not, read on anyway. Chances are this topic is bound to be relevant sooner or later, especially if you belong to the human race.
Forgiveness doesn’t feel like a million bucks
Forgiving someone doesn’t always feel like the most incredible thing in the world – at least not immediately. There’s no choir singing 'Hallelujah' in the background as you let go of the hurt. It would probably have been much more “satisfying” to deliver those Best-Screenplay-award-winning lines you’d been thinking up all night long as you tossed and turned in bed. You would have had the last word. You would have proved your point.
But, instead, you remain quiet and are convicted to forgive and let the offense go. Then why do you feel like a defenseless loser?
In that vulnerable state, God reminds you that He is your Defender. He is your Vindicator. He is the glory and the lifter of your head. In the short term, forgiveness can feel unfair. But in the long run, you are free because God’s got this. He’s got the last word. And that’s got to be worth something.
Forgiveness is a decision - and a process
You know the classic line, “Forgive and forget”? Well, whoever came up with that must have been an ace at faking memory loss. It’s most likely that you’ll have the pain resurface. It’s like a floatie in a pool. You can hold it down for a bit but, eventually, it pops right back up. But the hope is one day the floatie will have a puncture, the air will leak out of it and it’ll sink to the bottom.
When I think of forgiveness, the example that comes immediately to mind is Corrie ten Boom, the World War II survivor. I can’t think of a more jaw-dropping example of extending grace and forgiveness. When her former Nazi tormenter reached out to shake her hand years after the war, she made a decision to extend grace – she took his hand and spoke a blessing on his life. And yet she confesses to finding it awfully difficult to truly forgive a group of Christian friends who had hurt her. She speaks of how her bitterness resurfaced even after she had forgiven them. Then a priest gave her the example of a sexton ringing the church bell. Long after his hand is removed from the rope, the bell keeps tolling - until with a final dong it stops. That’s much like forgiveness. The dings and the dongs will grow fainter and then finally stop. We may remember, but we can choose not to respond to the hurt. We choose not to dwell on it.
Meanwhile, keep taking it to God. No one else has the bandwidth to handle it anyway.
Forgiveness is not doing someone else a favor
When you harbor bitterness, it eats into you. You’re the only victim – a victim of your own making. So let it go, let it go (Sorry Disney, I may have stolen that stellar phrase from one of your blockbuster animations). Unless you really want an ulcer. In that case … No, I’m kidding. As the quote goes, “Unforgiveness is choosing to stay trapped in a jail cell of bitterness, serving time for someone else’s sin.”
But forgiveness doesn’t always mean reconciliation. Sometimes, you need healthy boundaries. “Forgiveness clears the ledger; it does not instantly rebuild trust. Forgiveness is given; reconciliation is earned. Forgiveness cancels debts; it does not eliminate all consequences.” (From The Risk of Forgiveness by Gary Inrig)
Forgiveness can’t work without God in the picture
You can conjure up all the positivity in the world, but you can’t do real forgiveness without Jesus. It’s only when we understand the underserved grace we have received from Him can we truly offer it to someone else.
And, at the risk of sounding like a bespectacled grandma on her rocking chair – just praise Him. I’m not advocating that you play act with God. Tell him you’re hurt. Tell him that sometimes wave upon wave of pain comes crashing down on you. But also start praising Him for who He is. It’ll transform your perspective. Maybe this thing that’s eating you alive will become much less significant. Maybe you’ll come to the conclusion that your struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of darkness. Maybe you’ll even start praying for the “forgivee”. And maybe, in time, those knots in your stomach will finally come undone.
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