Tag Archives: Forgiveness

Forgiveness

I recently blogged about the possibility of forgiveness as an event. As it happens, I’ve also come across notes that I wrote on this subject a couple of years ago. Here they are with only minor edits for readability.

Forgiveness is something that I’ve struggled with quite a bit as an adult. I’m generally an easy going guy, so many offenses roll off of me. It takes a lot to get me angry, but when I get really get angry it can take years to push through. If I were to run into a particular former boss, or an ex-girlfriend I probably wouldn’t come across as easy going. There are a couple of things that are helpful for me to keep in mind though. I do have to remind myself of these things.

First, I’m the one that’s negatively affected by my holding on to the offense. Lack of forgiveness is how people end up becoming bitter & hard hearted. That boss I mentioned laid me off 12 years ago, even if he still remembers there’s no way he’s as upset by it today as I am. I’m the loser here, by holding on to something in the past I’m limiting what I can see right now. Put another way, I’m the greatest benefactor when I forgive.

Second, forgiveness does not mean forgetting. Forgiveness is for my own benefit, to free myself from the animosity of harboring anger towards another. It doesn’t really have anything to do with the other person. I can choose to remain friends with the other person or not, independently of the choice to forgive. If I choose to break the relationship, it doesn’t mean I haven’t forgiven them. I have forgiven the ex-girlfriend, but I will not give her another opportunity to hurt me. A really powerful example of this for me is punishment for crimes. Forgiving someone for committing a crime doesn’t mean that they don’t get punishment. If everyone involved, victim, attorneys, judge & jury each forgave them, it would still be appropriate and just for them to receive and serve out a sentence. We don’t forget the crime, but forgiveness releases us from it controlling our thoughts.

Third, forgiveness isn’t an event, it’s more of a process that may need to be repeated. I forgive, gain a sense of peace, then days or weeks later (sometimes years later) I’m somehow reminded of it and my temper flares like it just happened… I have to forgive again, from start to finish all over again. I’ve forgiven both the boss and the girlfriend dozens of times, and yet writing this I’m reminded of the injustice and need to do it again.

My first three points are anecdotal. My fourth & final point is that its part of God’s plan. In Matt 6:14-15 Jesus says that we’ll be forgiven as much as we forgive others, and if we don’t forgive then we won’t be forgiven. Paul exhorts the Colossians to “bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances…” in 3:13. Knowing this, its reasonable to believe that God will help us with forgiveness. In fact I think this is part of His plan, for us to work together in community and learn forgiveness against one another while leaning on Him. I see this as somewhat like exercise, the more we forgive the easier it gets to let go of offenses.

The notable exception to all of this is forgiving God Himself. That’s a category unto its own and I’m probably no help there. I do believe that its appropriate to pray through your relationship with God at all times, even in anger. Forgiving God for perceived offenses is pretty tough. I’ve only dealt with it once and honestly don’t know how I got through it.

If you’re interested in reading about this, try The Art of Forgiving by Lewis B. Smedes. This is his 2nd book on the subject and it really helped me during the summer after a particularly difficult layoff. Pay attention to which book you get though, Smedes first book on forgiveness (called Forgive and Forget) was terrible. I didn’t connect with it at all.

I think my third point above (repeatedly forgiving the same offense) needs more exploration. Sometime soon I’ll tie this together with my previous note and reach a conclusion. This is something that I’ve considered for years, so hopefully I’ll be able to do that soon.

Turn Around

Last week I read something that has challenged my thinking. I have had a pamphlet called How to be Free From Bitterness for at least 15 years. A friend called me last week, we were talking about forgiveness so I decided to review this to see if it would be worth sharing. The entire pamphlet is awesome. It covers general forgiveness, relationships with parents, controlling your tongue, and more. I definitely recommend it if you’re struggling with forgiveness. One aspect of it has stuck with me.

Several times through the material, the author (Jim Wilson) encourages the reader to confess their behavior and/or attitude, then forsake the pattern. He paints this as an event. You have confessed and forsaken that, now you’re done with it.

My life is so much more complicated than that. Which strikes me as very lame.

I wouldn’t characterize myself as a bitter person (but, really, who would say that about himself?). I do gripe about day in & day out annoyances. I do get frustrated with the people that I’m close to. I don’t carry grudges and I do strive to keep short accounts with people. Having said that, there are a couple of long standing grievances that I haven’t shaken in years. I don’t mean that I haven’t forgiven (I have). Quite the opposite. I forgive. Something reminds me of the injustice, so I forgive again. Years later they repeat the behavior, so I forgive again.

I have spoken to the parties involved. I have prayed. I have read books. I have forgiven. Then something will trigger this and I start the process over. This has been going on for years. Now, sometimes I bring it up and sometimes I don’t.┬áThis has definitely had an impact on those specific relationships. It’s probably fair to say that this has colored my view of relationships in general.

Wilson invites the reader to a clean slate. Confess then forsake and be free. Turn around and take a new path. I want that.

So the question that I’m wrestling with is, have I allowed my life to become too complicated to recognize freedom that’s available to me?

Reach Me

This morning when I woke up I had Psalm 19 stuck in my head. I have been more disciplined about reading scripture lately, but I have a plan that I’m on, and I haven’t deviated from the plan, other than to set the bible down for weeks at a time. So it is odd that I would have a specific passage on my heart, its not like I ever hear Jesus saying stuff to me. It felt very strange to me, but I decided to read it anyway.

As I was reading I kind of had a chip on my shoulder about the whole process, which in not uncommon. My faith is hard won; while I do accept that Christ is my savior, I typically wait for Him to ‘prove’ something to me before I show faith. I’m not proud of that, just stating the facts. So as I’m reading through this chapter, I’m kind of thinking ‘okay God, get to the point.’

And then I come across verse 13 (from NIV):

Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression.

Wow. That really hits me. I never knew that he was willing to help me stay away from willful sins. I’ve always known that he’s willing to help me in temptation, but this is different. This means that He’s even willing to help me when I’m rebellious and intentionally turning from him. This kind of changes my perspective.

And while we’re talking about sin, check out Romans 5:20-21 (from The Message):

All that passing laws against sin did was produce more lawbreakers. But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life–a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.

Aggressive forgiveness? Yeah, sign me up for some of that!

In one of my recent posts I said that my theology is shifting, which is true. I’m still working on explaining that fully (which is not an easy process). I feel fortunate to have friends along the journey with me, helping me figure out what it means to love Jesus. I’m also thankful that I woke up with Psalm 19 stuck in my head. And my resistance to that is a little alarming.