Figuring Out Forgiveness
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When I was a kid, my friends and I used to look up bad words in the dictionary.
We wanted to know what some of those unfamiliar sayings were that we heard on the playground, and naturally we’d rather die than ask our parents (I’m sure our parents would have rather died than answer such awkward questions). So like the nerds that we were, we looked them up.
One day while browsing Webster’s for choice language, I landed on the word “forgive.” Now there was a word that I didn’t know the meaning of. The definition was surprisingly short, and I never forgot what it read: “to remember without regret.”
People like to think that kids grasp biblical concepts easily because of their child-like faith. Not so much for me. Even after reading the definition, I still didn’t get it. I know I didn’t because I spent most of my childhood being upset with either one or both of my brothers.
Of course now I realize that pestering is just what big brothers do, but at the time I was always ready to wage World War III if they hurt me. Whether it was teasing or putting rubber snakes in my closet, I would get upset; we would fight; I’d tell Mom; we were all sent to our rooms. That was my life from ages 6 to 12.
But I’m an adult now, and I can’t get my mother to fight all my battles. Life continues to give me daily chances to figure out forgiveness.
So how do we make sense of it all? What should we do when we’re wronged?
We're not the first to ponder this. In, Peter asked a similar question.
“'Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?' Jesus saith unto him, 'I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.'"[KJV]
I bet there are some people in your life working on your 490th nerve. But remember it’s not supposed to be taken literally. Your forgiveness should come out of you like a river out of an ocean: constantly flowing from a much larger source.
I don’t believe we are capable of forgiveness on our own. It’s not in our nature to overlook the sins of others. If anything, we point them out and put them on display.
I know people who can hold on to a grudge like it’s a winning lotto ticket. The problem is that it never pays off.
Unforgiveness seems like a guilty pleasure that lets you take cheap shots at the person who’s wronged you, but in the end you’re not getting even with anyone. It’s actually a cancer to your soul. It eats away at your joy and burns bridges you’ll need later.
There are certain situations that make forgiveness appear especially impossible. It's hard when the offender keeps hurting you without remorse. It could be someone who is in your life every day, and you can't get enough distance to heal before the next attack is hurled at you. Does it give you a "get out of jail free" card to retaliate?
I'm sorry but the answer is no. To walk in forgiveness rather than unforgiveness is a daily, sometimes hourly, decision to not let certain people get to you -- no matter how hard they try.
b makes it plain: “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” [NIV]. Remember that larger source your river of forgiveness flows from? That’s God. While we are short on patience, His mercy is everlasting. says His compassion is brand new every morning. He never runs dry; He never gives up.
That’s no small feat considering how often we sin against Him. God has the longest memory out of all of us, and He chooses to take our sins and throw them as far as He possibly can (). And let me tell you, God’s got a great arm.
With all His unlimited mercies, He is the perfect source for our forgiveness. He can give you power to forgive 70 times 7 times 700.
It’s harder than it sounds, especially if you’re used to reacting to every snide remark. But a lot of forgiveness is about you being the bigger person and not fighting fire with fire. Character is having ammunition and choosing not to use it. I know I’ve got the words to cut someone else down to size but it’s wisdom when I turn the other cheek.
Now I’m not asking you to be a chump and let the world walk all over you. When you read the Gospels closely, you’ll see Jesus had no problem talking back to the pompous religious leaders of the day. He was quick to set the record straight when necessary but He always did it with love. That’s the attitude we should have with our neighbors and our enemies.
God ran me through a little mental exercise recently when I wanted to hold unforgiveness against someone. He said, “Recall what happened to you and how it made you feel.” I thought, ‘I can’t believe what she did to me. And then to act like it was my fault? The nerve! She really showed her true colors.’
God then said, “Okay, now recall the incident without regret. Try to remember it without all the hurt.” I thought, ‘Well, she had her reasons. Sometimes these things just happen. Now that I think about it, she did try to apologize afterwards. If I was in her shoes, I’d want a second chance.’
Just like that, I forgave and was able to see the situation with new eyes. It was remarkably freeing to not be angry all the time.
Today when I look up "forgive" in the dictionary, it reads: "to give up resentment of or claim to requital for; to cease to feel resentment against (an offender)." It hasn’t changed much but thankfully we have. We can take the opportunities God gives us to share the forgiveness we’ve been given. It's never too late. After all, everyday presents a chance to make it right.
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