The first couple of years after my divorce, I had to deal with a lot of guilt and shame from it. All I could see was the sin and the failure of it. I didn’t want to be guilty before the eyes of God or others and I worried a lot about that. I worried so much that I tended to harbor the offenses done to me as a way to justify myself.
One morning, I was particularly weighted down with all the guilt of my divorce. In order to alleviate the pain I was in at the moment, I began to run through a list of all the sins committed against me by my ex-husband. I was trying to justify myself so that I would not have to bear this sin or this shame. I thought if I could go through all of his sins, then I would not only be justified before myself, but also before the Lord. I needed to feel secure in my salvation.
As I was going through the list of his offenses, immediately what interrupting those images in my memories, were the images of my own personal sins. What I received was a list of my offenses that I committed. As the picture ran through my mind, like a news reel, I began to see all my offenses against God himself. As I felt the pang of witnessing my own offenses against God, I heard “I justify you, his sins do not”
I had no choice but to repent. But not just repent, guys, step into the forgiveness that was for me. I needed to accept that I was a sinner and I was a sinner saved. That my offenses were real and were plenty but they were forgiven and were cast from the east as far as the west. Not only that, but that HE took the burden of my shame and guilt. Those were not mine to carry. Most importantly, though, I learned in that instant that my ex-husband’s sins did not justify mine. Yes, we all experience the consequences of many of our sins including those of others on this earth, but only I and I alone will be held accountable on judgement day. My only choice is to throw myself on the mercy seat and it’s best to do so now.
When I am repenting and accepting my forgiveness, it then also frees me to forgive. Yes, there was some damage done to me, but I have access to the One who heals and redeems. Also, there is a humility that comes with this enabling me to realize that we all fall short and who am I to hold another to a different standard than what Christ held for me. With this healing, this redemption, and this humility, it also frees my hands up for compassion for my offender. No, this isn’t enabling for continued mistreatment. This definitely doesn’t mean you continue to put yourself in the place of it. However, as you have forgiven, you have then the ability to view that person with compassion. You then desire the best for them and the best for them is Jesus, by the way, which you are tangibly displaying Him to them as you demonstrate forgiveness.
Speaking of Jesus, let’s talk about how forgiveness isn’t just a way to make things better for us and them. It is also a command. When the disciples asked how often to forgive he said seventy times seven. When he told us who to love, he said love our enemies as well as our neighbors. He also defined our neighbor as our enemy in his parable of the good samaritan so really there is no ground left uncovered. If we’re serious about our love for Jesus, he tells us that we love him by obeying him. If we’re serious about obeying him, he tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves and our enemies. You see where I am going with this. If we are serious about our walk with Jesus and being Christlike forgiveness is not an option.
So, we’ve established that we cannot harbor unforgiveness and why, but how? This is a legitimate question and there is no shame in asking it. In fact, there is no shame in admitting that forgiveness much of the time seems impossible. Well, in and of our own strength, it is impossible. Forgiveness goes entirely against our own natural tendencies and strength. Some people say they forgive and even talk themselves into believing they forgive, but in reality they have just pushed down the hurt far enough so it won’t bother them. But it remains as a tender spot that is sensitive to the offender or offense and you never know when that sensitivity will flare up. This is an indicator that forgiveness has not been reached. God doesn’t want you to tuck the hurt and anger down, He wants you to surrender it to him. He wants to you draw from His example and strength to forgive. Ask Him for help! Confess to Him the hurt, the resentment, and the anger ask for not only healing but the power to forgive. Get yourself a mature, trustworthy Christian to support you, hold you accountable, and walk this walk with you.
Finally, don’t wait for a feeling. You will never feel forgiveness at first nor will you ever feel up to forgiving. In fact, you may still have to struggle through the anger or resentment to forgive. It is a choice and with choice comes an action. It starts with prayer. It continues with confession. Then, it leans on the Holy Spirit to provide the strength to. It also at times calls for a demonstration of forgiveness such as reaching out through a phone call, email, even a text. There is nothing wrong with baby steps and it seems like more often than not, that is the case. Over time, we find that the anger and the resentment that we once held is no longer there. Sometimes, forgiveness happens quickly and sometimes it takes time along with multiple points of surrender.
We will have to forgive as well as be forgiven our entire lives. It’s never a simple hump to overcome and then it’s all smooth sailing. But the more we are in practice as well as understand that if we are serious about our walk with God and our obedience to Him, we must forgive each other. Might I add we must do this especially within the context of our brothers and sister in Christ. Each case is different, but we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do so each time. Don’t confuse this with reconciliation. That has nothing to do whether or not you should forgive. You only need one person to forgive and that is you. Reconciliation requires all the parties involved and while forgiveness is a necessary ingredient, it is not solely dependent on you. That’s for another day.
Forgiveness is expected and commanded of believers, but be encouraged that there is not a situation where it is impossible to do so. It is not of your own work, but that of the Holy Spirit’s. It may not happen over night and that is ok. It may take small steps and that is ok, too. It doesn’t mean that you have to continuously put yourself in a place of abuse. But it frees to have compassion as well has place healthy boundaries without bitterness or apologies. Most importantly, it is a powerful component of the gospel on display and when we truly forgive we are able to demonstrate brightly His love to a very dark hurting world. And, it is pleasing to Him.
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” ~ Matthew 18:21-22
“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” ~ Mark 11:24-26
” Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselveswith compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” ~ Colossians 3:12-14