Five Uneasy Steps to Forgiveness
A list of reminders, for people like me, who need them…
1. Be humble: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment…(Romans 12:3) If we have someone who has wronged or hurt us, shouldn’t we remember that we do not fight against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers (Ephesians 6:12)? My “enemy” is a messed-up person – just like me. The path of humility throws us to our knees, because we know we’re broken; we know that this forgiveness business is bigger than ourselves; we know that the darkness of our own hearts would love to exact pay-back. The opposite path – the path of pride—leads us to quietly nurture and feed resentment. We tend to it with the fertilizer of our rights to fair treatment and respect. We allow this resentment to grow and, before we know it, we are entangled and bound to the very one who has wronged us. Humility cuts us free from this prison. God tells us “justice is His.” Do we believe him? We are told to “humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God.” Will we? Humility helps us to reclaim the notion that God is sovereign over the situation, and I am not.
2. Be generous: Forgiveness is releasing a debt. We get messed up when we focus entirely on the debtor (see point #1 above). Sometimes the debtor (the one who has wronged us) has no idea of the weight of debt we are releasing. True forgiveness doesn’t demand acknowledgement and apology and repentance. Be generous. And remember that, in releasing the debt, you are making a choice. Because it is aligned with God’s will for us, forgiveness comes from a position of strength, not weakness. It is a decision to walk in his will and release what shouldn’t be binding us. Release generously.
3. Be brave: Jesus told us to pick up the Cross and follow him. (Matthew 16:24). What is that cross we’re supposed to pick up? Is it really a vague, fill-in-the-blank --“your challenging category here”-- kind of thing? (Is it the “financial worry” cross? The “dysfunctional and painful relationship” cross? Is it the “persecution in the workplace” cross?) To what is Jesus referring when he tells us to pick up our cross and follow him? Could it be that Jesus is asking us to follow him on that road to Golgotha? The death road? Jesus begged the Father, as he prayed through the night in the Garden, to please not have to go down this road. But he did it. He endured it. Why? To forgive us. Our forgiveness cost Jesus his life. Why then are we surprised when forgiveness is costly to us? To forgive another is to be brave, because we know that it involves dying to ourselves. Our consolation is in the fact that we know a Savior who walked this road before us, and he promises to never leave us or forsake us.
4. Be persistent: Whoever coined the phrase “Forgive and forget,” probably never had to forgive anything of gravity. Forgiveness is a process of relinquishment, taking back, then surrendering again. We’re flawed. We’re weak. We’re sinful. Of course, we’re not going to “do” forgiveness perfectly. The whole point is that we simply cannot forgive apart from God working in our hearts. When we try to do the mental calculations of forgiveness, apart from the empowering work of the Spirit, then we take the helm and go off course. Our natural gravitational pull is towards ourselves. To be persistent in forgiveness is to be persistent in prayer.
5. Be thankful: The labor of forgiveness is a deep ongoing reminder of God’s forgiving love of us. Thankfulness provides a compass of sorts for us as we forgive others. It keeps our eyes open and our minds awake to the renovation work he is doing in us –and around us—as we work to forgive.
Philip Yancey says, “…in the final analysis, forgiveness is an act of faith. By forgiving another, I am trusting that God is a better justice-maker than I am. By forgiving, I release my own right to get even and leave all issues of fairness for God to work out. I leave in God’s hands the scales that must balance justice and mercy.”
For His sake then, and for our growth, let us be people who choose to fix our eyes on Jesus, the one who went before us on this cross-bearing road to forgiveness.