How do we heal from those wounds for which no restitution can be made? How do we extend true forgiveness when we don’t feel like forgiving? How do we ease that burning in our hearts for justice?
Forgiveness is one of the most challenging commands given to the Christian. Sometimes complete forgiveness takes more than a day, a week, a month, or even a decade. What we feel on the inside must not dictate our actions on the outside. We must make a conscious effort to obey God externally while fighting the battle internally.
In the previous post, we discussed Peter’s flawed question of how many times we ought to forgive. Today, I hope to encourage you to develop a mindset of forgiveness, particularly for those hurts which run deep.
Forgiveness is not merely an action, it is an attitude we must develop and nurture until we return to dust.
The first step in recovery programs is accepting the problem; the first habit of an obedient heart is accepting the command—and obeying it.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
~ Ephesians 4:31-32, ESV
We are given very few commands under the new covenant. The two most important are as follows: to love the Lord with all our heart and to love our neighbor as ourself. If we love ourself (which most of us do), we seek forgiveness from God and our fellow man. Therefore, to fulfill the command is to extend forgiveness to others that we ourselves desire to receive.
Submission, Obedience, Duty—these are not popular words, but they are the very essence of the Christian life.
Obedience acts in spite of feelings. We forgive because we know we must.
Habit #2: Imitation.
A Christian, in the purest sense of the word, is one who follows Christ and makes every effort to imitate Him. The heart is constantly in training, endeavoring to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
Jesus perfectly demonstrated how to love and how to forgive:
- He forgave the soldiers who crucified him.
- He forgave the disciples who abandoned him.
- He forgives all those who turn to Him and repent.
Does He ask more of us than He Himself did? No. We need to forgive as Christ forgave, and love as he loved.
Habit#3: Ceaseless Prayer
“Elihu, you’re always saying prayer is part of everything.”
Yes, I know, but I have good reason.
We can’t walk with God if we don’t talk with God.
Have you been sexually abused? Verbally abused? Lost someone to a drunk driver or medical malpractice? Gone through a nasty divorce?
If you have, I ask you: How easy is it to forgive the offender? It probably feels downright impossible!
It is impossible—Without God.
In his example prayer, Jesus said, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
After the prayer, He said the following:
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
~ Matthew 6.14-15, ESV
That should scare the pants off us, especially if we are harboring resentment. I want to be forgiven, don’t you? When I pray as Jesus instructed, I am reminded of any hurt I’m holding on to and seek help to eliminate it.
What should I do?
- Confide your pain to God—He is an excellent listener and safe confidante.
- Ask the Lord for help and healing.
- Ask Him to create in you a clean heart.
- Ask Him to help you do the impossible, because with God, all things are possible.
How many fictional stories have you read in which the protagonist or antagonist is motivated by pure vengeance? The Count of Monte Cristo, Zorro, Murder on the Orient Express, Hamlet—these books embody the lengths to which humans will go to exact vengeance. Rarely do these stories end with a “happily ever after.”
Dwelling on our resentment feeds our desire for vengeance.
If you find yourself thinking ill of someone who has wronged you to any degree, proceed as follows:
- Attempt to counter your negative thoughts with something good that person has done or a positive trait they have. This may be difficult if it’s an enemy, but it is very effective with our loved ones.
- If that yields no positive result, remind yourself of God’s commands. Write down (with pen and paper) verses on love, renewal, God’s faithfulness etcetera. Post it where you’ll see it.
- Still frustrated? Actively engage your mind in some other pursuit. Put on an audiobook (avoid the vengeance stories !), play some music, engage in a hobby, pull some weeds, or work on a project. Fight the temptation to feed your anger—it’s a battle with self and a battle with Satan.
Do you want to defeat those resentful feelings? Put up a Fight.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
~Philippians 4:8-9, NASB
Habit 5: Communication
The fourth habit of a forgiving heart is communicating forgiveness to the offender. Whether you do it immediately or wait a few days to cool off, you should always be precede your communication with prayer. Remember, this is not your time to let them have it; this is the moment you completely cast aside whatever bitterness may remain.
Sometimes we cannot tell the person because they are deceased or beyond our reach in some other way. In such cases, tell God. Get it off your chest and let it go.
Habit#6: Respond with Love
It is rarely easy to act in love toward someone who has hurt us, but if we have truly forgiven, we ought to behave with love. If your husband has forgotten your anniversary again, don’t respond by slamming doors and shouting tirades. Instead, pray for God to soften your heart. If you are calm enough, communicate your hurt to him gently. Maybe plan to go out for a beautiful dinner, buy him a nice gift, and speak with kindness. Act opposite to how you feel (praying through every minute!).
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also…
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven”
~ Matthew 5:38-39; 43-45, NASB
Habit 7: Pull Weeds
I’m not referring to dirt-and-worms gardening here.
Bitterness in the heart is similar to having weeds in the garden. Weeds will take over a garden if they are not habitually removed. In the same way, if we don’t consistently purge our heart of resentment, it will eventually choke out all the good growth. When you spot bitterness within, tear it out.
This is a lifelong process, friends. Make it a habit now before the weeds are too many and you no longer have the strength to remove them.
Habit 8: Refresh The Perspective
The final habit of a forgiving heart is keeping things in perspective. When we are wounded, we are not likely to think of how we have wounded God or even the one who has hurt us. Our perspective is skewed in favor of ourselves. A forgiving heart remembers to look at the compass to find true north, realigning itself with reality.
Fix your eyes on Jesus—it always brings us back to the truth. We are imperfect, ever in need of his mercy. We have been forgiven much and so we ought to forgive in kind.
As Christians, we seek the divine. We aim to be like Jesus.
Nurture forgiveness, choke out bitterness.