Forgiveness is hard work

My mom said “You have to forgive him…”  

“What?  What does that mean?  It’s not fair!”

I was in 9th grade and it was one of my first real lessons in forgiveness.  Our junior high band had just returned from a trip and we were putting our instruments back in the band room.  A.B. Combs was standing at the top of the stairs with the chain which locked the doors in his hand.  

As my girlfriend approached the steps ahead of me A.B. made a lewd comment and grabbed her.  I rushed up the stairs and shoved him, ready to fight.  We were standing on a landing, about 3′ square, and a big crowd gathered up and down the stairs.  People started shouting for A.B. to drop the chain so we could fight (which everybody wanted to see), but he refused.  The chain was about 1 1/2 feet long, wrapped a couple times around his hand.  

After a bit of posturing and name-calling I realized it wasn’t going to go well if he kept the chain.  I mumbled something about fighting another time and as I turned to walk away he called me a name, and then said “and your girlfriend’s a…”  I wheeled around to hit him and before I knew what happened he hit me with the chain, 4 links into my head from the forehead to the crown.  I was dazed and fell to the floor as blood poured out.  People screamed and A.B. ran.  The ambulance took me to the hospital and I was okay, after the “resident” doctor sowed me up, commenting that it didn’t really matter how he stitched me up because no one would ever see the marks because of my hair. Hmmmm

Fast forward 2 days to the conversation with my mom.  I was angry and wanted revenge.  But she said because we love Jesus we are taught to forgive people.  Over the years my mom taught me these simple lessons about forgiveness.  And from the very beginning I discovered it was hard work.

Forgiveness is a choice and not a feeling.

There is a huge difference between praying “God, please help me to forgive” and “God, I choose to forgive.”  “Please help me to forgive” doesn’t mean you forgive at all.  To choose forgiveness means no matter how you feel, you are at that moment forgiving. Thankfully that is how God forgives us, not flippantly waiting for emotional reinforcement.  Our emotions may take quite a long time to catch up but eventually they do.

You’ll never feel like forgiving someone, but you can get in the practiced habit of choosing to forgive.  I’ve chosen to forgive some people every day over the course of months and even a year before my heart felt released.  My mom would say “If you don’t forgive it will turn into bitterness.”

Forgiveness requires honesty with ourselves and with God.  

Reading the Psalms reminds us of the importance of honesty in prayer and worship.  

How can we forgive?  It can be helpful to say out loud to God 1) This is what happened…, 2) This is how it affected me…, this is how it felt…, and then 3) I choose to forgive…

BTW, you don’t always have to tell the other person, it all depends.  Sometimes telling the other person is a way of making them pay (reciting what happened again), and of making us feel better by being sure they know how much it hurt.  It can definitely hinder future relationship.  

The standard for “how we forgive” is how God has forgiven us.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Ephesians 4:32

Jesus said we should pray “And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.”  Matthew 6:12

It’s “as we also” that gets tricky.  We should ask God to forgive us in the same manner in which we forgive others.?  Wow.  Thankfully when we experience His forgiveness and mercy, we have the ability to extend it to others.

We don’t want God to say “Oh well, I’ve been thinking about forgiving you, for most of what you’ve done, but it is gonna take awhile because I’m not feeling it right now.”

The hard work of forgiveness includes forgiving yourself. 

It seems so common to hear people say “I can forgive others and ask God to forgive them, but I just can’t forgive myself.”

Forgiving yourself is a choice.  I love the scene from “The Mission” where Robert De Niro is scaling the mountain with a clunky bag filled with “stuff” representing his sin and guilt.  He finally comes to the place of letting go; no more penance, no more self-punishment, and the bag is cut loose.  Freedom.

Forgiving yourself requires a lot of humility.  It’s letting God’s mercy override your unworthiness.  

A.B. and I never became best friends, but I didn’t become enslaved by chains of unforgiveness.  My contempt for him turned to sympathy.  

Every time I feel those indentations on my head I hear my mom’s voice “It’s good that you’ve forgiven him Greg.  Don’t let bitterness take root.  God loves A.B….”

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