You can read many articles online about the topic of forgiveness and how it relates to healthy living. Any doctor will tell you that harboring resentment, bitterness, or hurt from wrongs committed to you by others will eventually begin to destroy your health. Our pastor has been preaching a sermon series all summer entitled, "Stuck in a Rut? New Rules for Love and Relationships." So for obvious reasons, he included a sermon on forgiveness yesterday. We all know that in any relationship, whether it be marital or otherwise, forgiveness is essential because we all fall short in our dealings with others at times. Ask any couple that's been happily married for more than 20 years how they've made it and they'll tell you: love and forgiveness. Pastor Jim shared this quote, "Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die," and also showed us a cartoon of a lady with a grouchy face bearing the caption, "I know I'd feel better if I forgave you, but so would you, and I REALLY don't want that." Funny, but all too often we feel this way when it comes to forgiveness. We feel like we're letting the other person "off the hook" when in reality, we're leaving ourselves on it when we choose to hold on to the wrongs done to us.
Long ago, I heard another sermon on forgiveness that I've never forgotten. The speaker shared how though we feel that forgiving someone is, "letting them off the hook," it really isn't. They aren't exempt from the consequences of their actions with us or with God when we forgive them. But in forgiving them, we are freeing ourselves up and handing that person and their wrongs over to God and letting HIM handle it and them. We are basically telling God that because He forgave us and does so on a daily basis for all our many shortcomings, (which are far worse than what this person has done to us), we are extending that same grace to them and trusting Him to handle our battles and this other person as He sees fit. Just as He "handles" everyone who choose to not recognize their sins and need for His grace, He will handle those who, likewise, don't recognize their need for ours. I love the notion of relinquishing all control of the matter and turning it over to God (as well as, all the burden)! What a great picture of what Christ essentially did for us, as well. He took all our sins on Himself in His death and in so doing, handed them over to the Father. When we forgive others, we are doing this, as well (on a much smaller scale, of course). We are dying to self by refusing to hang onto those wrongs (with which we are too sinful and weak to properly handle), and we are turning the burden over to Christ, our Perfect Reconciler, and letting God deal with it (and He is much better suited to do so).
Pastor Jim had many great points about forgiveness--his main points were in a nut-shell, as follows:
* Don't lie when you are confronted by someone you've hurt (&/or who's hurt you). Admit your wrongs or your part in the issue. Don't skirt around your own errors in the matter.
* Don't use cruel words or hurtful lashings--you're only making it harder for that person to forgive you and creating more reasons for them to not desire reconciliation. Essentially, you're shooting yourself in the foot!
* Don't make demands or restrictions on that person, pushing impatiently for their immediate forgiveness or reconciliation. Do not dump the outcome of the relationship on one person--it takes two people to work in a relationship.
* Don't divert blame or give "white-washed" apologies (like saying, "I'm sorry for the things you misconstrued"). Pastor Jim shared how many famous, smug athletes have spun public apologies where it almost sounds like the public's disappointment is the real offense, and how disgusting those apologies are. In fact, they aren't real apologies.
* Don't stay angry--let go of it, let God handle it, then move on. Sometimes you realize when you let a prisoner in your camp "go free," that you were the one who was in the shackles.
He shared how at times our forgiveness will be two-way and at times it will have to be one-way. Two-way forgiveness is when the issue we have with someone is discussed fairly and honestly, with both parties mutually forgiving (if necessary) and the offender(s) truly apologizing and making amends in word and perhaps even deed. Two-way forgiveness may even include reconciliation. But reconciliation isn't required for forgiveness to occur. True reconciliation is always two-way though. It isn't one person doing all the work to fix a situation caused by two people. It takes two people for two people to be hurt. If one person is expected to be just a "patron" in the other person's life, this isn't true reconciliation. You'll know if the other person wants to work toward true, mutual reconciliation. If they don't, forgive, let go, and move on.
One-way forgiveness is the tough one. This is when only one person is being honest, upfront, and/or forgiving and the other person is not (or when all offenders are not owning their wrong or part in the issue). This is the type of forgiveness where we have to choose to forgive sacrificially in the name of Christ because regardless of the offender's actions and beliefs in the matter, we are still called to forgive. One-way forgiveness requires illogical forgiveness because that person doesn't deserve our forgiveness--they aren't asking for it and basically believe our hurt is not warranted or real. They are in total denial that they caused or shared in the problem. This type of forgiveness requires Christ-like forgiveness, where you realize that because of your own sins against God and his unfailing mercy, love, grace, and forgiveness to you, that you are compelled to gladly extend forgiveness to your offender. This person doesn't deserve your forgiveness just as you didn't deserve God's. Hence, the word, "grace"--it is a free gift. The key verse Pastor Jim used was Ephesians
4:32, which says, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving
each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you," (NIV). Clearly, the only way to truly forgive others is to realize that you yourself need forgiveness. This struck me--I'm not sure how those who don't believe they need God's forgiveness (or anyone else's) are able to fully forgive others when they are wronged. The reality of being able to face and admit your own sins and failings seems to me to be a prerequisite for having the ability to truly forgive others and understand their shortcomings and faults.
My e-devotional from July 28, 2012 (from the Purpose Driven Life website) was entitled, "Forgiveness Leads to a Fuller Life." In it, Rick Warren, author of the NY Times best seller, "The Purpose Driven Life," says you can know you've fully released someone when you can do the following:
* You can pray for their success.
* You feel empathy for them.
* The wrongs they committed against you don't hurt anymore.
* You can feel comfortable in their presence.
I think it is important to notice that this list by Rick Warren is how you can know you've released someone, not "forgave" them. Forgiveness doesn't require reconciliation (it isn't marked by being able to be "comfortable in an offender's presence," as he states). At times, I know God has called me to stay away from someone who is toxic to me and who is only going to repeatedly hurt me. Sometimes you can remove yourself from that person fully and sometimes you can't. But I think Rick Warren has a good overall point here--we have to be able to let go, move on and be able to pray for that person in order to heal and fully release them to God. Prayer is a powerful thing--it aligns our vision properly. If you've never tried it, I highly recommend it along with forgiveness. Your perspective on that person will change drastically and your spiritual fitness will improve greatly.