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Even though forgiveness is the heart beat of Christian community, we struggle both to forgive and to ask for forgiveness
Forgiveness is one of those things that was taught to me from an early age, and I began teaching my kids about it from the time they could speak. When another toddler said they were sorry to my son or daughter, I made sure they responded with, “I forgive you.” When my kids needed to apologize to one of the grandparents for misbehaving, I carefully instructed my parents and in-laws to respond with, “I forgive you” instead of “that’s okay.” I never wanted my children to think their bad behavior was “okay,” but wanted them to know that anything is forgivable.
“ANYTHING is forgivable.” Repeatedly I tell my children this, but do I truly believe it and show it in my own actions? A part of me says “yes, of course you do,” but another deeper part of my heart knows that’s not completely true. Don’t misunderstand this. If someone sincerely apologizes, I will “forgive and forget” immediately. I’ve always believed it’s easy to get along with others if we learn to apologize and forgive, and really I just want people to get along. But what if someone apologizes without sincerity, or even worse, doesn’t apologize at all?
My daughter and I watched a Christian movie called Heart of the Country last week. In it one of the characters says: “There’s only one thing harder than forgiveness in this life, and that’s asking for it.” I can tell you with certainty that this is not something I struggle with. If I am at fault or have wronged someone, I have no problem apologizing very quickly and asking for forgiveness. But I do know a lot of people who CANNOT say “I’m sorry.” It’s almost as if it physically hurts them to say it, as if their pride will forever have scars visible to everyone. This is where my real struggle lies: how do you truly forgive someone who isn’t really sorry?
The Bible is very clear on forgiveness, and we even pray about it every Sunday: “…forgive those who trespass against us…”
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
We’re not supposed to hold grudges or respond to cruelty with cruelty. That’s difficult, isn’t it? There have been movies and television shows created with the plot line that is specifically about revenge, and they constantly numb us to the idea that revenge is rewarding. We tend to root for the mentally or physically hurt character to get redemption by giving the bad guy what he/she “deserves.” That’s not what the Bible tells us is right though is it?
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.
Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.
If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
“LOVE your enemies??” “Do GOOD to those who HATE you??” “Give your ENEMY bread to eat??” That sounds like crazy talk, doesn’t it? Now I don’t think God wants us to invite our enemies into our homes and feed them. My husband and I have had people come into our lives who truly hurt us. Does forgiveness mean inviting them over for a BBQ? No, of course not. Jesus forgave the Romans, but when he rose again from the dead he didn’t say, “Hey what’s up buddies? Let’s hang out!” (I’m giggling just thinking about Jesus speaking that way.) So what does it mean when the Bible says all of these crazy things? Here’s what I think: we all have struggles and we all go through hard times, and we can do the right thing by helping others during their struggles, even our enemies.
Here’s an example: a couple of years ago I brought a meal to a woman who’d just had a baby. This woman was not someone who had been kind to me, but doing the right thing made me happy and I was able to use it as an example for my children.
While I’d like to toot my own horn and be proud of my ability to look beyond the hurt and help someone in need, I sadly fail at this forgiveness stuff most of the time. It’s even more difficult when you have to see your transgressor constantly, whether it’s a family member, a parent of one of your kid’s friends, someone in your neighborhood, or even someone at your church. What if you’ve forgiven someone (or they forgave you), but they continue to talk about you behind your back? What if you’ve forgiven someone, but they continue to hurt you with the same transgressions? Forgiveness does not mean becoming a doormat for people to walk all over.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.
To speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.
And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool.
We have a responsibility to not only protect ourselves, but also protect our loved ones from getting hurt. This sometimes means forgiving and NOT forgetting. Does this mean we hold a grudge or bring up the hurt over and over? No, that is not forgiveness. It means we don’t put ourselves in a position where we can continually get hurt. If someone isn’t sincere in their apology (or they don’t apologize at all), forgive them, but maybe don’t spend a lot of time with them. Are you in a situation where you are required to spend time with them? It’s okay to be a little more guarded and choose discussion topics carefully, but we still need to be kind.
A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself.
1 Peter 3:9
Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
I’ll be honest, I’m good at the “protect myself and loved ones” part, but not so great at complete forgiveness. So I will continue to pray and seek wisdom from the Bible, but I know this is not something that magically becomes easy overnight. I also know how emotionally damaging it is not to forgive. To be unforgiving is to drink poison in hopes that it kills your enemy. That’s not the way poison works, is it? You drink it, you get sick. You don’t forgive, you hurt yourself.
What if you need forgiveness and someone refuses to give it to you? This is a tough one, especially for us people-pleasers. Unfortunately, just like swallowing your pride to apologize, forgiving someone is a very personal struggle that we all have to deal with on our own. Just like I’ve struggled to completely forgive others, I know others have struggled to forgive me for my missteps. All you can do is apologize, and if someone still will not forgive you, you need to accept that it’s not your fault anymore. We’re all human and we all make mistakes; it’s in our nature to be imperfect and sin. We can be at peace knowing God forgives us, and so we should forgive ourselves.
Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Laura Gohl has a loving and supportive husband, Bryon, and two children: Evelyn and Oliver. She can be viewed as a “Jack of all trades,” as she’s not afraid to learn and try new things. Prior to having children she managed a help desk, was the operations manager for a freight company, and was even a personal trainer. After having her first child in 2007 she made the decision to stay home and shortly after started a vacation rental business that has continued to blossom. In February 2015 she felt called to blog as well, and this was the start of “Supermom Wannabe” (www.supermamawannabe.com), where she hopes to bring a variety of anecdotes, crafts, ideas, and inspiration to others. Laura loves singing, all things Disney, watching movies, decorating cakes, travel, and most importantly: spending time with her family. She and her family have attended Holy Cross Lutheran Church since 2005.